Leaders teleconference pre Las Vegas, part 1

NHRA teleconference October 21, 2008 An interview with: JEG COUGHLIN MATT SMITH TONY SCHUMACHER TIM WILKERSON MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to begin today by welcoming the media who have joined us on today's NHRA POWERade Series call. And thanks...

NHRA teleconference
October 21, 2008

An interview with:

MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to begin today by welcoming the media who have joined us on today's NHRA POWERade Series call. And thanks to the four points leaders who have joined us, as well. I will introduce each of the drivers and ask them to make an opening statement, then we will open it up to questions.

We'll begin with Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. When that session is complete, I will bring in the Funny Car and Top Fuel drivers.

There are two races remaining in the six-race NHRA Playoff, the Countdown to 1. That's the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals next weekend at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the Auto Club Finals November 13-16 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Three of the four regular-season champions remain in first place. The exception is Pro Stock, where Jeg Coughlin has overtaken Greg Anderson.

Three of the four current points leaders are defending series champions, the exception is Funny Car where Tim Wilkerson leads defending champion Tony Pedregon by 91 points.

With that said, I'll proceed with the introductions and opening Wstatements. e'll begin with Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, as I Wsaid.

First I'd like to introduce the current points leader, the defending champion in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith, who rides the Nitro Fish Buell. Matt finished the 12-race Pro Stock Motorcycle regular season with a category leading four wins, which was good enough to earn him the regular-season championship. He remains in first place today with two races remaining.

Matt, you've had the best bike all year. Any reason at all for concern entering the final two races with a 42-point lead over Eddie Krawiec of Vance & Hines' Harley Davidson team?

MATT SMITH: There's always concern when you have the factory of Vance & Hines' team hitting at you. It might not be Andrew, but they're going to do everything they can to make Eddie win the championship and overtake us.

We're sitting here, we've been testing. We ran a lot of test sessions since Memphis. We've got a fast bike. Even my teammate Angie (McBride) has helped me over the last two races dramatically.

MICHAEL PADIAN: I will now introduce the Pro Stock points leader Jeg Coughlin, who is also the defending champion in Pro Stock. Jeg drives the Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt. I'm wondering, Jeg, you have the experience with three championships, including last year. What is it going to take over the last two races to hold off the pack of Kurt Johnson, Dave Connolly and Greg Anderson, who trail you by 74, 77 and 82 points?

JEG COUGHLIN: It's going to take some extremely strong running, without question. Two races left in POWERade playoffs, the Countdown to 1. Certainly last year at this time we were going into Las Vegas in third place, two rounds behind the leader. This year we're four rounds, or mathematically three and a half rounds above number two.

We can't let down a bit. We've got to be extremely aggressive on offense and get out there and race hard. Our goal is to get out and win Vegas, stroll down the street to Pomona, put ourselves in a position to win that race as well.

But you just mentioned three bad hombres and three very, very good teams that are nipping on our heels. It's going to take a great effort to hold them off, but that's our plan.

That's what's exciting. I think the fans are going to be treated to some just outstanding racing. Most of the championships are appearing to come down to the final race in Pomona. That's drama. That's excitement. For the drivers and the teams, that's a lot of pressure. At the same time we love it as well.

MICHAEL PADIAN: We'll open it up to questions for Matt and/or Jeg.

Q: Matt, the bikes have had a longer time off than the other classes (Sept. 28 to Oct. 30). Do you feel like you really needed that time to get things together and make that final push or would you rather have had an extra race or at least not as much time in between races?

MATT SMITH: I'm kind of glad we had a little break. We don't run as many races as the other three pro classes (17 vs. 24). But we get burned out, too, just like I'm sure they are. I do a lot of the work myself. I'm really tired and wore out. It was good to have a break. We actually went last weekend and ran an all Harley drag race. Went 6.89 down there testing, won the race. We got some racing in, too.

Q: Jeg, did you do any testing during the break between Richmond and what's coming up here in Las Vegas?

JEG COUGHLIN: Well, we are planning on testing this coming Monday. We'll be just down the road at Tucson International Raceway, which is slightly more elevated than Las Vegas, but a very good racetrack. We're looking to get out there and run the wheels off and do clutch pieces, fuel pieces to try to get our car to respond a little bit better. We're just trying to split the hairs, make a faster car. I think we're going to run out there next Monday and Tuesday and come into Vegas hopefully with a little more efficiency and a little quicker car than we left Richmond with.

Q: Matt, how satisfying has this season been, to be in the lead when you've got all these good racers in this division?

MATT SMITH: You know, all of the pro divisions are hard. I don't care if it's Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock. But for the budget that we have and the amount of races that are behind us, you have the factory teams of Harley Davidson and S&S, you know, and even Don Schumacher pushing you. It's good to be out there and be in the front and to know that you're doing just as good a job as they are.

Like Michael said, we have won four races this year, the most of anybody. That's what we won last year. If we can win six rounds these last two races, that's what we did last year in Vegas and Pomona, we can wrap the championship up, no matter what anybody else does. So that's our goal. We're going to see what happens.

Q: Knowing there's very little room for error, how perfect do you have to be to defend your title over these next two races?

MATT SMITH: You have to be about perfect any time, whether you're defending the title or you're just trying to go to first round. Our class, you can red light so easy. I think Mike Dunn and all of them jinxed me at Memphis saying I haven't red lit all year long. We red-lit in the semifinals. Actually the clutch linkage broke on our bike on that run. I think that's why I red lit. I try to set my stuff up to be .03, .04 on the light. If I get beat, I get beat. That's what I've tried to do all year. We're trying to make it happen. We'll see what happens.

Q: As far as the points lead, could you talk a little bit about your mindset? Would you rather chase or be the chaser?

JEG COUGHLIN: Well, any time you'd certainly rather be chased. It's just your own mental mindset, like in my case, as I mentioned in the previous question, you know, we're going to be on the offense as if we are chasing.

You know, I certainly would much rather be in the front and have any cushion, whether it's one point or a couple of rounds, between number two going into these final two races. As we've seen in many of the classes over the years, anything can happen. That's what makes it exciting.

Obviously our goal with the JEGS.com car is to keep it out front. I appreciated Matt's comment. He wins six rounds out of these last two races, it doesn't matter what anybody else does. That's about the same mindset we have. We had extreme success last year winning a final seven out of the final eight rounds the last two races. I can tell you, our goals are no less than that. It's going to be awesome.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Matt, talk about the different perspectives being a chaser and a leader.

MATT SMITH: I think I'd rather be the leader. Last year we were the leader going into Vegas. We went into the semifinals, got passed, then we were the chaser at Pomona. Everybody kind of counted us out last year. They were down to Chip (Ellis) and Andrew (Hines). We actually snuck in under the rounds, beat them by six points.

This year we have a 42-point lead right now. We're just going to try to maintain that. I would much rather be making my own destiny. If we mess up, then it's our fault. I don't want to rely on somebody else to mess up. We're going to go out, do our job, win as many rounds as we can.

Q: Jeg, you've got three drivers within four rounds of you essentially. Greg Anderson is at 82 points back. He seems to own that Las Vegas track. Is he going to be your biggest competition that weekend?

JEG COUGHLIN: No, I don't think he'll be any bigger competitor than the other two chasing us or the other 12 or so that are going to be qualified in this event. First we've got to get out there and get qualified. We've had great success. I think we've won three or four times (three, 2000, 2001, 2002) at Vegas ourselves. We love going there to race. It's a premiere facility, one of the hottest towns in America. That's always exciting, as well.

They're definitely going to be tough. Obviously Greg will be. My teammate, Dave Connolly, is having one heck of a rebound season with his Charter Communications and Lucas Oil Pro Stock car. I've been real proud of him for coming over. Their season started with five races down. They've been running extremely hard.

We can't count any of them out. I didn't mention Kurt Johnson. He's probably had one of the best cars the entire season in Pro Stock. A lot of the teams have just fallen on some dumb luck here in the Countdown, ours included. Here we are on top, ready to stay that way.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks to Jeg and Matt for joining us today.

I'm opening up the call now to our Funny Car and Top Fuel points leaders.

First I'd like to introduce the two drivers, beginning with the current points leader and regular-season champion in Funny Car, Tim Wilkerson.

Tim, you've been one of the great stories this year in NHRA if not in all of sports. You've won more races this season, six -- including two of the four playoff races -- than you'd won in your first 12 years of racing. Of course, you're in the points lead now for the first time in your career as well. You're only two races now from winning a championship, Tim. But with even the slightest slip-up, with the talented drivers and teams that are right behind you waiting to pounce, are the last two races business as usual for you, or are you doing a little scoreboard watching, watching what the drivers behind you are doing?

TIM WILKERSON: I'm trying not to watch what they're doing. Let's put it that way. I think it's hard not to. You try to just do your own deal and whatever happens happens. That's what we've done all year. I heard Jeg talk about being on offense. I remember talking with (NAPA crew chief Ed) Ace (McCulloch) and (NAPA driver Ron) Capps in the past, when they were doing so well. It come down to the last few races, they ended up getting beat by a little bit. I believe that's exactly what happened to them. They started playing defense. Let's just run good enough, let's get in the show.

But we're not going to do that. We're going to run as hard as we can. I know we haven't qualified as well as we had been the last four or five races. But if you look at the qualifying shows, like the last race, we run (a 4.079). There were five (4.07s) and we were the slowest .07. We really didn't qualify that bad. It just didn't look that good on the piece of paper.

It's been an exciting year. There's no doubt about that. We're just going to keep our nose down and hopefully we can get some help from some of the other cars, take one of those other hot dogs out before I have to get to them.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Mike Dunn , Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Greg Anderson , Tim Wilkerson , Matthew Smith , Don Schumacher , Dave Connolly , Eddie Krawiec