Funny Car, Pro Stock Bike pre finale teleconference, part 1

NHRA teleconference November 11, 2008 An interview with: ROBERT HIGHT (Funny Car), Auto Club/LA Dodgers Ford Mustang TIM WILKERSON (Funny Car), Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Impala EDDIE KRAWIEC (PSM), Screamin-Eagle Vance & Hines...

NHRA teleconference
November 11, 2008

An interview with:
ROBERT HIGHT (Funny Car), Auto Club/LA Dodgers Ford Mustang
TIM WILKERSON (Funny Car), Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Impala
EDDIE KRAWIEC (PSM), Screamin-Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson
CHRIS RIVAS (PSM), G-Squared Drag Specialties Buell

THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome the members of the media participating in today's teleconference as we prepare for the sixth and final race in the six-race, NHRA Playoff, the Countdown to 1.

Joining us on today's call, drivers in the Funny Car race, as well as the Pro Stock Motorcycle race, the two categories in which championships are still at stake.

Before I introduce those drivers I'd like to quickly acknowledge Tony Schumacher and Jeg Coughlin. Tony clinched a fifth straight in sixth overall POWERade Series Top Fuel World Championship for the U.S. Army Team at Las Vegas last weekend. This weekend in Pomona, Tony can break Greg Anderson's all time NHRA marks for wins and round wins in a season.

Tony's 15 wins have equaled Greg's 2004 total, and his 74 round wins are two shy of Greg's 2004 total.

In Pro Stock, with his win in Las Vegas, Jeg Coughlin all but clinched a second straight overall POWERade Pro Stock world championship for the Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt team. All he needs to do to clinch the championship this weekend in Pomona is to qualify.

So joining us on today's call, we have Chris Rivas, Pro Stock Motorcycle, he's in third place; Robert Hight, Funny Car, He's in third place; and Tim Wilkerson, also in Funny Car, he is in second place.

First gentleman I'd like to introduce is Chris Rivas, he's 39 points back in that Pro Stock Motorcycle race behind Matt Smith and Eddie Krawiec.

Chris, a point or two in qualifying could mean the difference in needing to go one more or one less round than the riders ahead of you when we get to Sunday's race. How much are you focused on qualifying going into this weekend?

CHRIS RIVAS: We always try to qualify with the best that we can, always putting our first good step forward. You know, the G-Squared Drag Specialties team is doing everything that they can to go ahead and qualify well right off the trailer.

The guys back at the shop in Americus, Georgia and G2 Motorsports are there working on a new engine for us, something that they've been working on for a while. They're trying to get it, it should be actually probably already in the air on the way to Pomona. If not, it will be there soon.

So we're doing everything that we can possibly to get our first qualifying sessions as good as they can possibly be. Obviously, we want to achieve the pole position, and that will kind of hopefully lighten the load as to what we need to do and the rest of eliminations on Sunday.

THE MODERATOR: With Chris being 39 points back, round wins are worth 20 points each, so you can do the math. He's right now within two rounds of catching first place Matt Smith. If he was to fall 41 points behind and lose two points in qualifying, he'd then have to win three more rounds than Matt on Sunday.

Next I'd like to move on to Funny Car. The first driver I'll introduce is Tim Wilkerson who is 12 points back behind Cruz Pedregon. Tim of course pilots the Levi, Ray and Shoup Chevy Impala that he, himself, tunes.

It's been an amazing season with 6 wins and 16 weeks in first place, Tim. What are your thoughts heading into this week's finale having to make up that deficit behind Cruz, and keeping the guys behind you at bay like Robert, Tony Pedregon and Jack Beckman?

TIM WILKERSON: I think our thoughts are just to go down the racetrack and not make a mistake like we did in Las Vegas. Had a good car in Las Vegas, and just smoked the tires first round out there about 150 feet out. Then the worst case scenario that happened to us did, and that is Cruz going to the finals and winning the race.

Really after he got to the finals it was irrelevant whether he won the race or not, because in order for me to beat him, I would have to beat him in any round at Pomona anyway. So I was rooting for Robert the whole time, to tell you the truth, because I would much rather fight it out with Robert.

So, hopefully we can go to Pomona and things will be good for us there.

THE MODERATOR: The third driver I'll introduce is Robert Hight who pilots the Auto Club L.A. Dodgers Ford Mustang. Robert is currently 39 points back of Cruz Pedregon, 27 points behind Tim Wilkerson on that 39-point magic number that we talked to Chris Rivas about.

Robert, you've won three straight races and four out of five at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona where we'll be racing this weekend. If you extend that streak you could well be hoisting a lot more than simply a Wally on Sunday night. Have you let that thought creep into your head at all?

ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, I have. We love racing out here at Pomona. It's our home track. But this Funny Car class, it is so tough just to get qualified, you know. We can't go out there and be shooting for the moon and trying to get number one spot and stay ahead of all these guys. It's tough enough just to qualify at any field in the Funny Car class.

So, we can't control what the other guys do. All we can do is what my Auto Club Ford and Jimmy Prock know how to do. And it's not always that easy.

I think we qualified in the bottom half at the (season-opening) Winternationals (in February), ended up winning. But every point is going to count, you know. That 39 points that I'm behind Cruz, that could easily right now, you know, that's just two rounds. But that could easily, if it was 41 points, it could be three rounds.

So every point is critical, but we can't let that consume us. We've just got to go out there and do what we know how to do.

THE MODERATOR: Eddie Krawiec has joined us. Eddie is 19 points behind Matt Smith right now. Eddie drives the Vance & Hines, the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.

Eddie, you have had an amazing season. A couple of times this is year in Memphis and most recently in Vegas you wanted your shot at Matt Smith and you got it. I'm guessing you'd like nothing more than to hold your destiny again this weekend and have another shot at Matt Smith?

EDDIE KRAWIEC: The field in Pro Stock motorcycle is actually pretty tough. You know, it's grown leaps and bounds in the past two or three years. Now just to be able to qualify for the class is a big deal. Not, you know, not just to say, basically, what it comes down to is qualifying, which it's not going to.

But it's tough to just get in there. And that is where the weekend starts. Hopefully we can put our Screamin-Eagle Vance & Hines Harley up on the poll there and get another No. 1 spot. That will definitely help out.

But to race against the guys out there, Chris (Rivas) and Matt (Smith) and everybody else, you can't count any rounds as a gimme. So our main goal is to just go out there, focus, be consistent, go rounds.

Bottom line is I'm going there to win the race. If I can win the race, I'll walk away with the championship. So that's my plan, and I'm not going to change it.

Q: Well, to do that, you'd obviously have to stay within the one round to hold your own destiny. You're 19 points back. We talked to Robert and Chris who are 39 points back. How important is qualifying to make sure you stay under that 20-point threshold?

EDDIE KRAWIEC: It obviously is. That is the main thing, to go out there and qualify well. You know, Matt is right on the top of the board there, so you've got to outqualify him.

Thank God, you know, I have enough points that it sort of covers the qualifying against Chris, but anything can happen in that situation. So qualifying is the main goal. I know Chris just said he has a new motor and everything. And trust me Vance & Hines certainly isn't sleeping on the week and a half off. So we're going there looking for the No. 1 spot as is Chris and as is Matt.

Q: Robert, you've been in the battle two years in a row now, 2005 battle for Rookie of the Year. In second place in 2006 and 2007. How do you tap into that experience? You've been in these battles two years in a row, and here you are again.

ROBERT HIGHT: Well, if you look at the three of us. Actually, we can't forget about Tony and Beckman either, they're right behind us. But I'm probably the rookie of the bunch. Even though I finished second the last two years, I don't know that that gives me any kind of edge or anything. It's just tough.

We just -- I do have John Force behind me. He's won 14 championships, and I have three other Ford Mustangs that are going to be out there trying to help me and knock off some of these guys.

But I don't think there is any edge as far as the last two years go. You start the season out and you think well, man, I want to get to No. 1 this year. I'm tired of finishing second. But second isn't always that bad either. If you look at it, I could be fifth or sixth if this doesn't go the way we planned. So second would be good, but we really are shooting for that title.

Q: Tim, they mentioned the amount of weeks that you had held the lead, barring that you're trailing now albeit such a minor amount of points. Will you approach Pomona differently now that you are the chaser rather than the chasee?

TIM WILKERSON: Well, I probably would say that we have to be a little more aggressive than we normally would, because we have no -- there is no room left to make-up, right. So in order for us to come away with the trophy, we need to make sure that we go as many rounds as anybody and one more round than our friend Cruz, so there we have it.

I think you did hit the nail on the head though. It's not going to be an easy transition going there thinking that now we have to win every round. Robert reiterated that we all have the same goal. And whoever gets to the finals is going to be the champion it looks like to me.

So with any luck, it can be the Levi, Ray and Shoup car. But like Robert said, you can't forget about Tony and Beckman and his other Mustangs. They're going to be out there trying to knock the rest of us off, too.

Quite frankly, Ashley (Force)'s had probably the best car in the class the last half a dozen races, so she's not going to be taken lightly either. It's going to be an interesting weekend. I hope all of you understand how really cool this is coming down to the last race.

Q: Eddie, you have not been in the winner's circle this season. You talked about this weekend if you were able to get in the winners circle it would be quite a way to celebrate your first victory, would it not?

EDDIE KRAWIEC: Yeah, it's sort of a little bit of an understatement. I sort of have mixed emotions on it. I really want to win this championship, and I really want to win a race. But it sounds kind of weird, but I would be happy to hold off until next year if I could win the championship.

Bottom line is that that big POWERade trophy would be a pretty exciting thing to have. And to have that before winning the race would, I think, etch my name in the books there. I believe there is only one other racer to do that. I think it was in Top Fuel in the late '70s, I believe I heard. But I think that would be a pretty cool task.

Yeah, I definitely want to get a Wally. I want to put it on top of my desk. I walk around the shop here and walk into Matt Hines' area, and he's got POWERade trophy, and Wallys and so does Andrew. I would love to have one for myself. So sort of leaves me a little left out.

But I would be willing to wait if I could put that POWERade trophy in its place for this season.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Chris Rivas , Matthew Smith , Robert Hight , Eddie Krawiec