Rob Downing and Jeff Perley Let's face it, they are the talk of the NHRA. Not just Pro Stock - the entire NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has something to say about Greg Anderson and the entire KB Racing program. Anderson spent time making ...
Rob Downing and Jeff Perley
Let's face it, they are the talk of the NHRA. Not just Pro Stock - the entire NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has something to say about Greg Anderson and the entire KB Racing program. Anderson spent time making the tuning calls for six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson before he was compelled to take a shot at driving. He put a team together that produced two wins in six final rounds en route to a third place finish in the 2002 standings. That wasn't good enough. So Anderson went looking for the ultimate team.
The dream team, you can say. He found it in the form of a two-crew chief scenario with Rob Downing and Jeff Perley. They weren't new to the sport either. Downing graduated from University of Nebraska before working his way up to a tuning job with Mark Pawuk. Perley spent a lifetime in motorsports and had been with Johnson and General Motors just before Anderson struck out on his own. Just to be sure they were ready to compete on the highest level, they convinced Jason Line to bring his engine building experience with NASCAR over to the Vegas General Construction team. That's when it all seemed to come together. In 2003 - Anderson's second full season of racing - the squad of veterans meshed and the results were jaw-dropping.
Anderson won a record 12 races in 15 final rounds. The team set both ends of the national record as well as 19 track records throughout the season. They were the No. 1 qualifier 14 times and have been the top qualifier for eight consecutive races, dating back to Chicago 2 in September. But as they head to Las Vegas for the fifth annual SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip this weekend, there is one topic on everyone's mind. Is the team operating within NHRA rules or not?
In this Q&A session, Downing and Perley talk about why they win, what their biggest challenges are and what they think about being called "cheaters" on a weekly basis.
Q: What does KB Racing do better than other teams?
PERLEY: Win races.
DOWNING: I would say that we prepare better. In comparison to other teams, we have eight guys at the shop, including us, that all work a lot of hours and work very hard. We all focus on what we are doing and we all work very well together. We do our best to keep everyone informed about what is going on and we try to prepare well and be ready. We have a lot of good guys that have a lot of experience and who bring a lot to the table. Nobody is afraid to listen to anyone else. The car guys will help with the engines and the engine guys will help with the cars. We have a very open situation. We try to keep the egos to a minimum.
PERLEY: I think we all realize that without a team, none of us would work nearly as effectively as we do. The engine shop relies on the car guys and us car guys rely on the engine guys. Because of that, because we all realize that it takes every bit of the car to be fast, not just a few parts, we have a mutual respect for how much time it takes to be ready for a run. In our own right, we make sure that everything is prepared on our side and they take care of their side. There isn't a time when we don't feel confident that the engine is ready and they don't ever worry that the car is not right or ready.
Q: Rob, what does Jeff bring to the team?
DOWNING: Jeff's biggest strong point is that he is the best at reading the tracks and knowing what calls to make on the next run. We will sit down and talk about it and I always look to him, especially when I am not sure about something. If we are teetering on something, we go with how he feels.
PERLEY: It's a pretty cool situation because we are both open enough that we can use each other to make the best decisions. There are certain days when he is really on or vice versa. We always ask what we are each thinking and we always work it out. Both of us have been crew chiefs for teams on our own and we both realize what a big job it is. We, maybe too much, rely on each other to make the whole thing work. It's really a cool deal. It's worked out well for us because it's a great balance. We each have different strengths.
Q: Jeff, what does Rob contribute to the team?
PERLEY: Rob grounds everybody. He makes sure that we are well organized, well prepared and he is always even-keeled. He doesn't get frustrated easily. It's much easier for him to stay focused on what needs to be done, including when we are at the race track. If there is any kind of controversy or if we have a bad run or if something is not quite as right, Rob is always there to make sure we are going in the right direction. We have all the data to draw from and without it we would be lost. We would be making calls on bad information. We share all of the duties on the car. At no point are either one of us led to believe that we could do this without the other guy. I firmly believe that having it this way has made us this good. We both raced with pretty good teams before this and Greg raced with pretty good teams before this. Not to take anything away from those teams, but we all learned that we could put a better team together if we had more qualified people in every spot, not just one good guy leading a bunch of squirrels.
Q: What made you decide to get involved with racing in general and in drag racing specifically?
DOWNING: From the time I was old enough to know anything, my dad was involved with drag racing. I was one of those kids that was always at the track. Mom and dad were both there, so I was there too. I just grew up with it in my blood. I decided to go to school and make it my profession. When I was young and interested in racing, I always loved Pro Stock and hoped I would be involved with it someday. I didn't always think it would happen, but I knew guys like Warren (Johnson) and Bill Jenkins that had done it and had engineering backgrounds. I wanted to go to college and I just hoped it would all work out. It did.
PERLEY: It's all I ever had my heart set on doing. I'm originally from Canada and my dad came down here in 1962 and '63 and raced with Richard Petty and Cotton Owens and David Pearson. He did it for a short time. He wanted to do it for a few years and then he became a pilot. We grew up on stock car racing but I had a limited budget and I couldn't afford to go circle track racing. Drag racing fell into line with that and it was my own twist on racing. My dad was into circle track racing and I always enjoyed drag racing. From there it was a matter of how to get further and further along. Fortunately I got a lucky break to be able to come work here and have someone sponsor me because I am from out of the country. This is all I have ever done, work at chassis shops and engine shops.
Q: When Greg decided to put the team together, how did everyone get involved?
DOWNING: When Greg decided to be a driver, he went to work for George Marnell. The way I got to know him was when he was driving for Troy Humphries he was renting engines from Mark Pawuk when I was working there. He rented engines from us but part of the gig was that I was just starting out as a crew chief and Greg helped us with that. We got along real well, we meshed together because we have similar personalities. When this deal came together, he called and asked if I was interested.
PERLEY: I worked with Greg for a very short time at Warren's shop. Maybe three months we worked together. They ran everything quite a bit different. They had two cars in the same shop, but it wasn't one team. So Greg and I didn't interact very much and then he left to go drive. I stayed there for another few years. Greg had already put the team together and had guys here and they struggled for the first year even though they finished third. Greg thought they were always butting heads and the synergy just wasn't there. (Team owner) Ken (Black) wasn't happy all the time and didn't want to come to all of the races. He needed a change and that's when he asked Rob and myself to come on board. At the time I had already left Warren's program and was with GM working on their front wheel drive stuff.
Q: What do you guys think about all of the accusations of cheating that have been thrown your way lately?
DOWNING: Obviously, it frustrates us a little because we work so hard. It's not going to stop what we are doing here and it's not going to change the way we do things. We know we are working hard, doing things by the book and keeping everything legal. If people want to be upset, that's their prerogative. People who know us know we aren't cheating.
PERLEY: What people don't seem to realize is that we aren't new to the sport. We are a new team, but we all have a lot of experience and we've brought a lot of experience into one shop. Are we getting a little sick of the accusations? Sure. Are they going to continue? Yes. It happens to everyone that is on top. It doesn't make it right, but it seems like the inevitable. We've raised the bar for the class in general. We have a more complete team and people don't want to believe that they can get outrun by a team as new as we are. They assume we can't be beating them through talent, so they must be cheating.
Q: When did you decide on two cars and why?
PERLEY: Basically from the beginning it was understood that we were going to run two cars. We can acquire data twice as quick.
Q: How did Jason Line come into the picture?
DOWNING: Jason had been working for Greg part-time at nights. He always wanted to drive one of these things and he started talking to Ken about it. Jason is a huge part of the engine program and to get him to help with the engines and at the same time be able to build his dream of driving a car is the perfect deal. The biggest thing is like Jeff said. We get twice the data and we are able to do things on Jason's car we wouldn't necessarily do on Greg's car. If we don't have enough confidence to try it on Greg's car, we can give it a shot first on the second car. Not to say that we are there just doing a crap-shoot with Jason's car.
Q: You've already won a championship and set numerous records. Is there more pressure to perform to back everything up or do you feel more comfortable knowing what you've done in such a short time?
PERLEY: Honestly I feel less pressure from outside and more pressure from inside. I think we've proven ourselves as far as the team goes but the majority of the pressure comes from within. We're fortunate in that everyone we hire is very self-motivated. Everyone is driven. Being that way you put pressure on yourself to be better. We know we can always do better and we have to struggle with some thing because we expect perfection.
DOWNING: For me it's less pressure. The last year has given me confidence because I know what we can do. Where I was before, winning a race was a huge thing. We went to every race hoping we could qualify and then do well. Here, we work hard and we go to every race with confidence and we plan on doing well and if we don't, it's an exception.
Q: What do you think about the No. 1 qualifying record and all of the other stats and numbers this team has been able to produce?
DOWNING: I don't think about it. We go to every race planning on doing well, qualifying, qualifying well and performing well.
PERLEY: The streak is nice, but we really don't pay attention to the streaks and numbers. If we do our job, that's important. Up until we won the 12th race, it didn't hit me that we were going for the record. We could have won six races and we still would have been happy. Breaking that record, however, was a pretty big accomplishment, especially for a team that had been together for just 10 or 11 months. The rest of the records are good, but I can't say that is what we are after. If we prepare well enough and do a good enough job, that's what matters most.
Q: What do you think about your drivers?
DOWNING: Greg is incredible to work with. He never stops working. We have to sometimes reel him in and tell him to throttle back. He drives the entire team. I think Greg is the best driver in the category, no question. He never lets pressure get to him. He is always calm and ready to race. Jason is cut from the same mold.
PERLEY: Greg covers up a lot of our mistakes. He can wheel through a mistake where some drivers know they don't have the ability to wheel through it and make the run. I wouldn't trade Jason for anyone in the class either, except for Greg. Jason is a great driver, especially considering how few laps he has. He has a lot of natural talent. Does he has room for improvement? Yes. But we all do. What we as a team lack in talent we make up for in hard work and a synergy that drives us to excel.
Q: What would be a weakness of this team?
PERLEY: Working too much. I think we all know how to take a day off but I think we feel like we shouldn't. The results would say that we don't work too much. There are times when we are going to the race track and we are just drained mentally. We get very little sleep and by the time you get to the race track, we're exhausted. Being at the track is kind of a break. In qualifying you can only make four runs and on race day, you can only make four runs. When we test, we make about eight runs, and here at the shop, we work a minimum of 12 hours a day. Being at the track is a cake-walk. We need to get maybe a little more organized so we can break away from the shop a little more.
DOWNING: Everyone drives everyone else. There is always someone (at the shop) and you feel like you should be here too, working hard. It's worth it when we win races. From my end, adding a second car has set us back on the organizational end. It's been a lot more responsibility to get the entire operation to run smoothly. We're working on that.
Q: What do you think about the future of the class?
DOWNING: Every week brings us a new challenge. Gainesville is a good example because we went there and it was totally different conditions than we've had before. The tires acted totally different from before. We just have to tackle each challenge as it comes.
PERLEY: It would be nice to see a few changes someday as far as technology goes such as electronic fuel injection someday. As far as the rest of the class I think that whoever excels in the class is going to drive it in a certain direction even if the rules stay the same. We've tried to embrace technology more than others. We validate more and test more before we go to the race track so we have a game plan. That allows us to be a little more confident at the track. The technology is there to be used but a majority of the class has ignored it up until now.
Q: Why would anyone ignore technology, especially these days?
PERLEY: If everyone was to believe that what happened 10 years ago was the absolute fastest you could get a car to run, we wouldn't be any faster. Everyone in our building believes that we can not only be faster, but there are better ways of becoming faster. If you see what other forms of motorsports are doing, then you can discover other ways of improving performance. We look to Formula One and NASCAR. Everyone on the team is a motorsports junkie. We all pay attention to all forms of racing. The rules are very different than ours and the conditions by which they race under are very different, but the technology can still be applied to our program. That works both ways. We have people who try to use what we are doing in their form of motorsport.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
DOWNING: For me it's like Candyland, it's a dream job. I look forward to coming to work everyday. I enjoy working with this group of people. They are the best people I've worked with. It's like coming to work with your buddies and doing what you want to do everyday. This place has allowed us to do more fun and interesting projects. We have great resources, technology and people that allow us to do that.
PERLEY: We get to work full time on someone's race car. It's stuff that we would probably do for nothing, but now we get paid for it. We have the opportunity here to implement new things. Ken allows us to try new ideas and put technology to elevate us to a higher level of performance. In other positions, we have been dictated to. We have a lot of freedom here.