An interview with NHRA POWERade Series points leaders: ANGELLE SAMPEY (Pro Stock Motorcycle) GREG ANDERSON (Pro Stock) RON CAPPS (Funny Car) MELANIE TROXEL (Top Fuel) HOST MICHAEL PADIAN, NHRA Communications: NHRA would like to welcome members...
An interview with NHRA POWERade Series points leaders:
ANGELLE SAMPEY (Pro Stock Motorcycle)
GREG ANDERSON (Pro Stock)
RON CAPPS (Funny Car)
MELANIE TROXEL (Top Fuel)
HOST MICHAEL PADIAN, NHRA Communications: NHRA would like to welcome members of the media participating in today's teleconference which features the POWERade Series points leader in each of the classes in NHRA drag racing: Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Greg Anderson in Pro Stock, Ron Capps in Funny Car, and Melanie Troxel in Top Fuel.
In the wake of the ultracompetitive points races in 2005 - most notably of course the Funny Car race between Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps and John Force - NHRA decided to host quarterly teleconferences in 2006 to accommodate media following the points races.
Today's call between the fifth event at Las Vegas and the sixth event this weekend at Bristol comes as NHRA transitions into the second quarter of its 23-event season. The next call we host will occur in early July between St. Louis and the start of the West Coast swing.
We'll begin with Sampey, then continue with Anderson, Capps and Troxel.
Q: Angelle, three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, you've steered your US Army Suzuki to a 63-point lead over Andrew Hines so far this season, who is the current and defending series champion. What do you think is the biggest reason for the fast start?
SAMPEY: I think that we had the same potential for the last couple of years. Luck just wasn't going our way the way it is this year. We're doing the best we can. We have a great race team. We have everything we need with the sponsors that we have to give us the financial backing that we need to be a competitive race team.
We have the right crew members. Our team has the right attitude. I mean, everything has always been there for us, it's just the past couple of years we've literally gotten bitten by the bad luck bug in the first half of the season anywhere from electrical problems to tires. I mean, it was just little weird things that were really easy to fix, but they get you at the wrong time.
So far this year we haven't had that. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't come around and get us. It just looks like everything is working for us. The team is getting along so well. Steve Tartaglia is kind of jelling into his position at crew chief. I think he feels a lot more comfortable now. I've noticed this year especially that the whole team, before people may have come up with ideas but just didn't verbalize them, and now everybody on the team, no matter what position they have, people are coming up with new ideas and we're trying everybody's ideas. These ideas are working. We're just really fortunate that everything's working the way that it is. I think that's why we're doing so well.
PADIAN: We'll go out to questions.
Q: We have a very unique situation where we have yourself and Melanie leading a couple of Pro categories here. It seems when female drivers are reaching success, for the most part it's confined to the drag racing thing. Danica Patrick hasn't done much in terms of wins in the IRL, Katherine Legge has done some stuff in Atlantics. Why do you think in NHRA females have come to the forefront to stand directly shoulder to shoulder with the male drivers?
SAMPEY: I think probably the biggest reason would be just the simple fact that drag racing is more of a mental sport than a physical sport compared to every other sport out there. Danica Patrick or any NASCAR team or anything like that, I mean, there's a whole bunch of mental aspects that go along with it, but there is a big physical side of it as well, just the endurance of how long the race is, stuff like that.
I don't think there are women out there who can't win. I think Danica is very capable of winning. I think there are women that can do what those guys are doing. I think they just have to train harder. Myself in particular, the motorcycles are probably the biggest physically challenging part of the NHRA because of us being outside of the vehicle on top having to move side to side, using our body weight. I have to train harder than the guys I race against. I have to be stronger, which is why I do the type of training I do. I train in kick boxing, Jujitsu, mostly for reaction times and strength and endurance.
There is a big mental side of it, but I understand the physical part of it, I have to work harder. I just think that drag racing, there isn't a whole bunch of physical compared to everything else, so the women are more competitive. But I also believe in every sport, I personally think that any woman can do it, unless we're talking about NFL, men's hockey or something like that. In motorsports ... if you find a woman that's as interested as a man, I think she'll do just as well. I don't see any separation between the two.
Q: What are your best words to describe a high-speed straight ride down an NHRA track?
SAMPEY: Definitely exhilarating. The closest thing I've ever come to describing a really fast fun run on a Pro Stock Motorcycle is like being on a rollercoaster ride. You know how when it's clicking going uphill, then it goes over the hill and shoots straight down? That's what it feels like, except you don't have that feeling of losing your stomach. You know how your stomach goes up into your throat? You don't have that. It's the same vibration, speed, excitement. I guess that's probably why I love rollercoaster rides so much because I love riding my Pro Stock Motorcycle as well.
It's the hardest thing to describe. I don't think anyone can imagine what it feels like unless you actually get to do it.
Q: You say you have to train really hard. You're very small in size. How do you manage to handle a Pro Stock Motorcycle of the weight and speed that you do as well as you do?
SAMPEY: This year, our motorcycles are even heavier than last year. They have us up to a 615-pound limit. We can't go under that. I think my motorcycle is as heavy as somewhere around 40 pounds to maybe a hundred pounds heavier than everybody else's. The least amount would be 40 pounds heavier and the most amount would be around a hundred pounds heavier, except for maybe like Karen Stoffer's bike, she's probably pretty close to what I am.
It's mostly technique. You have to be really, really quick on your feet, with your hands, with your eyes. I have a target at the end of the racetrack that I point my motorcycle to when I start on the starting line. I never take my eyes off the target. From the time my eyes leave the Christmas tree till the time I turn off the track, I'm staring at that target like I'm holding a gun aiming at the target. That's what I'm driving my bike to.
If it starts to get out of the groove, I instantly have to correct it. I have to jump off the side of the bike, use my body weight off the side. If a bigger guy is doing this job, he can probably let the bike get out of the groove a little more than I can. I can't. I have to correct it immediately. That's one of the things that I've had to do.
Then just training with being physically fit, to be strong enough and quick enough to do this. But it's mostly technique with some of the physical parts to go along with it.
Q: With the fact that you've already won championships, what kind of advice would you give the other drivers, women drivers, that are leading in the points series?
SAMPEY: Advice on how to win?
Q: How to handle a championship run.
SAMPEY: Wow, that's a big question. It's definitely all about focus and staying in the same frame of mind as you were in the beginning. I can remember back in 1999 when I lost the championship by only eight points to Matt Hines (brother of defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Andrew Hines), I was leading the points race going into the final race of the year, all I had to do was get to the second round or win the second round and I won the championship. I lost the second round. I lost the championship.
I know what happened to me. I got stuck in what they call that quicksand where I just kept thinking about all the things I could do wrong, what I could do to lose this championship was all I could think of.
My best advice to anybody, I don't think there's a difference with men or women, is that you absolutely have to stay focused, stay in the same frame of mind that you started the season off with. Don't start thinking about the negative parts. Just take it one run at a time. The best advice I can give anybody is don't count the points. The more you think about it, the more it gets to you, the more nervous you get, the more mistakes you make. You really have to focus on having a good time, whatever happens happens, do the absolute best you can each round. That's all you can ask for from yourself and your team.
Q: With the success NHRA is having with women drivers historically, with you and Melanie doing so well this season, do you think you're going to see more women coming through this gateway?
SAMPEY: I've seen so many more women show up since I started, even in motorcycles. There's always been a handful of women in the cars, but now it's getting there's always new girls that I see on the sportsman level and even professional level. We had a girl named Holly showed up in Gainesville. There are a couple of girls talking about wanting to come out soon.
I think it's just going to get bigger and better for all the women out there. I'm really happy about it. People are starting to realize, there's no difference, when the helmet goes on, we're all racers.
Q: How did you get involved with motorcycles?
SAMPEY: I started racing dirt bikes with my family when I was six years old.
Q: Whereabouts did you grow up at?
SAMPEY: In Louisiana. Born and raised. I'm a Cajun girl.
PADIAN: Angelle is a three-time POWERade Series champion, 2000 through 2002. She has two victories so far in 2006, which gives her 39 for her career. Some notes with that. That makes her ninth on the all-time NHRA victory list, second among Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers - only Dave Schultz is 45 wins - and first among women in NHRA POWERade Series history regardless of class.
She also has 38 No. 1 qualifiers in her career, making her 10th on the all-time list regardless of category, tied for second in Pro Stock Motorcycle with Dave Schultz at 38 and three behind Matt Hines.
PADIAN: Greg, you were the winner of the last three Pro Stock World Championships. Back on top of the heap in 2006, leading Pro Stock. I think you'd agree, it has not been easy so far in '06. Interestingly enough, I look back at stats for the last couple of years at this point in the season, even during your three championship runs in the last three years, only once during those three years were you actually in first place at this point. I'm wondering, is that just kind of an unusual stat that you can throw away or is there anything to that?
ANDERSON: I wish I could throw it away. It's certainly not how we planned to come at the start of this season. Just for some odd reason, we struggled to start the season the last couple years. We came out of the gate actually in good shape this year. We won Pamona, runner-up at Phoenix. Since then the wheels kind of fell off, so to speak. Everybody picked back up. Now it's a tight race again.
I don't really have the answer for it other than to say the competition level absolutely has elevated again this year, and there's a lot more good cars out there than there's ever been. There's a lot of cars that are capable of winning races and contending for the championship. It's going to be tougher than it's ever been to win the championship this year. But, like you said, the bottom line is we're still in better shape at this point in the season than we were last year or probably even the year before.
It's not time to panic. Believe me, we don't like losing at all, Mike, no matter what time of season it is. The last couple three races, we just haven't performed like we have to win those championships. To win a championship, to win these races, you've got to be pretty much flawless right from the driver through the crew chief through the car engine. Everything has to be pretty much flawless to win championships and races. To be honest with you, we haven't been flawless the last three, four races. It's either been the driver, the car, or something we could control and we didn't get the job done.
We're not panicking. We're not pointing fingers. We're not nervous yet. But, you know, we come home from every race after losing and go right back to that racetrack and test. In fact, we're at the racetrack right now testing. We go right back to that dyno and try to make more power because it's going to take a perfect effort again to get it done. We haven't been perfect. But the best way to become perfect is to practice, practice, practice. That's what we're doing.
Continued in part 2