Regular season champions teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: How does it feel to be the overdog, so to speak, and not the underdog Does that make you a little uncomfortable? TONY SCHUMACHER: I love it. It doesn't bother me at all. We are really good, though, when the...

Continued from part 1

Q: How does it feel to be the overdog, so to speak, and not the underdog Does that make you a little uncomfortable?

TONY SCHUMACHER: I love it. It doesn't bother me at all. We are really good, though, when the pressure is on, and we are not running ten percent faster than everybody else like we used to.

It's been very tight. We won some intense races. Last week at Indy was probably the biggest margin we had. We've won by a car length most of the runs there and most of the others are very tight where I had to set up in the seat and do a better job driving than I have in the past. I like that. I like the pressure and when it's going to be close.

Now what, you've won six in a row, do you want it not to be seven? It gets harder as the time goes on because the odds get smaller of you winning and the pressure gets bigger and you have more chances to accomplish. It perfect example, sitting in the finals of Indy, you have got that far, and you are four seconds away from making history and doing something -- Joe Amato has won 52 races but other than that those records, were there for one round. If we didn't make that round happen, it wasn't like we could go to the next race and win six in a row. You had one shot at that.

I enjoy that moment, and I like the pressure and I like those moments and doing that with that team. Alan is the greatest chew chief out there, but I like the team. Those people know how to make me at ease. Some of us have been working together for eight years, some for ten years; Roger has been with me for ten years. It's a unique group, and I like to go in a battle with those guys. I don't even mind losing the points. Start over, okay, I mean, it's what won us a championship last year, and I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world to complain about it now.

I'm going to sit back and show up in Charlotte and try to win the race with the bulls-eye on our back, and so be it. People are going to take shots and there are an awful lot of people that do not want us to win that championship.

Q: Just looking over your record for 2007, Tim and there was nothing to write home about. What is this relationship with (Don "The Snake" Prudhomme) meant in terms of -- is that the edge that you have gotten this year?

TIM WILKERSON: Well, I think that's part of it. Before that we didn't really understand and didn't really know what the blowers were producing and how our clutch was working, and believe it or not, running the car is such a tremendous expense and the track conditions and the heat, there's so many variables, sometimes when you run the car; it doesn't show you the exact same thing that a clutch or floor design (phonetic) will show you.

Just having that availability I think has made me a lot better to make a decision on the racetrack and that's what Don has brought to the table for us this year and quite frankly, we have more money this year than we have ever had. Don sold us a lot of stuff off his Funny Car program last year at a very reasonable price, and Dick Levi, he came up with more money this year. I think the combination of those three things have made us a better race team.

Q: How much sharing is there on race day --

TIM WILKERSON: You mean between me and (Prudhomme's Top Fuel crew chiefs for the U.S. Smokeless dragster) Tom bender and Don Smith?

Q: Yes.

TIM WILKERSON: We do very, very little. I tell you what goes on back and forth more than anything between the two camps is just some, hey, you know, have you ever seen this happen to this piston; or ours is wearing 100 instead of 80.

It's just some general questions, because Dragsters and Funny Cars, they are boys and girls. You have to look at them differently. I can't get caught up in the way they tune their Dragster trying to tune my Funny Car; it will screw me up, I firmly believe it will.

Those guys, they are really good at what they do over there, so when we go to the starting line a lot of times, we'll talk to each other about how hard you think we ought to push, and sometimes, believe it or not, I think I even help them.

Q: As a follow-up, do you see the Countdown any differently this year than you did last year?

TIM WILKERSON: No, not really. I have the same attitude of it that Tony really does, is that the rules are the rules, and I wasn't fortunate enough to be in it last year. And last year I had a good back half of the year car, ran okay, but didn't qualify at Vegas last year.

I think I just need to not worry about it, and I think it took me to the fifth race of the season this year to get the points lead, and I have not relinquished it since then. And so if it takes me five to get it back; if I stumble a little and I keep going, then that's fine.

But we are not even -- believe it or not, it sounds cliche -- (worrying) about the Countdown or anything. I go to each race, and like Tony even mentioned, we decide we're going to be the fastest car down that lane at that run, and we've been fairly successful at that this year.

So we are not going to pound our chest about how great we are. We are going to do that every weekend we are going to go out there and say listen this track is 120 degrees, and by God, we think we can go 4.15 (seconds) down it and that's what we are going to try to do. If it's 80 degrees, we are going to try to go 4.05. And if we get it done or not that's how we approach every run.

I really do not care one way or the other who I race. I learned that back in the Alcohol days, Tony and I raced in the Alcohol Funny Car, in fact. I was at the racetrack with my old friend, Fred (Mandoline), looking at somebody's car, don't remember who it was and he said we need to go look at Pat Austin or Brad Anderson because those are the guys that win races. We raced Pat one day, and he said, 'If you see him go under the trailer and do three flips in his fire suit, you can be impressed; but until then he's just another knucklehead like you, so you go whoop him.'

That's the way it's been, and they are men just like me and may have a championship under their belt and that makes them -- that makes them a little successful, but that didn't make them any better than I am I don't think.

Q: For Tim and Matt, Tim had a strong season and Matt had a coming-on strong during the season; did you see good results coming kinds of like a rising tide or did something just all of sudden click for your team?

MATT SMITH: We debuted a brand new bike at Brainerd; one we built in-house, and that meant a lot to us. Any time you put new tube underneath of you, it seems to enhance your performance.

We have had a strong showing. We have won three of the last five races, so I think we are right on par with where we need to be for this Countdown, and I think we'll be pretty tough to beat. You know, I live in North Carolina, 45 minutes from (zMax Dragway @ Concord), so I'd love to win the first race there for us.

TIM WILKERSON: I think the rule change for this year, you heard a lot of sniveling about the extra weight that was put on the cars, and I've been told by a lot of crew chefs I had a real unfair advantage, because my car -- they actually used my car as an example, believe it or not, from last year. They took a weight of everybody's car, what they weighed and mine, and Gary Densham's weighed the most.

When they did that, you know, there was a bunch of talk about, well, the performance is going to be terrible for a car that's that heavy, and I had two rounds of eliminations in Pomona in the fall and they decided that wasn't going to be a big deal.

When they added that 50 to 75 pounds on these other cars over and above what they weighed last year, really threw the crew chiefs into a tizzy. And so I think they have a little bit of an advantage with that, and I'll give them all that one. Towards the end of the year here, middle of the year, when we had to change chassis, I know there was a lot of talk about, well, those guys are not going to run worth a darn as soon as we do that and that's going to get them.

Fortunately we've been able to prove them wrong and show it doesn't matter, and if you can give us some plywood to hold the body and some tubing you made in your backyard, we'll still be as fast as anybody else if we can get away with it.

Everybody has kind of caught up. Didn't take them long to figure out that weight doesn't mean anything.

Q: Tim, any chance you'll have a second car with your son?

TIM WILKERSON: Thank you for asking that, he's a special part of my program. Until the money is right and all that, I don't think you'll see that. There's been some conversations with some other people about it, but I'm not in a position to say anything about it right now.

But it sure would be wonderful to me because he's just such a great kid, and you know he does a good job in a car. We took him to an IHRA race this year, and was the No. 1 qualifier and had not driven in a year and got in the finals there. We're having a good time with him and he's a special kid. Thank you for asking that.

Q: Is he as good as Ashley Force?

TIM WILKERSON: He is not near as good or pretty. The other day with Ashley, I tell you, I said, 'You're driving me crazy, you're not only cute, but you can drive a car and you smell good. It's ridiculous. She really does a good job, and she's a great kid. I hope everything works out for her. I don't know what you guys think, but she's done a lot for our sport.

Q: You're a Funny Car driver and you've been there for several years, and if you did not have fun when you go to the track, I'm sure you'd have gotten out of it years ago. So how much more fun is it waking up on a qualifying day or on a Sunday of a national event, going to the track, with the season that you've had and the confidence that you're having?

TIM WILKERSON: I think this is a lot more fun, yeah. We've always said, the old adage in the pit area has been the attitude of the crews depicted by the last time slip, and for me that's the same way. I have some of (U.S. Army crew chief) Alan Johnson's blood in me. I go up there and want to knock your head off and make you look like the biggest idiot in the world when you're next to me.

I hope that's finally coming out. We've really tried our best to always do that and we've just never had the resources and the people, and now we really have it all. Tony will tell you when we were racing Alcohol Funny Cars, we had a great time with that. And we went to the racetrack doing the same thing then with no money and a little bit of talent and a lot of heart, I guess, for lack of better terms and we still have that.

We still have the same opinion, and like I said, when I see one of them guys do some backflips under their fire suit, I'll be impressed but until then, they are going to have to get in line.

Q: Matt, there seems to be a rash of red lights, and you said people are taking shots at the light. How do you deal with that? If you get too aggressive you're liable to red light yourself and throw away a potential win; but you don't want to leave any time on that, right, because the class has become so competitive; what do you do?

MATT SMITH: You know, there's a lot of red lights in our class. The bikes, they are so light and they react so quick. It's about like the second round of the ringers, the bike battle at Indy. Andrew Hines, you know, took a shot at me and went .003 on the light and I had an .040 light just right where I wanted to be. You know, I out ran him by a hundredth, so he beat me. So that's part of our nature.

I feel like I have a fast enough bike and if I go up there and have an .02-.04 light, I'll win a lot of races, and we've won four this year, the most of anybody. Like Tony and Tim and even Greg, when you're No. 1, everybody tries to shoot for you and everybody wants to beat you, especially in Tony's case. With him winning six in a row, everybody goes up there because they want to put their name in the book as the ones that knocked him off that spot.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks to everyone who joined us, and the drivers for giving us some time out of a busy schedule as we get ready for the playoffs.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato , Gary Densham , Ashley Force , Andrew Hines