PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Antron Brown, Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey MODERATOR: We'll begin with the Pro Stock Motorcycle class where Antron Brown has the POWERade point lead. Antron has 16 career wins, which is sixth best in the Pro Stock...
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Antron Brown, Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey
MODERATOR: We'll begin with the Pro Stock Motorcycle class where Antron Brown has the POWERade point lead. Antron has 16 career wins, which is sixth best in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. He has five career top four finishes in the POWERade Series championships, but he's never won a POWERade Series championship.
We also have Andrew Hines, who won the past two POWERade Series championships. Andrew is certainly within reach of a third straight POWERade Series championship. He's won twice this season and has been to four final rounds. He is 27 points back of Antron.
In third place is three-time world champion Angelle Sampey. She is 64 points behind. She has the most wins in the category this season with three. She may need one more over the next two events to win a fourth championship.
Angelle, get us started off with some opening comments on the last two events of the season, what you think your chances are 64 points back of Antron.
SAMPEY: I'm thinking my chances are pretty good. Of course, it's going to be difficult having to race against my (U.S. Army) teammate for the championship. I know Andrew is going to be the doing the same thing as I am, trying to knock Antron down. That is going to be a tough thing because he seems to be on his game lately.
I know my team is very capable of doing this. They're capable of pulling off the championship, whether it's going to be with myself or Antron. I feel pretty confident we're going to get it. It's just going to be a matter of who is going to make the least amount of mistakes, who is going to keep their head on straight. Hopefully it's going to be a matter of who has the best luck going. I hate to say it, but that's probably what it's going to boil down to. No engine failures, no mechanical failures, stuff like that, who is going to have a lot of luck this season.
I'm hoping that we get it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. One thing going for me that I'm proud to say is that I do have three championships. I know Andrew probably feels the same way with his championships he has before. Antron doesn't have any. At least we do have those championships under our belt. If we don't get it, it's not like we're losing anything. I know Antron is trying really hard to get his first. I'm rooting for him just as much as I'm rooting for myself. Hopefully I'll get that fourth ring.
MODERATOR: Next up we have Andrew Hines. Why don't you start where Angelle left off with being a POWERade Series champion. How do you think that's going to help you over the last two events?
HINES: Well, luckily over the last couple years I've been able to sneak away with a championship right at the end of the year. It was a dogfight over the two entire seasons that I won the championship.
It's been a great road along the way. Luckily I'm in place right now to have a chance of winning my third championship. So for us to do that, it's just a great achievement for our team. Hopefully we can go out there the last couple races, turn a few heads, have a little better outcome than we had the last couple years (lost first round at the ACDelco NHRA Nationals in 2005). I'd like to get a round win and a couple race wins going into the last part of the season. It would be great for our team.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Andrew.
Antron, you are in first place. We talked to Angelle and Andrew about being champions, how that may help them. You've been in the top five quite a bit in your career but not won. Why don't you talk about these last two events and what is going through your mind trying to maintain this lead going to the end here.
BROWN: Just the last two events, going in with an open head, just a clear mind to stay relaxed. I've been in a battle before numerous times and lost it at the very last two races, actually not being in the lead and losing it by 30 points.
The only thing I want to go into the last few races is with my mind wide open. I want to go and try to win the races. That's our main focus and goal for the whole team, is for the U.S. Army Suzuki to go out there and be as strong as possible.
We found a problem in the motorcycle which was electrical. I'm feeling a lot better going to these last two races.
MODERATOR: Folks, we'll open it up to questions.
Q: Angelle, has this year turned out the way you expected or are you a little disappointed up to this point?
SAMPEY: It's definitely been an emotional rollercoaster for me. It's turned out exactly how I expected as far as the points. I knew that my team would be in the lead. I wasn't sure which bike it would be, mine or Antron's.
The things that happened that I didn't expect were the bumps in the road that came along. That was that disqualification in Brainerd for the weight. I will go to my grave saying there was no way we were light. That was just something that happened to me. I kind of feel like someone has a jinx or a curse on me right now because I keep having all this bad luck stuff happening to me. These crazy red lights I've had the last couple races. They weren't legitimate red lights. It wasn't like I was pushing the tree, just cut a negative-.004. It was just a weird situation. My bike was - me and my bike were going red really bad.
I think for myself I've definitely not done as well as I wanted to even though we have won collectively four or five races this year with my team, I'm real proud of that, but I was kind of expecting Antron and myself to be No. 1 and No. 2. We're not far off of that. We're close to that. Andrew, him and his team are just so awesome. They've been a thorn in our side for a while now. We're trying to be the best to beat the best. I'm real happy with him being No. 1. I would be even happier if I was No. 2 right behind him.
Q: Some of these incidents have been uncharacteristic. How do you deal with the red light thing? Do you become hesitant? Is this going to affect your reaction time on the line?
SAMPEY: Antron and I have been working really hard on keeping it green. We've tried everything we can from a different grip on the clutch, a different clutch setup, different bike setup, everything we can do. We just realize that there's really nothing else we can do except go when we see yellow. If it goes red, that's just what was meant to be. Hopefully some things will change for us in the future with the way the bikes react on the starting line.
But I guess what I had to come to realize is I'm not the only person with the problem. Every other motorcycle racer out there has to deal with this. You're going to lose some races because of red lights and you're going to win some races because of red lights. I think it's all going to even up at the end of the year.
Q: NHRA, it's one of those things that everybody in motorsports seems to be under the shadow of NASCAR. You have this wonderful, exciting sport. Do you ever anticipate a time when NHRA is as popular as NASCAR or threatening NASCAR or to you even see that as being a potential goal?
BROWN: Right now I think our sport is growing by leaps and bounds each year. I think NASCAR right now is on a hold. The sport has grown to like a plateau where they've kind of leveled off. Our sport has nowhere to go but up. Every ticket is a pit pass. The fans get to come out, see the drivers, see the crews working on the vehicles. We're more accessible. With the young personalities we have, especially in our class of Pro Stock Motorcycles, we have the whole Vance & Hines group, U.S. Army group, the GEICO, Karen Stoffer, Steve Johnson. We have so many multifaceted personalities in our category, which is unbelievable. We're getting attention right now with the V twins against inline 4's.
Our class is definitely getting to the point where it's getting on that level.
HINES: It would definitely be great to see NHRA grow to that big of a venue. NASCAR definitely has shown everybody the way to do it. If NHRA can follow in those footsteps, it would definitely make everybody involved in the sport feel that much better. Luckily we're in the position right now where we can stick around for a long time and hopefully see NHRA grow to that magnitude.
SAMPEY: I think NHRA definitely needs to continue showing the fans the personal side of the racers. I think when you have something that you can relate to in a racer, you become a bigger fan. I know that's how I am. I'm a huge fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championships. I get really close to a fighter and root for a fighter when I hear his story, when I've heard what he's going through or what he's going through at home. I think it's great that NHRA is starting to show the personal side of the racers more. I hope they continue to do that because I think that's how we're going to grab more fans out there.
Q: For all three of you, do you and your team handle the stress or reality of holding on to a points lead differently than getting to a points lead?
BROWN: Actually, what's so funny about it, what you have to try to do, when you're in the points lead, you've got to try to pretend you're not in the points lead because I think when you get in the lead, you try to go in a protective mode where you look at every round. I just got to get through this round, do this round. That's why I think I messed up in the past.
Right now, I mean, Angelle, she's been a three-time world champion who is on my team who I see all the time. She just handles every round, every race the same. She wants to go out there and dominate every race. Ever since I teamed up with her, she's given me that mental attitude. I think that's what makes you a champion, makes you win. Especially now I think this year the championship race has been tighter than what it's ever been between more drivers. Usually it's within two riders. This year we had it within five riders, now we're down to three at the last two races. You definitely have to be on your Ps and Qs to go out there, stay mentally focused, go after race wins, rounds.
MODERATOR: Andrew, you've seen both ends of that spectrum the last couple years. What are your thoughts on being behind or ahead the last two events?
HINES: Well, what I think, our team has looked at it from both sides. Right now we're second in points, looking to get back up to first. Last year we had both bikes luckily finish one and two. We've been at both ends.
It's tough either way you look at it. You need to go out there and win the rounds no matter what. To go out there and race, you have to look at it just like you do any other race, first race of the year or the last race of the year, if you're 10th in points or first in points. I think that's probably my biggest downfall, I pay attention to points way too much. My team tells me about it. It's just something that is my nature. I've always wanted to be on top of anything I've ever done. Right now I'm in a decent position to go ahead and go for my third championship. That's definitely putting a little bit of pressure because there's only been a few Pro Stock Motorcycle riders and drivers in the history of NHRA who have three-peated. Angelle is one of them, my brother (Matt Hines) is another one. If I could get up there and tie those two, that would be awesome for the Screaming Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team. That's what we're looking to do to go into these last couple races.
SAMPEY: They both pretty much covered exactly how I feel about it. Andrew is right. It's kind of hard not to count the points. I try to tell myself not to do it from the beginning of the year. I try not to focus on it too much. But you always find yourself looking at the points to see where you are, what you need to do to get back on top. I think it's difficult to get through the season without focusing on that.
Like Antron said, what I do and I've learned from losing it, I've lost it to Andrew's brother, Matt Hines. I was 14 points in the lead going into the last race of the year and lost it by eight points. The reason I did that was because all I could think about was what I shouldn't do to lose. I kind of buried myself and lost it anyway.
Now learning from that experience, I go to every race, my main goal is just to have a good time, go one round at a time and hopefully get to the finals of each race. I tell my team all the time let's just focus on winning this race and the championship will come.
Q: Angelle, you're going to Las Vegas this weekend, where luck is paramount if you want to do well at a casino. You mentioned some of the things you had with your history this year. Are you feeling any nerves, superstition with the location?
SAMPEY: No. Actually I absolutely love Las Vegas. It's my favorite place to race. It's so much fun. I'm not a big gambler, but I just love the town.
I'm feeling really good. I've come to a decision that I am going to accept whatever happens to me for the rest of this year. If I catch up in wins, great for me. If I don't, hopefully Antron will, great for him. I just realize whatever happens happens.
But now that you mention it, I have been feeling pretty lucky lately. I can't wait to get to Vegas. I feel like I've had both good luck and bad luck this year. Last was bad luck. So it means good luck is next. I hope that's what's going to happen to us for the last two races.