Funny Car, Pro Stock Bike pre finale teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: I know you guys try to focus on what you're doing trying to get your car down the track, but I imagine run order on Sunday will be an important thing to keep an eye on. Where the guys in the top 5 in the standings in...

Continued from part 1

Q: I know you guys try to focus on what you're doing trying to get your car down the track, but I imagine run order on Sunday will be an important thing to keep an eye on. Where the guys in the top 5 in the standings in racing in that first round on Sunday morning. Robert, you want to take that first?

ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, you know, there's lots of scenarios and things to look at. You know, I talked to Tim last Monday after Vegas, and he likes to run first, you know. I kind of agree with him. Because you end up changing your car or changing the way you're thinking or you're, you know, just the whole outlook on racing if you're looking at other racers. It's easier if you can just go up there and be the first pair and do what you do. Get the win and just let each pair come and each round come as they come. Sometimes that's harder to do.

And I know Tim had it hard last week. He had to be No. 8. He was 8th pair. So he had a lot of time to think about what everybody else was doing, and what he was doing with his car. Honestly, on Sunday, if I have first pick, I want to be first pair.

Q: How about you, Tim? Talk about last weekend in Las Vegas and how that might effect your decision where you prefer to run in the order?

TIM WILKERSON: Yeah, Robert and I did discuss that. That's exactly what happened. The reason we got into this discussion was I was yelling at him because he runs so well first round that I figured I could do that, too, and I went out there and smoked the tires. I told him, way to go, I had my car set-up so I would have won the round, and there you go and screw me up.

But it is a scenario that happens to us a lot, especially when I'm trying to tune and drive at the same time. I pay attention to a few select cars. And (crew chief of the Auto Club Ford Mustang) Jimmy Prock is one of them, because they have such good cars. If they can go a certain ET, I always feel like I can at least run close to that. So I felt pretty confident in the call I was making there and it just ended up not working out.

But like you say, the first round draws are very exciting. I tried to lock Cruz (Pedregon) in the port-a-john there on Sunday in Vegas, and it didn't work out. But if Beckman doesn't do a better job for us next week, then we're going to lock him in the port-a-john, that's what's going to happen.

Q: This is, well, I had a question first for Tim, and a question for Robert. You're having such a, win lose or draw whatever happens on Sunday, do you still look at this season, I mean, when it's all said and done you're having one of the best seasons of your career? You can't walk away a loser, really, can you at this point? It's been such a good season for you.

TIM WILKERSON: No, I think you're right. We've won more rounds than I think anybody possibly can at this point. I had a fan tell me the other day I've won more rounds than anybody possibly can. So already it's a championship in our own minds.

Unfortunately, the points system, the last six races really makes it more important than we've been able to accomplish unfortunately for us. But it's been a really good year. And you're absolutely right, there is no way we're going to leave this year with our head held down.

We've proven that we can run with the best of them. And with the best of them, I mean Robert and Cruz and Tony, and the Schumacher group. When you can run with those guys, you're really just doing a terrific job.

So for my guys, I'm very proud of them. I mean, the financial end of it would really make our year to win the Championship, no doubt about that. Robert and I have talked about that, too, how any of us could end up third, fourth or fifth, and the payroll goes down substantially from first to fourth or fifth. So I'd about give Robert the trophy if he would trade me the check, I can tell you that right now.

Q: Robert, this off-season, how important is this off-season going to be? We've seen this year with the rules changing and the NHRA Funny Car class. You go from 1,000 feet to after the tragic accident of Scott Kalitta, we see the economy really struggling at this point in our nation and there's a lot of concern about sponsorship, not only in NHRA but all forms of Motorsports. But if you can talk about some of the things to watch in the months to come before you guys open up the season back in February, how important is this going to be for you guys?

ROBERT HIGHT: Well, the off-season gives you a chance to kind of recharge your batteries and that. I'm very fortunate being here with the Auto Club of Southern California, we have a long-term sponsorship with them. But the economy is definitely felt all throughout Motorsports.

That is one thing we need to work on this winter is trying to refine things and maybe try to do things to save a little money for the months coming ahead, because it's not going to get any easier.

When you're at the races, it doesn't look like NHRA has been hit that hard. Looks like they're doing a great job of getting the fans in the stands. You know, it's a good time for all of us to just recharge our batteries and try to get ready for next year.

I think this off-season is going to be a little better than last because we had to completely redesign cars and build new things to get out there this year after the accidents that we had last year with John and Eric.

So this is going to be a better winner for us. You know, I'm excited about it. I just hope that we can do a little more testing, and we don't lose a lot of cars. There are 20 good Funny Cars at every race, and I want to see that continue next year, because it just makes the challenge that much greater. And when you can win, it makes it that much sweeter.

Q: Good point you talk about you watch it on TV and you see packed grandstands at the place you go. Is that just a great testament to what how loyal the fans are? In tough times they still manage to find that income to come out and support the guys?

ROBERT HIGHT: That's for sure. And it shows that NHRA is doing their job at advertising and promoting, and it just shows what a great product we have to offer to the fans. You know, I hope the sponsors see that as well so they'll continue (indiscernible: investing in NHRA) so that all these teams can continue to do what we love.

THE MODERATOR: Footnotes regarding the packed stands. We did have all of our reserve seats at Las Vegas last weekend were sold out.

Then following up on some of the Tim Wilkerson questions. Tim had six wins this season, which is one more than he had in his first 12 years of NHRA POWERade Series racing. He had 5 which gives him 11 for his career. The first place prize money for the 2009 POWERade Series Champions and Top Fuel and Funny Car is half a million dollars.

Q: You've been so close the last few years in the points and everything, and you've had the low qualifying spots as of late. Do you feel you're doing all you can do? Or do you feel you're scratching your head wondering what it is that you're missing?

ROBERT HIGHT: No, I think we've done a great job with my team. You know, it just proves how tough it is. There are 20 good cars at every race that can qualify. That means there are four good ones that are on the outside.

You know, that's definitely what we don't need to have happen this weekend. You know, that could happen if you go out there and try to shoot for number one. Because if you're number one, that means that we're going to be within two rounds of the lead, which is better than three, you know, with four to go.

But you can also step on your foot a little bit and you've just got to get qualified. But there are so many good cars. Anybody can win at any race.

You know, Tim Wilkerson, I think he's won double the races that he's won in his whole career just this year. So that just shows how tough it is, and how many good cars there are and how anybody can win.

So I think my team's done a great job. And finishing second is nothing to hold your head about. After you've done it, you want to be No. 1. And it's just not that easy, you know.

Cruz Pedregon, he came from nowhere. They haven't won races in a lot of years. He's been competitive, but now he's leading the points and he's got a great team he's put together. He's a great driver. And, you know, the budgetary issues, Tony Pedregon beat us last year. The teams with the biggest money aren't always going to win.

I'm just excited to be going to Pomona with a shot. We actually have a better shot this year going to Pomona than we did last year. We would have needed a national record, and this year we're two rounds back, so I'm looking forward to it.

Q: You wear two hats as a driver and a tuner. Which is more stressful going into the final race? I know you felt you were too aggressive at Vegas with your set-up?

TIM WILKERSON: I don't know. I think it's much more stressful being the tuner. Believe it or not, when the car starts, I'm happy (laughing). So I'm usually in pretty good shape when the car starts. A couple of people have told me I don't know how you can drive and tune both.

But tuning just seems much more stressful. I enjoy driving and I'm not the greatest leaver out there or the greatest driver, but I find myself in the middle with anybody that's out there and hopefully when it comes down to crunch time I'm not doing the wrong thing. I just try to be a little machine up there, be consistent and hit the gas and do the best I can.

The tuning part of it, I can tell you, Robert and I did talk about that on Monday at Vegas. When you're the last pair, you're walking around there on pins and needles. You know all you need to do is beat the guy beside you, which doesn't sound like much, until you think about the quality of the teams that you're racing against, and the quality of the cars.

You look at our qualifying times, sometimes, and from time to bottom we're not that far apart. So usually you're racing a guy that's only .02 or .03 hundredths slower than you. And I've won two or three races this year from the bottom half of the field, so anybody knows that can be done.

But it's really exciting. And I think that everybody's going to have a good time at (the Auto Club NHRA Finals at) Pomona (Nov. 13-16). I know we're all looking forward to it, that's for sure.

Q: Next year are you going to have a tuner or you're not going to do that anymore yourself?

TIM WILKERSON: No, I'm still going to be the tuner. Nothing has changed except we'll be running the Ford Mustang, and Bob and I will be exchanging some ideas. And Chris Cunningham and I and Mark Denner will do a lot of talking about how to make their car better and hopefully make our car better.

Q: Tim or Robert, talking about the safety deal. Going into next year, has NHRA given you a decision whether they're going to go back to quarter mile or stay at a thousand or given a preference to stay at a thousand?

TIM WILKERSON: I really don't have the preference. I like the 1,000 foot because of the safety of some of the racetracks that are a little short that we run at. Pomona is really one of them that's a little rough. It's a little short.

We've never had any bad incidences there, but after Kalitta's problem, we decided as a group that a thousand foot would be a good deal. NHRA implemented that themselves. I don't know that there's a decision to go back to quarter mile because of the heritage and all.

But Robert may know more about that than I do because I'm not really in the political loop. But the 1,000-foot deal is fine with me. I don't think it's hurt racing and I think the fans are getting accustomed to it. It's almost like the 90 to 85% (gasoline mixture), the cars were a little slower at first, then everybody boo-hooed it. Then it got better and better.

And I think the 1,000-foot racing that's made them closer based on our qualifying times. What do you think about that, Robert?

ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, I agree 100%. Just lucky to be driving, and no matter what the distance is.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks to everyone, and to the drivers who took time out of their obviously busy schedules this week. Look forward to this weekend.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson