Transcript of the NHRA POWERade Series teleconference Wednesday, Oct. 11. JOHN FORCE, RON CAPPS, ROBERT HIGHT, GREG ANDERSON MODERATOR: We will begin with our Funny Car and Pro Stock points leaders. With three events left in the 2006...
Transcript of the NHRA POWERade Series teleconference Wednesday, Oct. 11.
JOHN FORCE, RON CAPPS, ROBERT HIGHT, GREG ANDERSON
MODERATOR: We will begin with our Funny Car and Pro Stock points leaders. With three events left in the 2006 POWERade Series season, this will be the final of our series of teleconferences with the points leaders. This one will be a little different. As opposed to just having the leader in each respective class, we're going to have the points leader and the drivers closest to him or her in the POWERade Series world championship points races.
Next week as a notice, we will be having another teleconference, same time, same date, with the Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle championship contenders.
We're going to begin today with the Funny Car drivers, with only 35 points separating the top three drivers. Thirteen-time world champion John Force is in first place; three-time runner-up Ron Capps is in second place just one point back; and 2005 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner Robert Hight is in third place, 35 points back. .
John, let's begin with you. Thoughts on these last three races as we close the 2006 season?
FORCE: Well, we've been struggling. Every time we get a shot at the title, we seem to screw up. Capps has been very consistent. We got around him by one point, but that's nothing to brag about. We just can't seem to get in the groove.
Robert seems to be the hottest car right now in the groove. He won two races, then he was runner-up at Reading. We faced a couple rain-outs. There's not much of a call I can make. We're working hard. If Ron Capps stays on his roll, consistency can keep him right in this game till the end. We seem to keep screwing up. We're trying to get over that issue.
MODERATOR: Thanks, John.
Next we'll go to Ron. Ron, you of course ran the tight race with John and Gary (Scelzi) last year so you have plenty of experience coming down to the wire. How does that help you going into these last three events this year?
CAPPS: Well, it always helps. Any time you can go through, you look at what Force has gone through in the past championships he's won, and even before that, the guy, he's on fire, upside down and everything, stuck it out. Look where he's at. You just got to have the true grit it takes to be in the position we're in, to roll up and stage a car at Pomona like we were last year, always trying to win a championship, all going out second round.
To roll up the first round, that second round last year, I mean, I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about the competitors being in that situation. It definitely helps.
Finishing second three times like I did those times, you know, it sounded like they were close, they weren't clinched till Pomona at that time. Those were pretty early in my career, taught me a lot. It wasn't like last year. Last year, that's as spectacular as it gets. I chalk that up to experience and hopefully I can use it this year.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Ron.
Third we have Robert Hight. Robert, as John mentioned, you come into this weekend's race off of two wins and a runner-up finish. You've made quite a run to get back in this race. You're only 35 points back. Why don't you talk about your position right now. With three events to go, what's going through your mind?
HIGHT: First off, I'm really excited to be here with these other two drivers, a chance to win this POWERade Series championship. We were kind of honestly written off going into the Western Swing. It looked like it was going to be a two-car race with Ron and John. We kind of held our own through the Western Swing, then have come on really, really strong.
I can't worry about what they do. It's guys like Phil Burkart, he took us all out last week. Luckily he got to them before he did me. There's 13 other drivers on Sunday that we have to watch for. These guys are going to be the spoilers.
You know, the main thing is to go to the next race and qualify well because qualifying points are going to be -- it comes down to qualifying points.
We just have to keep doing what we're doing and try to focus on what we do, not what everybody else is doing.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Robert. We'll open it up to questions.
Q: Mr. Capps, I'm curious, we have four great points races right now in the Pro categories. Do you see a need for any radical change to the points system?
CAPPS: You mean, as far as next year's deal?
CAPPS: Well, I think it's a wait and see. We all got this knee-jerk reaction, some good, some bad. You know, I think the excitement last year created the buzz to do what NHRA did. I think next year they're going to see what happens. I think the only questionable part of it is the very last part, where it goes down to the four and then just down to the last two races. I'm not sure about that myself personally.
I know NHRA is going to look at next year and next off-season change anything that might need to be changed.
As far as me, it's already exciting. Right now the guys that are fifth, sixth, seventh in points are definitely excited about (the Countdown to the Championship). You talk to Scelzi, I guarantee it's something he'd be pulling for right now. I've been in that position. It's going to create excitement. Force would say bottom line you have to look at -- a car has to be consistent. You got to be money come race day, especially last three or four races.
Regardless of the new points system, if you don't have your act together at those races, you're probably not going to do well if you are battling like I am with Robert and Force. I don't think it's going to be as big a deal as people think as far as the negativity of it.
Q: John, you made the comment that you've been screwing up some this year. Is that because of your age?
FORCE: You always get me on my age (laughter).
I think I'm on a little bit of overload. You know, my business got big, took on a TV show on A&E (Driving Force). Teaching these young drivers like Robert, now they're teaching me. Trying to evolve actually. You've got to focus on something. It's not just age. I can still cut it with the kids up there. But it's about focusing every minute on winning. That's what builds champions. I think a lot of times I show up at the race and my head's somewhere else. It's time to race, now I'm ready. There's been days you go to the starting line, you didn't have a clue what we did with the car.
In these last three races, I definitely got my game face on and I'm going there to try to win. That's my game plan. Castrol and Ford, all these people paid me, AAA of Southern California, that was to win championships. I lost last year to two kids there, Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps. I know where their focus was. No excuses, I choked. I'm paid to win. I don't want to make that mistake again. It's not like the old days where you could make a mistake. There's not room for error. We need to do everything right. I was guilty of not doing things right this last year and the beginning of this year, but I think I'm back on track.
Q: John, you had hinted earlier this year that you might put (daughter) Ashley in a Nitro car possibly (in Las Vegas) or Pomona. Is that still a possibility?
FORCE: No, that will not happen. She's testing at Richmond this week on Monday. She's flying in to test. She'll be testing at Vegas. She'll be testing -- that will be the end of it till we start testing the beginning of the season.
Her crew chief, Dean "Guido" Antonelli, in this points chase, we thought if we could get there and get around Capps and wrap it up, that's before Robert got into the game, that we could pull "Guido" from our team and put him on her own team, which she has a new trailer, new car, everything ready to go. Hell, she ran quick enough at Indy in testing to qualify at Indy, or at least pretty close. I don't know the actual numbers.
It would hurt us in the points chase now. No one's going to lock this up at Richmond. I don't think anyone is going to lock this up at Vegas. This is doing exactly what NHRA likes because they said part of the reason they changed the points structure for next year is because last year when the battle went down to the end, it was between three people and that put more people in the stands. That's what they're trying to make sure that happens and nobody runs away with it.
We'll see where that goes. Hell, I forgot what you asked.
Q: About Ashley.
FORCE: Ashley would love to. She's hungry to go right now. Right now we're in negotiations with Castrol and a number of sponsors where we're going to go with Ashley because a woman has a big value in this market and we want to make sure we go the right direction. A lot of decisions made by Ford, Castrol and the new sponsors that are taking a look at her right now. So, no, she will not be in the car. I'm sorry I drug that out.
Q: John, how much of a distraction has this A&E Driving Force show been for your season this year? If you had it to do all over again, would you?
FORCE: Yes, the TV show put me on overload obviously to the point where it affected my health. I had trouble with my speech because I damaged my vocal cords because if I don't go enough, the show costs more. It put a lot of stress and it drained me.
But I had to find the balance and we worked that out. I have to take away any time I had left for myself just to be able to rest. You can't do a job right unless you focus on it. But no excuses here. I'm back on track. My car wasn't in the game in the beginning of the year. Nobody could beat Capps. Everywhere he went on a good track, he beat us. When it was a bad track, he beat us. We had a powerful car. All of my Mustangs could run low ET, they just couldn't win rounds. Now Robert has bounced back with some pretty good consistency. I'll still not there yet.
But, yeah, I got a one-point lead. I just got to try to keep my mind right and (in the final) three races do the best I can.
Q: Follow-up on Ashley. When she does come out in the Funny Car, will that be a fourth Funny Car for your team?
FORCE: Yes, it will.
Q: John, you've been involved in these big battles before in your career. What makes you better off at handling this and getting ready for this final in Pomona than some of the other drivers?
FORCE: Well, Robert's new at this. You know, he was rookie of the year. I taught him, you know, what I know. But Robert was a professional trap shooter. You know, he could have went to the Olympics and he was shooting trap and skeet and that kind of stuff, I guess. But he has a real good focus. So Robert's pretty good.
I've got a lot of experience. The problem is age is my downfall because age does take away your energy. Now, Capps has the experience, maybe not as much as me because I have more years, but he has enough years to have all the experience. You can only get to a point, and Capps is there and he has youth. I always want to say that, well, maybe the little more experience I have for a few more years gives me a little bit of edge. But I think we're equal in the playing field, Capps and I. I might give a little bit of edge over Robert Hight. But Robert has been damn good under pressure. You saw him at Indy. It don't seem to weigh on him the way it does on me.
Ashley has that same coolness. So does Ron Capps. We all take it different. We fight it different. But I found that I've had days that the age thing bit me on the starting line, Christmas tree at Indy, red light. My crew chief said, 'Where did that come from?' It broke my heart because I felt I failed my team. I thought, I shouldn't be here if I can't do the job. The day before I won the Skoal Showdown. In the old days, the brain didn't play tricks on me unless I drank too many beers. Now some days it does. I hope it don't catch me in this race.
Q: Ron Capps, over the season you've been extremely successful, but there's been a lot of discord (regarding confrontation earlier this season between Capps and teammate Whit Bazemore at Atlanta) within your team. How has that affected your run for the championship?
CAPPS: No, no, you know, that turned out to be better in the long run than it was before it happened. That really has had nothing to do with it. You look at the overall year and you look how good the season we had the first half, those five wins really coming off -- right after Gainesville from then on. People laughed at me a little bit quite a ways back when I said if we're not careful, Force and I, we were out over 200 points, if we're not careful, Robert Hight, Tony Pedregon, these guys are going to be right on our butts. That's exactly what the Brut team did last year. We kind of hovered around third to fifth place for most of the year and had a terrific last four races that put us into the championship hunt.
I've got a really young group of guys on my crew. I've kind of become or had to become sort of a team leader. To be honest with you, Don Schumacher, there's a lot of stuff going on with some of his other teams. It just really hasn't been a distraction. I think it's more of a motivator. Brut signed on. They're good for next year. There's a lot of stuff that kind of put everybody at ease in our camp. Don Schumacher has brought in quite a few more sponsors.
Early in my career I learned not to let those distractions get to you. That's why you have guys like Don Schumacher and especially Ed McCulloch. He's been in the middle of controversy as a driver, as a crew chief. He knows all that. So it's a guy I can go to and I can talk to if I have any questions. He's kind of a dad to me. Like my five-year-old, I was teaching him how to ride without training wheels yesterday. Sometimes you have to tell him to pay attention. Sometimes Ace has to grab me and say, I need you in here, I need your head in the game. It's things like that that for me was never a distraction, but I got guys I can go to if I do have a question.
Q: Robert, with the rain-outs that have happened, the rain-out at Redding and Richmond, how has that affected your attitude toward the pressure of the race, knowing that the schedule is getting altered like it's been, how are you preparing now with Richmond coming up heading into Vegas and Pomona for the points chase?
HIGHT: Well, we try to stay busy working back here at the shop, keep busy so we're not actually thinking about this points deal. There's not a lot you can do about it till you get there racing anyway.
We need to get -- it's important to have four qualifying runs in a race. It scares me to go into a race where there's going to be rain and know that you might only have one or two shots to get in. You may not make it. You've got to qualify to be there to race on Sunday.
We just try to stay busy back here, look forward. I'm kind of liking the forecast that we're having for Richmond. It looks like it's going to be real, real cool there. That kind of fits our deal, the way Jimmy likes to run the cars.
Q: Is the rain going to hold off?
HIGHT: It looks like it is. There might be a little chance on Friday morning of some thunderstorms. After that, it looks like it's going to be dry and cool.
Q: Robert, can you say how much your background as a competitive shooter has helped your transition into being a contender?
HIGHT: Yeah, because, you know what, I failed a lot at shooting in the beginning because your mind starts working and it actually is detrimental to the outcome. You can't get to the outcome unless you do everything right along the way. There was a lot of times where you could in a hundred-target race, you'd break the first 75 straight, then you start thinking about the score. Oh, boy, I only have 25 to go. When you start thinking about that, you're not thinking clearly on each shot, what it takes to break the target, just like you've done the previous 75 targets. Same as we've done all these races getting here, we have to keep doing the same thing, and the results will take care of themselves. That's kind of the way I look at it.
I don't have any effect on what John does or Ron or their cars or any of the other 13 cars out there. I have to do my job and hope my crew and Jimmy sets my car up properly. If all that works out, you know, I think we're going to be right there at the end.
Continued in part 2