NHRA teleconference September 15, 2009 An interview with: TONY SCHUMACHER ANTRON BROWN MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to begin with the regular season champion in Top Fuel, Antron Brown. Antron drivers the Matco Tools dragster and swept the Western...
September 15, 2009
An interview with:
MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to begin with the regular season champion in Top Fuel, Antron Brown. Antron drivers the Matco Tools dragster and swept the Western Swing, won five races in all, en route to securing the No. 1 seed in Top Fuel and he's seeking his first NHRA Full Throttle championship this season after a number of seasons competing in Pro Stock Motor cycle. Antron, how, if at all, will the Matco Tools' team's strategy change going entering the Countdown, after doing as well as you did in the regular season with five race wins?
ANTRON BROWN: I think that we changed our structure a little bit because at the US Nationals, like we have been a pretty conservative team first round in every race that we have been racing and I think now that we go into the latter part of the year with the last six races for the World Championship, I think you'll see our crew chiefs Mark (Oswald) and Brian (Corradi), they are going to be a little bit more aggressive, and I'm going to be more aggressive myself where we are going to attack each round like it was our last round.
That's pretty much what we did on the Western Swing but we were concern at that time to get the car to go to A to B because the track conditions were hot. Now we are getting to the part of the year where the track conditions are going to get tighter and the runs are going to get cool so it's going to be time to run those little 80s and high 70s, what we did at the beginning of the season but when you get to the mid of the season, throw us for a curveball and now it's going to be a time where you do it all or leave it -- or you leave yourself behind be, you can't do it with Tony (Schumacher) and (Larry) Dixon and Brandon (Bernstein) and all those other guys and Morgan Lucas's cars. All those teams are really, really funning fast right now and as you can see we have multiple different winner this is year. Our class has some intention competition and we won or last races by less than 2- or 3,000s of a second and a Top Fuel car going over 315 miles an hour.
MICHAEL PADIAN: The second Top Fuel driver on today's call is Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. Tony has won five straight championships, and six overall, he enters the playoffs fresh off of his record-tying eighth Mac Tools US Nationals win. That win was the 60th of Tony's career. He's the only driver in Top Fuel history and just the fifth overall to reach the 60-win plateau in NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing competition.
As much as you have talked about big races and big moments, you must be as anxious as anyone to get the Countdown underway.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yeah, no question about it. You're down to six races and new points deal (in qualifying), just a whole lot of good things coming up.
And we are coming off a huge run. For the past five races, every time I got beat, I kind of snickered and said, 'That's okay, I'm just supposed to win my 60th event and race Antron or Dixon in the finals.'
You can joke about it, but then when you're sitting in the finals, are you kidding me, there's nothing like it. There's nothing like that big moment. My career has been -- I've been fortunate to have so many huge bottom of the ninth, bases-loaded, full count moments.
I think the championship, all the accolades and the great stuff you get, there's nothing that compared to just being able to enjoy those big moments, because if you can't even recognize them, it's hard to win them. And as Antron and all them guys, you have to figure it out, you have to understand that it's a big moment and you have to prepare for it. There's no questions asked; we are down to six immensely huge races and just a number of big moments coming up.
So we'll see how we handle it. I think we are one of those teams that will handle it good. And I've got new guys. My guys have given me a lot of confidence, these new guys, and after the team I've had, for the past, you know, almost six years, I've known the greatest that they are in the big moments and they have proven that they can do it when it's time to do it. So look forward to it.
Q: Tony, concerning new points, new qualifying for points, does it favor certain kind of teams or drivers, or is it equal across the board do you think?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a good question. Probably different in each class. In Top Fuel, I would say it's fairly equal, and I'll tell you why. There are so many cars running within hundredths of a second. Maybe six or seven cars, and it's no longer that one car going fast and everyone else just trying to figure it out. There are a numerous amount of cars just running similar.
So it's going to be about -- even at the back of the pack, at each run to be able to know what you've got to do and go out there, and just try to sneak that quick run in each and every time for those points. And I think the points will matter. I think Top Fuel is going to come down to just a massive battle at the end.
I kind of wish they did one more thing. I kind of wish that on race day, low ET of each round got points. You know what, Funny Car would be fun to watch, the guys that stuff the car in real deep would be giving up points every time they do it -- inaudible -- where Top Fuel most of the drivers, fairly thin; some don't. But I would like to see that. I would like to see where it's down to the battle and a race where you got a couple extra bonus points and you could even get beat and get points. It would be kind of neat to see.
Overall it's surprising that they came out with it right now where they have to get used to it with six races to go but I'm okay with it. I think we are one of the cars. Antron has one of the cars, Dixon has one of the cars; we are all going to benefit from that at some point during the season. It's a matter of who can do it four teams in each weekend in qualifying and can really add up the points quickly.
Q: Every driver enters a season optimistic, but this year, what your team has accomplished must be just beyond your wildest expectations.
ANTRON BROWN: Well, the thing about it is is that like you know, when you enter the season, when you enter the season, it's just you've got to take it one grain at a time. And with all of the stuff that happened to our team in the off-season when we switched team owners twice, we knew the first one, but the second one came by a surprise, and you never know until you get to that -- until you get there.
So we got in there with Mike Ashley, he stepped in, was very optimistic and we found out who the crew chief was going to be, Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, it really -- I had a little sigh, because I worked with them over at DSR when I was over driving with Tony and for Don over there at Schumacher Racing. And I know Brian is very aggressive tuner, and I know Mark is like an engineer, and he's a tuner, and he knows how to drive the race car.
So it was a great package all in one where I got put into a school, another school, that's not offered to anybody. So once I got to meet those guys, and actually spend some time with them, and we sent down and talked about the changes we were doing to race cars to make it more better for them and then we got to preseason testing, that's when everything calmed down and we now knew -- we under knew about the competitive team.
But then I saw what type of team we was going to have. I knew we wanted to run and compete and compete for a World Championship but I didn't know at what level. Once we got testing and I saw really all of our crew guys gelled with our new crew guys, and Brian and Mark and our relationships and the way that we have gelled together, then I knew that we had that dynamite team.
Because you know, I was there, like you know, for five years where Tony won four straight world championships in a row. I was there for four of them, and I saw what Tony had the passion that he had for the sport and I saw what his team did, and I was there and I saw the winning formula, and the winning formula is when you get all those guys to gel and they work as one, as one tight unit.
And that's when you get those uncommon results, which is all those race wins, and being competitive and being able to bounce back when you have a problem, not taking a race to figure out, taking one round to figure out because everybody worked so well together. I saw that in my team and I said, well, it will be a matter of time till we build and build and get stronger.
We grew and built quicker than I thought we would, and it was a surprise to me at a certain extent, but then once we got into it, I said that's what our team is all about and that's how hard we work and we are still getting after it, and I feel blessed to be a part of this team.
Q: Tony, so much for anyone who might have wrote you off after (former crew chief Alan) Johnson left (to run the Al-Anabi Racing team with TF driver Larry Dixon). Looks like you are sitting pretty good for maybe getting six straight.
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know what whether you get it or not, it's just so darned cool to be in the battle. You know, the five that we won, they came pretty hard. Last year, we won a lot of races but the two before, we were down to the last run of the year. They were not gimmies in any way, shape or form. It was not what we expected and not what we saw last year.
This year, just to be in the middle after reading all that stuff and hearing about it, it just goes to show you that as great of a crew chief as Alan is, there's other great guys out there and there's other great teams and the performances this year are, you know, they are giving the fans -- I don't think there's been a race for any fan in any given time, in any one of those NHRA races could walk away and didn't feel like they got their money's worth.
It's great to come out on the winning end no doubt. But I've been beaten four thousandths by Antron, and seven thousandths by (Doug) Kalitta and eight thousandths by Antron again. Cars that fast, there are a lot of people running good. And it's not just AJ. Again, amazing crew chief that he is, and the whole team went over there and kind of wrote us off like they will never win another race; we have been able to go out and beat them and we beat them three out of the four races we run them. And that just goes to show that (first-year U.S. Army) Mike (Green) did a great job stepping up.
We hired great people and we are in the middle of a phenomenal battle that at the end of the year, whoever wins the championship is going to be able to stand there with a trophy and know that they earned it, because it is truly going to be a battle and it will be fun.
Antron will be great at it, but the drivers that go out and are having fun will be good in the races. And the ones that are putting pressure on and because they are so close to being a champ now six races away with all of the points gone, those guys are going to crush. And it's a matter of being able to suck it up, dig deep at the right time and smile while you do it. Because some of the guys are going to be able to handle the weight of the world on them, like they are going to see here coming up in Charlotte, and some of them aren't and we'll know at the end of the weekend.
Q: Antron, if you were advising someone, based on your experience, how is the best way to make the transition you made from Pro Stock Motorcycle to Top Fuel? What's the best way to prepare yourself for that kind of change?
ANTRON BROWN: For one you definitely need to go to some type of drag racing school. For me personally I had a little edge because you know when I worked at DSR I was around the fuel cars a lot and I saw how they operate and how they worked on them and I knew how the cars work. I am familiar with them a little bit before I actually got into it. And I went to Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School right there where I was able to actually go there and actually get my alcohol license in an alcohol dragster.
So once I was able to accomplish that, I knew somewhere -- but you don't get prepared for it or you don't know what a Top Fuel car is like until you get into one. And I was just -- and luckily, where I got with the right team and you need to get with the right crew and crew chief that can help you learn along the way, also.
And I had Dan last year where he really showed me the ropes. He was a great teacher and a great ambassador of the sport and a wealth of knowledge that he never steered me wrong. I was like a sponge learning all I could and I had great people helping me, like my teammate last year, Hot Rod (Fuller), and Tony (Schumacher). Tony, who looked like, you know, I came into the sport as a rookie and I think last year, I was on the edge of my seat like giving him some competition. We ran second for most of the year last year and he was up there mentoring me and tutoring me. And that's where you learn about drag racing because your competitors around you there pushing you, they are there to help. But you have to be willing to be determined to do it, because it doesn't just happen.
You have to be able to do it. It's a react sport. You can't think about what you want to do. You have to do it. That's what really helped me in the transition, just you know, racing all the years of Pro Stock motorcycle, I knew how to race and I knew how to react to things. When I got in the Top Fuel car, it was like learning all over again but I knew the similarities were going to be the same mind-set, but you know, I was out there to grow and learn some new mechanical skills to become a Top Fuel dragster.
Q: You down played the whole cultural significance about your season and now it's getting attention; have you allowed yourself to think about what it could mean to the fans, and maybe those trying to -- minorities that want to get into the sport?
ANTRON BROWN: The thing about it, that's great. That's what our sport does, we have reached so many different cultures out here because so many people can relate to drag racing, and it will be huge, if it's a kid or a young adult or teenager out there that might look up to me as a hero or a mentor, and that's great, because I had my heroes and mentors, too.
Like one of my heroes, that was Big Daddy (Don Garlits) and we had a local heroes Frank Manville (ph), Bruce Larson, Eddie Hill. Those were my heroes growing up as kids, you know what I mean.
So if I can be that same deal and that same light, maybe for an inner city kid or whoever it may be, it could be a kid in the country; when I heard the John Force story, sorry how he became who he is. He used to live in a trailer home with his brothers and sisters, and he was a guy that used to drive logs on a tractor trailer. And now he's got a multi-million dollar empire driving funny cars.
That story right there will get anybody motivated because somebody like that that can do it that's a normal Joe Blow off the street means that you can do it, and that's the way I look at myself. My family loves drag racing and we are weekend warriors. And it really doesn't bother me or make a difference to me race, creed or color; we are all Americans.
I think something that our sport of drag racing does well is that we don't look at somebody being different ethnic background. If you're a good racer, you're a good racer, no matter what color you are. Look at Reggie Showers, he's a double-amputee, but people see him as being a great Pro Stock bike racer because of his skill level, not because of what color he is or they think he's handicapped or this or that. He's a great racer.
And that's one thing that drag racing brings out in all of us is that we are seen for who we are and the skills we are. If I can encourage some inner city kids and some of my cousins and nephews and nieces, that's awesome, I want them to fulfill the dreams in their lives because I love the career that I'm in.
Q: We talked about the qualifying points and one thing we haven't talked about is the chance to earn points to set a national record. What do you think is the opportunity available to set a national record and could this championship be determined by that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: First, it's going to be tough, to set a new record. But there will be cars out there, and one thing we have proven year after year is you can find a way to go a little quicker. We haven't made any drastic engine changes and car changes since we set those records.
So it's going to depend on the year and it's going to depend on the cars, and it's going to depend on the crew chief and the level he wants to after it. Is it possible, sure? Is it going to win you the championship? One car could run away here four or five races; it's been done before. And it could turn into the battle I expect it to be where four or five or six different cars and go out and win and it comes down to those few points.
So you know, again, you set a world record, qualifying Friday night usually, and you back up a world record sometimes Saturday or last round on race day. So it really comes down to the person you are running against, timing, the car that's in that lane.
I would love to give you the right answer but the fact is, it's a timing sport. It's the right place, right time that you set those records and the right people to, say the least. So we'll wait and see.
Q: The record, is that overdue, and does that mean in your mind we are going to be thousand-foot racing for a long time?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I don't know that it is going to -- the mark that says because there's records -- in any way, shape or form. I just think that it's a good plan. A lot of people come up to me and say -- well, there's your answer, we have records, now, we will go after it and try to set some records and see if we can't get the bonus points.
To be honest what we are going to do is show up at a race, try to qualify, run fast to win the race. If we go out and win races we are going to win the championship. It's easy to get distracted, but you go out and try to set a record at every race, you are going to lose championships. I think most of the crew chiefs know that.
There's a right place and right time to set a world record. It's not always out there. If the track conditions are not right and the weather conditions are not right, you don't go for a record and give up the three points you might get just by going fast.
I think we are going to have to be careful and there is strategy here, the people, they are watching at home, there's a lot more that goes into it. The fact is, you show up and you run every time as quick as you think that particular lane can go, every time. If you go too slow, you shift and if you go too fast, you spin the tires. It's all about putting the car in the right place at the right time. You win six race -- I don't care if it's six records you've set against, if you have to win a championship you have to stay focused. You don't show up at any given race for the reason of setting a record. You show up at every race, though to win the race, and that's just the facts.
ANTRON BROWN: It's great that we have the national record back for sure and it's something we need to have. Does it mean we are going to stay at 1,000 foot? All of us would love to go back to a quarter mile and I know NHRA is working diligently to make that happen for sure. But that's something both our class need, both at Funny Car and Top Fuel both, they need record. Twenty points is 20 points. Tony, he won a World Championship by setting a record in the final round.
And in my personal opinion, I think we have two tracks that're going to be capable of setting that record, which is great for the Countdown because it will add spice to it. If you look at the back of the dragster, Richmond, I think Tony set some 70 runs in Richmond, and he also set that record, like you go to that 4.42 in Pomona.
So we have two chances to break the record and I think there's multiple teams that can get that job done that actually ran the semis already this year. Tony is one, and I think Dixon and our team ourselves.
It's going to be interesting, because it adds a twist to it and makes it a lot more exciting for the fans and it makes it exciting for our crew chiefs because when you run fast, I mean, everybody feels good. I mean, to go out there on an 81, yeah, we ran an 80, an 81, that's cool. But when you run those record breaking ETs, everybody leaves with a smile on their face. It just makes it more exciting and I look forward to it, and it's going to be an enjoyment to actually do it and get one run to do it or try to do it.