Hagan, Pedregon, Hight - NHRA teleconference, part 1

NHRA teleconference 2009-08-04 An Interview With: MATT HAGAN CRUZ PEDREGON ROBERT HIGHT MICHAEL PADIAN: The final three races Countdown to Ten are the 28th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals August 13-16, at Brainerd International Raceway in ...

NHRA teleconference 2009-08-04

An Interview With:

MICHAEL PADIAN: The final three races Countdown to Ten are the 28th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals August 13-16, at Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minnesota, and then the 25th annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pennsylvania August 21 through the 23rd, and finally the 55th annual Mac Tools US Nationals, Labor Day weekend at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis.

Today we have with us three of the drivers on the Funny Car bubble right now: Tenth place, Cruz Pedregon; 11th place, Matt Hagan; and 12th place Robert Hight. The three drivers are separated by just 15 points, less than a single round of racing.

I'll begin with the two-time and defending NHRA Full Throttle Series Champion, Cruz Pedregon who drives the Advance Auto Parts Toyota Camry. Cruz, thoughts on these last three races, the tracks, and what strategy you and (crew chief) Rahn (Tobler) will be employing to ensure that you get into the playoffs?

CRUZ PEDREGON: Well, first of all, we kind of -- we just hope to have a fast car, I guess to summarize it. We pretty much have done a pretty good job of shooting ourselves in the foot, and I'm sure, you know, Robert can probably say the same thing, and Matt's car's probably been as good as any of us. But we all lack consistency, which is why we are sitting here talking about the bump spot today.

Our vantage point is we discovered that -- I think in a nutshell, we discovered what we were doing wrong, and I know in racing terms, that everybody has the hot ticket of the week or 'Oh we just found our problem.'

But literally, I think we can say that, I think maybe it took getting to this point and really being a lackluster season we've had so far and being in this position for us to -- maybe we are scared straight.

Maybe we are just looking to get back where we were towards the end of last year. We have all that data in our -- right in our fingertips, so we are just trying to figure out why didn't we find out about this earlier. But we didn't and we are here now, so we are just going to make the best of the last three.

MICHAEL PADIAN: As a reminder, Cruz and the Advance Auto Parts team won the last three races of the 2008 season to win the championship.

Next I'd like to introduce one of the four contenders for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award, Matt Hagan who drives the Shelor.com Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing.

Matt, you're just a rookie but you have plenty of experience to tap into in the DSR stable with Ron Capps and Jack Beckman there, and I'm wondering, how much of a resource have they been for you as you try to drive around, you know, not only as the defending champion but also a perennial championship contender in Robert Hight?

MATT HAGAN: I'd say it's been a tough battle this year. We started off strong and we've had some bumps along the way, but I know in my heart and I know our crew feels the same way, we have a front running car. We've qualified well but we have to make it happen on race day.

But to go back to your question, the guys that I'm able to talk to in my stable here with Ron Capps and Jack Beckman and Cory (McClenathan) and (Tony) Schumacher, it's very, very valuable, starting off as a driver, being able to go to them and to bring up different situations and you know, try to experience new things and try to learn from those guys, because they have gone through the school of hard knocks before. If I'm going to learn something and I don't have to go do it by talking to those guys, and when you come up against tough competitors like Cruz and Robert, you've got to have everything together, and you definitely don't want to leave anything on the table.

So I'm trying to learn from those guys and I'm also learning there's a big learning curve ahead of me still so, hopefully we'll do well with what we have.

MICHAEL PADIAN: The third driver I'd like to introduce today is Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang. Robert won the 2005 Auto Club Road to the Future Award when he finished in fifth place that year, and he's since finished second, second and fourth place the last three years.

Robert, it's been an unusual year for you, you've been stuck in 12th place now for nine races, but it seems like the Auto Club Ford has begun to show signs of life on the Western Swing. Have you and Jimmy Prock found what you were looking for? Cruz was talking about they found something; have you guys found something that you've been looking for all season and time to get the Auto Club Ford into the Playoffs?

ROBERT HIGHT: I think so. It's definitely starting to show a little promise. Like Cruz said, that's what we are lacking is consistency, and that's why we are in the shoes we are in.

We probably changed way too much stuff over the winter, and you know, normally, our teams go out and test a lot, so that's hurt us. The best car we've got on our team is Ashley (Force Hood), and you know, Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas did a great job in not taking anything on that car. You know, they haven't even used up a test session, as I know Tony and Cruz haven't been testing.

Tony (Pedregon)'s probably got the best car out there. So it's obvious that they probably didn't change a lot either, you know, at the beginning of the year, you always fear, you look at the cars contending, and there's more than ten good cars. So you know, my fear is kind of with me right now, because nobody believes that, you know, it's a guarantee to get in the Top-10.

That's where we are at right now. We are chasing a car that won the world championship last year, he's a great driver, and also, Matt Hagan, who I hope gets the Rookie of the Year because he's one of us, he's a Funny Car guy.

But it's going to be exciting the last three races, that's for sure, and just hope that we have what it takes to get this Auto Club Ford where it needs to be.

Q: Robert, can you talk a little about what happened in round three at Infineon, and also what you said about making a lot of changes, are you kind of going back and trying to put things back the way they were?

ROBERT HIGHT: Yes, that's basically -- at Chicago, we started kind of backtracking and putting this car back like it was last year. Since then, it's shown some promise.

But yeah, I definitely messed up at Infineon in the semis against Tony (Pedregon). You know, he's a killer. I rolled her in there and actually went a little too deep and the top light was blinking and instead of just letting it go, I tried to roll a little further and keep it from blinking, and the tree came down and I never even saw yellow. I heard Tony leave; I guess lucky for me, my car smoked the tires and I wasn't the one that lost it. But it still was a dumb mistake on my part, and you know, you've got to learn from those and move on.

You know, you've got to be on your game up there. With thousand-foot racing, the starting line is huge anymore.

Q: Both of you are proven entities, can you tell me what you know about Matt Hagan?

CRUZ PEDREGON: I know of him because I'm a fan of racing and I pay attention to the different kind of cars, and I know he's raced quite a bit in the IHRA and I believe in Funny Car a year before, maybe two years. In fact, I used to look on-line and I was wondering who the heck Matt Hagan was. He was running some pretty good runs and going to finals and cutting his teeth there and running on some of the racetracks that maybe are not the caliber of NHRA.

But then I understand he did some pro-mod racing, so you know, he's a heck of a nice guy. Seems like a very polished guy, and actually I bought one of his Toyota bodies that they ran last year. Got to know his Dad a little bit, a very class act. Formidable driver. He's in a good car and not taking that rookie business too far, because I feel like he's maybe newer than we are, but for sure, newer than me, but I think, you know, he's been around and he's seemed like he's handling it just fine. It's going to be interesting down the stretch.

ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, I've got to hang out a couple of times with Matt. You know, we did some bowling there in Las Vegas. We were on the Funny Car team and we won. He's just a little good guy. I think he actually got his first round win against me at Gainesville. I remember my first round win and how excited I was, and he was just a good guy about it all.

So like I said earlier, he's my vote for Rookie of the Year. These funny cars are tough to drive, not that the dragsters aren't. He's just a good guy. He's on a good team over there with Schumacher; they wouldn't have hired him unless he was a class act and definitely had the talent to do what he's doing.

Q: Do you feel that you're at a disadvantage, because you're essentially a single-car team and running your own operation and running against Hagan with all of the backing of Schumacher and their resources and drivers and against Robert Hight, who has the whole John force team with him?

CRUZ PEDREGON: Well, to answer your question, no, I don't feel like I'm at a disadvantage. I think I am part of a multi-car team; one of the car is my brother. We are unique in that we don't have the headaches of one owner coming in and dealing with all of the stresses of running a team. I know it's difficult to run one team, let alone three or four. I don't know how Schumacher and John Force do it. I know it's very stressful.

But we help each other, Tony and I, and so we are really part of a multi-car team. It doesn't look like it, but we are. No disadvantage. We get on a roll, which is what it's going to take probably, because Robert and you guys have mentioned, it's starting to look like his car is coming to life.

We did a match race Saturday night up in Norwalk, and his car made two, it looked like, pretty flawless runs up there. And I know Matt has a good car, ran a 4.06 at the last race, and looks good there to make a run there.

So you know, I think it it's going to take the best we have, and so you know, like we did when we went on the championship run, we didn't worry too much about the competition as long as we can take care of business.

And I look at it this way; let me just say this: I firmly believe that if we are good enough, then we deserve it. If not, I don't really want to be a -- and as it may sound odd, I don't want to be in the Top-10 if we don't deserve it. And believe me, I'll be the first guy to shake whoever's hand of these two guys that can take us out, and I mean that sincerely. I don't mean to not sound cocky, but I'm looking forward to challenge ourselves and see if we are good enough.

I think we are, but time will tell.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Jack Beckman , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan