Leaders teleconference pre Las Vegas, part 2

Continued from part 1 MICHAEL PADIAN: Finally I'd like to introduce the points leader and regular-season champion in Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher, who drives the U.S. Army dragster. Tony has set NHRA Top Fuel records this season for wins in a...

Continued from part 1

MICHAEL PADIAN: Finally I'd like to introduce the points leader and regular-season champion in Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher, who drives the U.S. Army dragster. Tony has set NHRA Top Fuel records this season for wins in a row with seven, wins in a season with 14, and wins in a career with 55. The all-time record, by the way, for wins in a season in all classes is 15, set by Greg Anderson in 2004.

Thanks to the record-setting season, all you need to do, Tony, to clinch your fifth straight and sixth overall championship is qualify at Las Vegas. Talk about this record-setting season and the bigger picture, which is with the six POWERade Series championships, you would join Kenny Bernstein, Warren Johnson and Dave Schultz for third place on the all-time NHRA career championships list.

TONY SCHUMACHER: I think it's truly unbelievable. Just being in the position to win five in a row, it's a blessing. We've probably assembled the greatest team, and I know there's other records out there that are a little better. Greg Anderson winning 15 in a season. I'm sure they had a wonderful team. This team is just absolutely dynamite. They've done things and won races when we weren't running a 10th of a second ahead over and over again. They're good quality, hard-working people with good morals. It's just been so fantastic to get buckled in that car knowing that these guys built it and go after these records. The records just kept falling this year.

It's been great. That's a great list to be on. With our team breaking up at the end of the year (crew chief Alan Johnson is leaving to form his own Top Fuel and Funny Car teams), we're trying to get every bit out that we can. We'd like to win the next two races and set the bar so high that it's impossible to break. I mean, the records we broke this year, I'm sure years ago people thought were impossible to break, too. That's what records are meant for. In junior dragsters, there are people that are going to be setting their sights on these records we're setting right now. There will be different crew chiefs and teams. Just want to set that bar awful high.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks, Tony and Tim. We're going to open it up to questions now.

Q: Tim, when you got your first win of the season here in April, you said you might have had an advantage because your car was always one of the heaviest, and with the added weight, it didn't affect you as much. Five wins later, what is your excuse?

TIM WILKERSON: Well, I think the word "excuse" was what the other guys were using (laughter). The word "reason" is what I'm trying to use. I appreciate that. At that time it my have been a good reason and excuse for the rest of them. Hundreds of runs later, I think they've used that one up a little too long.

Now, I think you're right. As my grandma used to say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. That's our deal. We have a good car. I think we've proven that through the year here. Not to beat our chests, I don't do a lot of that. You guys know me, I'm not a guy who beats my chest about how good we are. I do have a terrific group of guys. They've made my car good. They've allowed me to make runs with me being the guy that has to make a mistake. And that's how we've won races this year.

We've just had an extremely good, consistent car. As I've said in the past, my driving's probably the weakest part of it. But we're proud to be in the position we're in.

Q: Are there any advantages to being a one-car team? Everybody talks about the multi-car teams out there having a big advantage. You've kind of destroyed that.

TIM WILKERSON: I think the only advantage we have to being a one-car team is we don't get lost in all the mumbo-jumbo. We're a smaller circus than the Schumachers or the Forces. We don't have all the politics of four crew chiefs. We don't have 20 blowers to pick from. We don't have all the five different sponsors. This one didn't quite get taken care of. You know what I mean? I know that sounds facetious, bass-akwards, but it's not. That stuff goes on. I think people that have all those cars know that. Force has asked me a hundred times how come I can whoop him this year. I don't really know what the answer is totally, but I believe that having a single-car team, sometimes you can focus on your car and the few sponsors that you have, and you can take better care of them because you don't have all the politics. You know what I mean? I know sometimes with multi-car teams, there's some clashing that goes on in the different crew chiefs. It's just the way it is. That's the way it happens.

I think if I only had four dragsters instead of two, he would see some of that, too. That's just part of it, in my opinion.

Q: Tim, you mentioned Team Force. I think your record against Force cars is 15-5 this year. Twice you've beaten three of them to get to a title. Is some of that motivation, if not for you, for the crew?

TIM WILKERSON: Oh, yeah. Of course, it is. Nothing worse than seeing one of them guys first round. That's happened to us a couple times where, you know, we took them a little lightly there at Charlotte and then lately we haven't.

But they're, of course, great motivation. I guess you hit the nail on the head. When you have to race that caliber of organization, and to go up there and even think you could run with them first off, and second off that you can even imagine to beat them, would be a feather in anybody's hat. For us to have done that a couple times this year, yeah, my guys, they strut around like some peacocks over there when that happened. But that's good. That's good for them. Because I've always said, everybody out here needs to win a race. I mean, the crew's whole atmosphere is based around how the car runs. Their attitude is based on the ET slip. When you can have a crew that does well, Tony even hit on that, his guys do such a terrific job with their car, it seems like the better the car runs, the better job they do. I don't know if it's psychological for the crew chief to believe that, but I believe it. I see it in my guys. When our car runs bad, they're pissy-acting, they're not having fun. It's not the same. When things go well, I get them all together and say, 'See, this is what we can do. When you guys pay attention to your job, let me be the guy that makes the mistake, this is what we can do.' We have been fortunate enough to get that job done a few times this year.

Q: With your hometown of Springfield giving you a day of honor, if you win this championship, are they going to give you a key to the city?

TIM WILKERSON: That would be good. I asked them if I could renege everyone's real estate taxes for one day. They told me they wouldn't let me be the guy of the day if I ever asked that again. We just had another kid, Justin Allgaier, win the Nationwide championship here in town. Now the pressure's on me to bring the Funny Car title home to Springfield. Hopefully we can get that done. That would be fun, though. I think it would be a good day for all of us.

Q: Tony, as you get closer to clinching the title, have you had a chance to really comprehend all the history that you're about to make this season? There's more records than we can probably think of. Have you really got your arm around all this?

TONY SCHUMACHER: I really have sat back kind of this week and really soaked it up. Especially because (Alan Johnson) is leaving next year, you got to look at it as we're going to have a different team. Neither side of this team, mine or A.J.'s going in our own directions, is ever going to have this chance again. This really was just a perfect season. A lot of great things happened. Even when everything wasn't perfect, somebody else would make a mistake against us. So the records are just enormous.

And, yeah, I've really sat back and said, even before some of the finals the last couple races, you know, I'd tell the guys, Now is the time to stop and smell the roses. What's going to happen in the next 10 minutes, going out and trying to win this race, the outcome, don't let that define the season. The season's been so fantastic. We got into every minute of it. I think I told you at the last race, it's like the '80 Olympics, when those guys were done with the Olympics, beating the Russian team in hockey, they never saw each other again. They all went their own ways and did their own deals. But they always have that time. It was such a big time, big for everybody.

I don't think what we do changes the world in any way, shape or form, except the world of drag racing. The fans that got to witness it this year, the teams that got beat, our team that had a chance to be part of it. Even Cory (McClenathan's) team, my teammate, had to watch it from within, it was awesome for everybody.

I have truly woken up every day and felt blessed. I've also woken up every day and thought there is so much pressure. I'm sure Tim (Wilkerson) can feel it right now. When you got the team that everyone's watching, everyone's trying to beat, they're going to do everything they can to beat you, the pressure is just flat enormous. The more races you win, the more pressure's on you. So I felt like I have gotten through a very difficult season this year.

I look back and I think they took 550 points away (with the points reset at the start of the six-race playoff, the Countdown to 1). I thought, man, we'd set every record. If we can't finish these last six races, we can't close the deal. Yes, the rules are the rules. I'm going to walk over and shake whoever's hand that wins it. But, man, what would we be giving up. The pressure was just brutal. With pressure and with the hardships that you've got to get through comes the pleasures. The more you win, the more difficult it is to keep going. When you think how are we going to win seven in a row, how are we going to win six in a row, Indy, all these big races. When you pull off these huge miracles, it's fantastic. It makes it that much better.

Q: Speaking of that next phase, when A.J. (Alan Johnson) leaves, that might open up the division, level the playing field. How do you anticipate that kind of thing going? Do you think it's going to be a lot tougher?

TONY SCHUMACHER: I think it's just going to be different. Oh, yeah. I'll tell you, in 1999 with Dan Olson, we won a championship. We won one race. We beat A.J. and we beat Scelzi. It was difficult. Then A.J. comes over and we won nine races, 10 races. The last two seasons, last run of the year, I have had the pleasure of winning championships many different ways. When I heard A.J. was leaving, I thought okay, all right, brutal. I love working with the guy. He's a great crew chief, best there's ever been. But there's much more to a program than just that one guy. I look back at our season and I think, okay, who's going to be the next crew chief? How are we going to put a great team together?

You know, I motivate people by being positive. We won against (Doug) Kalitta in '06 when the weight of the world was on us. We pulled together as a team. We are all really good at not pointing fingers. That comes from within. I hope we can build a team like that again. I look forward to the challenge. I look forward to racing.

I love the rumors that (Alan Johnson's) driving his own car next year. Those are the best rumors I've ever heard. I don't think he will, but, man, wouldn't that be fun. I actually talked about going to Funny Car. If A.J. is gone, we've won every race and record, why shouldn't we go to Funny Car. Then I heard A.J. was going to drive. I thought, I ain't going nowhere. I'd love to run against him. I'm kind of sitting back and waiting to see what happens there.

But we'll take the day as it comes. I love a new challenge. I don't care what form of racing it is. Haven't made up my mind what I want to do. All I know is it's going to be some form of drag racing.

Q: Tim, you've had a couple extra weeks off to kind of prepare for this final push. How big has this extra time been for your team seeing as how you don't have the mountain of personnel it takes to go in some of these long stretches of races?

TIM WILKERSON: Well, we're doing what Tony just mentioned. We go over everything with everybody and make sure there's no mistakes, that everything is happening correctly, that the car is prepared as well as it can. We got nicked (15 points) for an oil-down deal at Memphis. Try to make sure that little stuff like that don't bite us in the butt and continue us on our path so hopefully we can be the champion.

I'm very happy with our progress over the last couple weeks. I don't like being off. We went 11 weeks in a row through the middle there, went match racing every weekend between things. I seriously think that makes us a better car because everybody, they're just better at working on it when they do it constantly. It's like everything else you do, I believe the more you do it, the better you get. Even if we're match racing, they're taking the same nuts and bolts off, they're still preparing the car. It really makes a better team out of it.

We did need a little bit of time to get our junk back in the pile. There's no doubt about that. We're fixing cylinder heads the last couple weeks, trying to get enough motors in the trailer to go to the next couple races so we'll have enough to finish fighting the battle in the end.

But give the guys a little bit of time off. They need a breather every once in a while. I'd go every day if I could. My kid and I went bracket racing two weekends in a row. We haven't stopped racing; we just stopped racing the Funny Car.

Continued in part 3

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Justin Allgaier