Pedregon, Capps - NHRA teleconference 2009-09-15

NHRA teleconference September 15, 2009 An Interview with: TONY PEDREGON RON CAPPS MICHAEL PADIAN: Our regular season champion, Tony Pedregon, who drives the Quaker State Chevy Impala. He has won two championships, in 2004, and 2007, and his...

NHRA teleconference
September 15, 2009

An Interview with:

MICHAEL PADIAN: Our regular season champion, Tony Pedregon, who drives the Quaker State Chevy Impala. He has won two championships, in 2004, and 2007, and his car has been one of the best all year and his driving has been equally stout. He's left first nearly 80 percent of the time this year, and he's a perfect 6-0 and on races decided on the tree, 1-0 on Redlights and 5-0 on Holeshots.

What are your thoughts on the Countdown and what the keys will be to carry the Quaker State team to a second title in the last three years and a third overall championship.

TONY PEDREGON: Well, I think one of the keys, as usual in this business, is consistency and performance. It's always consistency but performance, is going to play a big role. In the summertime, a lot of the crew chiefs are having to pull the cars back and be smart about racing to deal with the adverse conditions, the increased track temperatures. We are going to Charlotte, last year it was pretty warm and the track was still fast.

I think you are going to see for the most part, that trend will continue. This time of the year, I think the climate is going to favor racing, the cooler conditions, maybe not 100 percent of the tracks, but I think the cars are going to be able to do both and ultimately win races. I think those are going to be the three key components.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Next like to introduce Ron Capps, driver of the Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger RT. Ron led the category with five wins this season to give him 30 for his career. Capps had seven career top-five finishes and is seeking his first career World Championship.

Ron, your thoughts on the Countdown and trying to compete in the Funny Car category where I think it's fair to say that all ten cars in the Countdown legitimately think they can win the championship.

RON CAPPS: Yeah, that's true. Any one of these cars, I think we entered last year in seventh place, and it was a breath of fresh air starting the Countdown, because the first year of the Countdown, I started in the lead and that evaporated the first race. And I never saw the lead again. So things can turn around quickly.

And of course with now the bonus in qualifying added with each session, you know, it's going to change everybody's strategy a little bit, and within halfway through Sunday, you could very well see the Top-10 shuffle pretty good. And definitely by the end of the day, and on top of that, you throw in four races we have in a row, you're going to take a deep breath and let it out and we are going to be done with Virginia and it's going to be two races left and it's going to be quite a bit different than you see the points right now.

Q: I guess having been on both sides of this, and you've talked about this before, now that it's here and now you've got this new points structure and everything behind you, talk about your outlook for this, and maybe how many races do you think it might take to win this thing or will it be locked up in qualifying or can it be won in qualifying?

RON CAPPS: I don't know if it can be won. I think it's like any other race you do. You're not going to win it in the first turn, but you can definitely lose it, and I think that's kind of the case here. I think everybody -- you look back at the results from last year, and it was a strange Sunday. You know, Charlotte, a bunch of cars went out first round including us, cars that looked good all weekend, look the like they were going to be good and battle for the championship went out and it was just a strange day that you know, I think a lot of it was brought on by the weather.

I've been on both sides of that where anything could happen, and I think more than anything else, you have got to look at -- you have got to look at these bonus points. I know a lot of guys complain about this new points system for each session and you just have to look at it like this is a way I can gain three points per round, not stand back and say, 'Oh, my God, we have a chance of losing three points to somebody.' It's just not a great way to look at it and not a very confident way to look at it. I think those are all going to play a big part.

But again, we have seen time and time where qualifying is over, whatever race we are at, and somebody may be a little confident that they qualified well, their top two, top three in qualifying, but it just doesn't matter until it's race day, those are the points. That's a 20-point hit, go or bad, either way.

So those other points are going to be nice, but I'm sure every driver will tell you, you would love to be celebrating Sunday night in Vegas of all place, knowing you can clinch it, just show up at Pomona but I don't see that happening.

Q: Ron, the switch to the new qualifying points system was a bit of a surprise. When you guys found out about it, did your team have to go into scramble mode to figure out what the system means and then how to deal with it?

RON CAPPS: No. I was actually at a P.R.O. meeting for the owners and I texted my crew chief, Ed McCulloch, and this is Friday, one of the longest days we have in our circuit at indicate he because everybody gets there in the morning and you don't run until night. As soon as Bernstein, the president of pro, had told everybody in the meeting, I pulled my phone out and sent a text to Ace. He sent me some words I can't repeat right now. I think that's what most of the crew chiefs were like. You know, why, right now, in the middle of season?

But I think more -- I wrote him back in my text that, hey, I feel pretty comfortable, we qualified well this year. So I don't know. I think a lot of guys are, you know, maybe it's not the best timing in the world, but personally, I love it. I think it's another way to spice up -- and I think a lot of it again was brought on by teams, myself included, talking about us testing on Saturdays or testing at races because we could not go test somewhere else.

So we had to pull these things out of the trailer that we have been want to go try, and the only time to do that is to get in the show on Friday, know that you're qualified, and then pull out something you're going to try on Saturday. Because it's under race conditions and you know you can emulate good traction, you can throw the part on there, and see if it works or if it's going to not work.

But I've got a little bit of grief about it, talking about testing all the time on Saturday, and the fact of the matter; every team tests on Saturday. You don't just go back up there and run the same exact run you ran on Friday afternoon, the same conditions. You are going to try something different, whether it's tire pressure, wheely bar height, whatever it is. So every team is testing the limits to see how far they can go.

Now with this bonus point, will that team reel it back in like Tony talked about to make sure you get down the track? Yeah, and you're going to have some teams that are probably going to step over that edge of their comfort zone and try to be one of those top three in qualifying to gain those points.

So it's going to be fun to watch. You know what, we may not gain these points. We may not be one of these cars. I feel confident we can be, but it's going to be fun to watch as a fan and media.

Q: Ron, you set the baseline for those thousand-foot records and that has to feel really good. Do you like the idea of 1,000-foot record being kept and the fact that you can get 20 extra bonus points now for that?

RON CAPPS: Yeah, I do. I think it's a feather in the cap for Ace, as soon as I got the press release that we were the ones they went back and looked at, I sent him a message saying congratulations. It's a big compliment and that they put that in there as well, that it can be broken. It's going to be tough. But I think Tony earlier was talking about Virginia and some of these tracks coming up where conditions will allow you to go for the record, and I think it can be broken. There's a lot of advancements this year I think.

But you know, I think it's a good thing. I think it's good that we have something to shoot for. Whether or not we were looking at going quarter or mile or not soon, I think for right now -- I know Tony Pedregon has a car that can run hard and has shown it can run hard to set a record and I know that obviously we have the record, so we can do it. You look at a guy like Robert Hight got barely into the Countdown and that's a car that's capable. Anybody on any given day in this Countdown can gain those extra 20 points and that's just one more thing that's going to make it exciting for everybody.

TONY PEDREGON: I would agree with that. It's something that we are all very, very accustomed to and it seems that the timing is right; that it allows anyone the opportunity to gain some points that may make a difference going into the last couple of races. So I'm all for it. I think it's a good thing.

Q: I'm doing a story on the Snake and the Mongoose rivalry and I was wondering if you can talk about how that shaped your interest in the sport and the pursuit, and how popular the rivalry made drag racing.

TONY PEDREGON: I was very fortunate growing up around racing, and I really feel that I that had I not had a father that raised I think the exposure to this sport, is really all it takes.

You know, when we were kids, and I think this is something that you know, that a lot of people don't realize; I mean, once upon a team, the sport of drag racing in my opinion was as big as -- might have been as big as NASCAR thanks to the ABC Wide World of Sports and back in that era, only having three major networks.

I think that most of that was due to, you know, I think the exposure that drivers like the Snake and the Mongoose got. But as this sport has grown and evolved, and I know that personalities are part of it; but there's really something, some kind of electricity I think that was created back then. You had the Snake and the Mongoose and Big Daddy and Cha-Cha.

But for a kid growing up, the licensing, the merchandise, the racing, it just seemed like it all happened at the same time. And when I say the merchandising, I don't know that there were too many kids that are my age that didn't have the Snake and the Mongoose Hot Wheels set. I think that was probably the equivalent of the Lightning and McQueen, what kids are playing with and what's real popular.

I think the sport has gotten so big, in a good way, and it's gone through some growing pains that that is an era that is very special to me because you know, those were the drivers that we looked up to. In racing, there were guys like Mario Andretti, there was Richard Petty, but I think drag racing was always associated with the Snake and the Mongoose and Don Garlits.

I don't know how that compares to what we are doing today, but I think that little component, there are only a few guys that are racing that have that. So I don't know what has been lost along the way; and maybe it's not anything that was lost. I think that was just something that was created that you know, that really just snowballed into something that even today remains very -- the mystique about the race cars and the drivers back then.

RON CAPPS: I drove for Don ("the Snake" Prudhomme) for decades and I can tell you, getting that phone call from him, I said it before, it was like a quarterback having Joe Montana walk on the field and want to teach you how to throw the ball.

For me, like Tony said, I lived and breathed the Hot Wheels set I had, the Snake and the Mongoose, the models that I built, I drew picture, I stood out size his pit area as a kid and watched the Snake.

What the coolest part was I think, even when I started driving for Snake, was I could be anywhere, someplace that there were absolutely no drag race fans that could really be considered a huge racing fan, and when they asked me what I did for a living, I told them and I told them what kind of racing it was and then I told them who I drove for and when I would say Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, you would get people that were CEOs at companies, they would say, oh my gosh, like the Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and the Mongoose; it was such a cult following back then because they went match racing in these little towns and everybody as a kid seemed to have got a glimpse of it, whether their mom and Dad took them or whatever.

Yeah, that part of it, the nicknames, it still stands out. To this day I'm still proud to say I drove for him for a decade because I think those two really were the first guys to really market the nicknames.

Q: I'm wondering what the intensity level is between you and John Force after the blow up at Indy; have you tried to speak to him since, or do you feel it's not necessary and you just need to race?

TONY PEDREGON: Believe or not, I had a conversation with John. He and I spoke on Saturday, and I'm glad that we had a conversation. I think that we understand one another, and you know, it seemed -- I got the feeling that you know, and I share his feelings, that you know, it's time for us to move on. I mean, I think we are both bigger and better than to dwell on anything that happened.

You know, I know that any time emotions are involved, you know, sometimes you may not state things the way you want to. But for me, you know, it time to move on. It's time to focus and John is as good as it gets, and I'm certain he's doing the same thing.

Q: Might I ask who initiated the call?

TONY PEDREGON: Actually a good friend of ours, Bob Tasca that called me. John was doing his annual show at Tasca Ford, and I received a phone call, and you know, it was Bobby and he had me on speakerphone.

So I think that John and I agreed that that was a good thing that Bobby did, and I think more than that, it was a good conversation that John and I had. And really to be honest with you, had we not talked, I think we know each other well enough that, you know, that I didn't expect that either of us would hold any grudges and it's just one of those things that happened and we'll look back. And I know I'll look back and just think that was probably two adults that got caught up in a moment.

Q: Sort of following up on the John Force thing, but is it an interesting feeling being on top of the points here without a teammate, so to speak? You look at the rest of the Top-10, Del Worsham would be the only other driver who really doesn't have a teammate in this thing. Do you relish that part of this?

TONY PEDREGON: No, I don't think so. I think that I've always felt, you know, that multi-car teams have utilized -- if the teams work well enough together and share all the information, I think that could be an asset.

I never really felt that that would eliminate a single-car team from being competitive. And I think that we proved it. You know, I worked with my brother, but we have got two different set ups and we have got -- there's two different owners. We just so happen to be brothers.

You know, Alan Johnson I think is another team that they have proven that, you know -- as long as we only race one at a time, I'm good with that. But you know, I don't think it's going to be any advantage or disadvantage on the racetrack.

Q: Any season is all about championships. Champions are said to dig deeper. We all know why but so few of us really no how. What does digging deeper mean to you?

TONY PEDREGON: I think that expression exemplifies the fact that we consider ourselves professionals. I think we work better under pressure. We utilize that experience that we have, some of us have more than others, some of us have more experience than others. But it's really relying on those things, those facets; it's relying on your team and the people that you surround yourself with. So in the end, that is what separates.

When you talk about a driver and what a driver's capabilities are, and these cars are so evenly matched, sometimes the driver is going to make the difference. I think all of those components are going to play a role in the outcome of this. Good cars, good equipment, good sponsors, good crew chiefs, good teams. But the driver in the seat, you know, he takes the heat, he takes the credit, he's the one that catches on fire. A lot of times he's the one that's going to make the difference between winning and losing.

RON CAPPS: I don't know what to add to that other than I think a lot of times, it can bite you more that it can help you. Guys talk about digging deep, and like Tony kind of talked, we know what to do when we get the seat and you know what to do especially when you are paid to do the job in the seat.

When people say that, I've often found especially watching my teammate Tony Schumacher and some of the clutch situations that team has been in to set a record the very last run of the year and things like that; I've watched in different athletes, as well. And it seems to be that the more relaxed those people are and the less that they actually dig down deep, whether they say it or not, I know it's a cliche, but you watch some of the greatest athletes in the world, and they just seem to be more relaxed and not actually having to think about digging down deep. When somebody mentions they need to dig down deep, you're grasping at things. So you know, that's kind of my personal opinion on it.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks, Ron, and thanks to the other drivers who joined us and the media who participated in today's call.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Mario Andretti , Richard Petty , Don Garlits , Robert Hight , Joe Montana