Madison: Midseason teleconference, part 1

What: NHRA POWERade Series Midseason Teleconference Date: June 28, 2006 Moderator: Michael Padian Drivers: Melanie Troxel, Ron Capps, Greg Anderson, Angelle Sampey MODERATOR: NHRA would like to welcome the members of the media participating...

What: NHRA POWERade Series Midseason Teleconference
Date: June 28, 2006
Moderator: Michael Padian
Drivers: Melanie Troxel, Ron Capps, Greg Anderson, Angelle Sampey

MODERATOR: NHRA would like to welcome the members of the media participating in today's teleconference which will include the four POWERade Series points leader at this midway point of the 2006 season (12 of 23 events complete).

This will be the second of three scheduled teleconferences during the 2006 season in what has become a continuing effort on our behalf to make NHRA and its drivers accessible to media not just when we are in town but throughout the course of our 23-event season. To that end, if there's anything we can do to make your season-long coverage of NHRA POWERade Series easier, please don't hesitate to call.

NHRA featured some incredible points races in 2005. 2006 has the makings of an impressive encore performance. The average lead in the four NHRA POWERade Series categories is a mere 24 and a half points, and there are a total of 15 drivers within 120 points or six rounds of first place.

MODERATOR: Which brings us to our first driver on the call, Top Fuel points leader Melanie Troxel. Melanie has a 24-point lead over Doug Kalitta. Melanie has led the POWERade Series standings wire to wire this season with two wins and seven final rounds in 12 events. Melanie also became the first female in the 40-year history of the Driver of the Year Foundation to win one of its quarterly or year-end awards. This week she was nominated for ESPY awards for Best Driver and Best Female Athlete.

Let's start there, Melanie. What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the ESPY nomination?

MELANIE TROXEL: You know, it's been such an incredible season, I feel like I've said that so many times already. Just to come out and perform the way we have on the racetrack is always the goal of every team out here. So really these things have caught me completely off guard. I hadn't even considered getting that kind of recognition. I'm honestly floored by it. It's been really exciting. (Husband and Funny Car driver) Tommy (Johnson Jr.) and I are right now making our plans to go out there for the ESPYs and, like I said, it's just very exciting.

MODERATOR: Questions for Melanie.

Q: What do you attribute your successful year this year so far to? Any one thing you can point out?

TROXEL: No, I don't think -- certainly not in our case -- there's not any one thing. It's a combination of many, many different things that goes from Don Schumacher giving us everything we need to run the team, (crew chief) Richard Hogan, his ability to adapt to different conditions out there, and the guys that work on the team. It is so many different things. Everybody playing their part to make things work as well as they can.

Then there's always that intangible part that even when you have all the right people and all the right parts, you don't necessarily go out and run as well as you would like. We just have been very fortunate that things are going well for us.

Q: With the ESPY recognition, you really are becoming a crossover artist where you're becoming known outside of drag racing to the general sports public. Are you getting more of that sort of celebrity notice? Have you had any contact with Shirley Muldowney? What are your impressions of her? Did you watch her when you were growing up?

TROXEL: Well, I think going back to the beginning of your question, that sounds like a lot of pressure, being a crossover artist. Sounds like something you refer to musicians as.

But, no, I think it's great to be getting some outside recognition, not only outside of drag racing, but outside of motorsports in general. I mean, it's great for our sport. I think just in general this year, since the beginning of the season, running as well as we have, certainly our team is getting a lot more attention and therefore we have a bigger following, a lot more fans stopping by our pit area.

I can't say that we've quite reached the level where I can't go out to eat or anything yet. But certainly we are getting more attention.

Q: Have you had any contact with Shirley?

TROXEL: Yeah, I mean, I've been around Shirley for many years. In fact, I think I raced against her in 2002 or '03, maybe it was 2003. While I don't remember specifically as a kid watching her race, I was aware she was out there, that there was a female out there racing.

Shirley and I aren't close friends or anything, but I certainly respect what she did in the sport.

Q: Getting off to a start like you did, is that necessarily always a good thing or a bad thing? Can it also be bad to get off to a fast start, where maybe you get overconfident, eventually things start to slip away from you as the season goes along?

TROXEL: Well, just speaking from our experience, this is the first time for myself and I think for our entire team to be leading the points like this. I can only speak from this one experience.

I could see theoretical situations where it might not be a good situation. I don't think it's been bad for us. There's a lot of attention and maybe some additional pressure that goes along with being the points leader.

I really don't think -- I won't say that it hasn't had any effect on our team whatsoever. I mean, there may be some ways that that pressure has affected us negatively. But I think, in general, we've done a really good job with dealing with that. If anything, I think it's kind of given us an opportunity to get accustomed to that.

I would much rather come out and have that additional pressure for the first time, leading the points for the first time, early in the year, get it out of the way, get used to it so that come late in the season, we can battle it out for the championship and not have that pressure thrown on us late in the season like that.

I think that would have a much more negative effect than having it early in the season. Early in the season, there's not quite as many expectations. It's early enough that you know a lot of things can happen. I think, like I said, if anything, it's given us an opportunity to actually get more comfortable with that.

Q: You had a huge lead in the points early on in the season. Kind of fallen back a bit. What has been the problem? Missing the setup? What has been the problem?

TROXEL: Well, I think we were on a roll early in the season. We were obviously doing a very good job and having a certain amount of luck involved in there. I don't think since then -- I don't think we're doing that poorly. We're just not having as good a season as we were early in the year.

We're working on that, trying to step our program back up. I think right now we just see (Mac Tools Top Fuel driver) Doug Kalitta is on a roll. He struggled a little bit earlier in the year. They've figured something out. I'm kind of looking at it that it's just kind of -- you know, that everyone is going to have a period of time when they're running well. I think we'll be able to pick our program back up. Doug has done very well. At this point we're still leading the points (by 24 over Kalitta and 110 over Brandon Bernstein).

I don't think we've dropped that far off. I think we've just had some different conditions. We've had a change in the weather where we've come into some of the hotter tracks and maybe we're not quite as good with that setup, but we're working on it and we're continuing to get better.

I think it's just something that you're going to throughout the year have certain conditions that you run better in and other conditions you don't. It's just something we keep working on. But I don't think it's been a matter of any major thing going wrong or any major change in the team.

Q: (Don Schumacher Racing teammate and two-time defending POWERade Series champion) Tony (Schumacher) got his win on Sunday. Was it a little tough or did you feel a little uncomfortable when you were doing so well and Tony was struggling?

TROXEL: Well, no, actually it just felt pretty good. I won't lie to you. They've had their fair share of success out there. They are our teammates and we don't want them to struggle that much, but knowing that, coming into the beginning of the season, everybody would have to have said they were the team to beat. I mean, you need to get every point you can build up against them.

Certainly I think we were all surprised to see them struggle as long as they did. As our teammates, we wanted to help them out as much as we could, until it comes to racing each other on Sunday. That's kind of the way that deal works.

I think the emotion was more surprise, just really surprised they struggled that much. I think everybody knew they would eventually get their program sorted out. It certainly looks like they have.

Q: Going to do anything with your time off here?

TROXEL: Actually, we're spending the first week or so just at home getting caught up on things, being home bodies. I think the plan might be to go hang out with some friends on a houseboat down on Lake Cumberland the second weekend. See how that works. It's getting pretty crowded with different things, going to the ESPY awards. I think we have to be out there Monday for that.

Our time off is shrinking up, as it usually does.

Q: You have this time off now, but you're coming into that tough western swing of back-to-back races. Are Denver and Infineon good for you? Points lead has slimmed down to 24 over Kalitta.

TROXEL: I don't know personally that I have good or bad racetracks. I grew up in Colorado, so Denver is my hometown track. I do have a special place for that track. I've done well at Seattle and Infineon in the past, not in Top Fuel, but in Alcohol Dragster.

They're not bad tracks for me by any means. I think the bigger issue is whether or not they're good tracks for Richard Hogan, whether or not he has past data on those tracks. That's a big part of the equation, is that if he's run there before with similar equipment.

For the driver, a lot of the scenarios out there are the same. I mean, you either have a really good track and the car goes down the track, or if you have a bad one, you're going to pedal it. There aren't that many different things we can do. You react to it and you hope you did a good job reacting to it.

Richard has the job of trying to work with the new tire and anything new they've put on the car and different track conditions. We came on board with Don Schumacher Racing at Denver last year. We should have some data, but we do have a new chassis and some different parts on the car and stuff. I think that's going to be the big factor, is whether or not Richard feels comfortable with the information he has to draw from.

MODERATOR: Melanie, was Seattle significant for you for Top Alcohol? Did you get a first win there?

TROXEL: Yeah, Seattle was my First National event win in Alcohol Dragster. I believe I've won divisional events there as well. I've always enjoyed that track. I'm looking forward to going back there.

MODERATOR: We'll go ahead with funny car points leader Ron Capps now, who has already won a career-high five events in 2006. Ron has a 44-point lead over John Force. He's the points leader now for 11 consecutive weeks. Ron has finished second three times in his career, but is still looking for his first POWERade Series championship.

Ron, I know you've tried to sort of steer clear of the talk of points and championships. Do you think that's going to be more difficult as we move into the second half of the season now?

RON CAPPS: No, I don't mind talking about the points. I've been here before. You just don't want to start concentrating too much on them. We know they're there. We know that's the topic of conversation. That's why I'm on here. That's what's going to make the fans come to the racetrack because there's going to be a battle. We know it's Force and I out front. Any one of these other guys can catch fire.

It's funny, we went to Chicago, kind of lost a little bit. People said, 'Oh, maybe this could be it.' We went to Englishtown, won, put it back up over a hundred points. We struggled last weekend, back down to a little over two rounds. I'm really looking forward. I'm enjoying this more now than I did at the end of last year when it came down to the end. I was so engrossed in it.

This year I'm having a better time enjoying it. I'm really looking forward to battling Force down to the end. We've already shown we can run with him and beat him and his whole team for that matter. There's so many other good cars you got to watch for, especially coming into some of the races we're going to.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Ron Capps , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Don Schumacher , Angelle Sampey