49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals defending winners: Tony Schumacher, John Force, Jeg Coughlin, Angelle Savoie If it is even possible to imagine, at one time, there was just one major drag race. Drag racers from all over the nation would...
49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals defending winners:
Tony Schumacher, John Force, Jeg Coughlin, Angelle Savoie
If it is even possible to imagine, at one time, there was just one major drag race. Drag racers from all over the nation would gather at one location and try to see who the best really was. That race, no matter where the location, was always called The Nationals. Everyone went to The Nationals. For 49 years, the best of the best in drag racing still gather for a race that has one more qualifying session, one more day of racing and a ton more money. That race found a permanent home in Indianapolis more than 30 years ago, and today it is called the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and remains the most prestigious event on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing schedule. Tony Schumacher, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie have all won the race twice. John Force has four Indy victories to his credit. In this Q&A session, the defending event winners talk about what makes the U.S. Nationals special today, how difficult it is to win the biggest race of the season and whether winning Indy ever gets old.
Q: What makes the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals so special?
COUGHLIN: Being the 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals really speaks a lot about the race. It has been running for 49 years and it has always been the biggest race. It brought the West Coast and the East Coast together and it has always been the big deal. It always brought in a great mix of racers and over the years it is still the leading and most prestigious race on the schedule. It carries a lot of weight. A team likes ourselves had a great year so far and we are sitting third in the points right now and a win at Indy can certainly Band-Aide a lot of the woes we had at the beginning of the year.
Q: How important is winning the U.S. Nationals to a driver's career?
FORCE: It's the biggest race in the sport. It's our history, so (for drag racers), winning it is like winning the Indy 500. You work all year to win the championship, but if there's one race you want to win it's Indy. Some drivers don't have the funding or the payroll to really win the championship because you have to be good for 23 races. But you can still save your season by winning Indy. Bottom line, I think that makes it a lot more competitive race because of the prestige. Everybody loads up for Indy. I'm the same as everybody else. I want to win Indy every year. You don't get any more points than any other race but winning Indy means something in history.
SAVOIE: I guess it's somewhat important to win the U.S. Nationals during a driver's career because of the prestige, but, frankly, there's really nothing different winning there or in Reading, for example. The points are the same in either case. Again, the U.S. Nationals has history, but I prepare for that weekend like I do any other weekend. It's just another race that I want to win. I want to win championships and winning there helps in that process.
Q: How important is Indy in the scheme of the season?
FORCE: It's the oldest and the biggest with the most tradition. When you get to Indy, you know who's in the hunt (for the championship) and who isn't. And with the Budweiser Shootout, it's a chance for a really big payday. My crew guys love it because (when you win) the bonuses are bigger.
Q: How tough is it not to win at Indy?
SCHUMACHER: I've been in the finals about half the time I've competed there and I can tell you that every other time has been a depressing day. I've won it twice and that's a great feeling, for sure. It's such an important race. Everyone points towards that weekend. The whole atmosphere is so awesome. It's really special to be a participant in a race that captures the attention of so many people.
COUGHLIN: You want to win every race you go to, no matter what the race is. Indy is just that much sweeter. All of the manufacturers are there so a lot of our sponsors and people involved with the Jeg's Mail Order are there. I think it makes it more special because they get to come in and see the car and see what happens. The fans come from all over the country to see this race. It is a day longer than any other race, we qualify one more time and you have to have your program together. There will be more than 50 Pro Stock cars there vying to get into 16 spots. That makes it tougher too because everyone throws their best effort out at Indy. We're going to have our program as fresh and stout as it can be. We try to prepare for all 23 races in that fashion, but you always seem to dig a little deeper for Indy. The guys always work a little harder for that race.
Q: Does winning Indy ever get old?
SCHUMACHER: It never gets old winning Indy. It's certainly not old for me as yet. And, I don't see it changing any time soon. It's important to win Indy, but, in the grand scheme of things, it's not any more important than another race on the schedule. However, when you win Indy, the one thing you can definitely say is you beat the best given the quality and quantity of cars that show up there. To me, that's what's most important.
FORCE: No. You never get tired of winning Indy but you get tired while you're winning Indy. It's the longest race we have, more days, more qualifying rounds plus we finish on Monday. When we were struggling early in the season, we were testing almost every Monday and we'd always do good in testing. So I told somebody that I couldn't wait for Indy because that's the only time we race on Monday.
SAVOIE: Winning Indy or any other race never gets old. That's what we're in this for - to win races - anywhere, anytime.
Q: How special was your first Indy victory?
SCHUMACHER: My first win was real special for a lot of reasons, but, probably, the biggest thing that stands out is the fact that we won with the U.S. Army being on the car for the first time. That was amazing - we had changed from Exide Batteries to the Army beginning with that race and we went out and won. Needless to say, we had a lot of happy U.S. Army folks that day.
SAVOIE: When I won Indy, the one thing I clearly recall is the wild ride I had in the finals. The bike was real wobbly. I told my guys - 'Wow, what an incredible ride.' Of course, they were yelling and screaming that we had won.