Schumacher, Scelzi teleconference transcript, part 1

NHRA TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: TONY SCHUMACHER AND GARY SCELZI MODERATOR: NHRA would like to welcome the members of the media who've joined today's teleconference to kick off the 2006 season, which begins next week, February 9th to the 12th,...


MODERATOR: NHRA would like to welcome the members of the media who've joined today's teleconference to kick off the 2006 season, which begins next week, February 9th to the 12th, with the CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona was where the curtain fell on the 2005 season back in November and it did so in quite memorable and dramatic fashion for the two drivers we have joining us on today's teleconference: Tony Schumacher and Gary Scelzi.

Schumacher capped off his second straight POWERade Series world championship and third overall with a victory that gave him sole possession of three NHRA record streaks in Top Fuel that remain intact entering this season: most consecutive wins 5; most consecutive final rounds 7; and most consecutive round-wins 20.

Scelzi did not win the final event of 2005, but he did just what he needed to do to win the POWERade Series world championship in Funny Car after a well-documented two-month battle with John Force and teammate Ron Capps. The Funny Car championship, combined with his three previous Top Fuel championships, made Scelzi one of only two drivers along with Kenny Bernstein to have won POWERade Series championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

At this point I will ask each driver to briefly share their thoughts on the upcoming 2006 season and then we'll open it up for questions from the media.

MODERATOR: Tony, give us your thoughts on the 2006 season.

TONY SCHUMACHER: I have to start by saying it's going to be a tough act to follow that 2005 season. But it was the same comment we made last year where 2004 was incredible, and you think to yourself, how are you going to go and surpass that, or even equal it. With Alan Johnson and that Army team, we did. We went out there and matched, if not beat most of the records. Just look forward to it.

You know, not only do we have a great race team, but we've kept every guy on the team and we get to share the championships with our teammates, we are just going to show up and really have a good time. I think it's the right group of people both on the funny car and the dragster side that's going to make it fun. As much business as it is now in racing, we still will love what we do, or there's a lot of other ways you can make money. This is something you really have to enjoy and with all of the records we set with the vision to what we can do this year, I'm just looking forward to getting going.

MODERATOR: Gary, I know you feel the same way about that, and this is a sport you really love and you'd do it for nothing, but it's nice to have some of the side benefits you get, right?

GARY SCELZI: Don't tell Schumacher I'll do it for nothing, I'll get another cut in pay. You know, it's funny because this off-season, I really spent a lot of time with my kids and my wife and back in the family business. When the first test session at Vegas came, I thought what I wouldn't give to have another week or two. When I pulled in the gates in Las Vegas and sat in the car and warmed up for the first time, it was like my first car sitting in a fuel car in 1997. I was so excited to get ready and going and I was screaming and yelling and high-fiving the guys, saying "'06, let's get it, let's defend." Fortunately for us, the testing went really well, I am ready to go to Pomona today.

Q: When you look at this upcoming season, you've got to be thinking as close as things were during -- up until about the middle part of the season, you've really got a target on your back and how tough do you think it's going to be to once again defend, because guys are not going to like to watch you win it again.

TONY SCHUMACHER: I think what made our team win so many races was that we were not -- we understand that there's a Target there, but these guys are like a machine. These guys are so good at what they do, that each and every round is as important. I think we had a little team meeting last year and said, you know, you don't win by 400 points, you don't win by 300, you don't win by 200 if you don't get those first 20 points; each and every round is critical.

At the end of the deal, it could come down to what we saw in Funny cars last year. It could be that eight points separating 1 and 2. I think it's critical that we start out the season and we do it effectively and we go out and win a few races, because those guys are going to shoot for us.

You know, it's hard to stay on the kind of roll that we've been on. So none of us are thinking, hey, this is going to be an easy one and the other guys shouldn't show up. That's not a fact. These guys are going on out trying to get us at each and every race and doing whatever they have to do legally and the rule books to take us out.

Q: Gary, you're up, here is your question. Is the key to your success, and you've been around a number of teams and you've won championships with other teams, but with Schumacher Racing, what makes it special?

GARY SCELZI: I don't know about Schumacher Racing in general but I know about the Oakley Dodge and I know that Mike Neff is a key ingredient to this whole thing and so is Alan Johnson, the crew chief on Tony's car. The key is morale and staying focused and Mike Neff is able to do that. And no matter what goes on, with all of the nine teams, because it is such a huge organization, Mike keeps everybody focused on what we have to do. And even when we have a bad weekend or things don't go the way we want it, Mike is not a guy to beat the team up.

He is a guy to charge the team up and he's very laid back. He doesn't show a lot of emotion as we saw him winning by eight points there; Mike didn't really change expressions. He's just a good leader and he's an asset to this team. And I think one of the biggest reasons, besides the sponsors bringing us the money, is Mike Neff's ability to lead a team and even if we are in trouble, he doesn't let us know that.

Q: So the two of you being totally opposite works.

GARY SCELZI: It works really well. Mike talked to me at the end of the year. He said, you know what, you were really kind of a pain in the ass halfway through to the season. You were not as fun as you were, you were too serious, and you need to be more fun and to lighten up a little bit. And we either are going to do it or we're not, but let's have some fun. Because the pressure, it was incredible, knowing that we had a shot at it, and there were so many teams at the top involved, there were five teams that could have won the championship. It was a stressful time for all of us, away from the family, being on the road, testing, and every round was so important, it got to me.

Q: After the way it went last year for you and Tony, given your druthers, would you rather win a championship with the way that you did, all of the stress round by round and going right down to the last race of the year, or would you rather just go out and cover the field and blow them away like Tony did?

GARY SCELZI: I'd rather blow them away. But realistically, this championship did a lot for Gary Scelzi. I'm watching in airports with Oakley clothing on and people are recognizing me and saying, hey, you know what I started watching that drag race and that Funny Car Championship was incredible, man, you know, I had tears in my eyes when it was over.

We bitch about the NHRA promoting us and stuff, but we have so many new viewers and so many new fans that I'm really starting to realize that, hey, I started watching it and they recognize me. I'm sure the "Scelzi Sez" doesn't hurt that we're doing on ESPN. But more people are starting to watch. That Chase was a big thing. I don't know which is more satisfying or not because both of them are sweet, killing them and going down to the wire both ways, I've done it both ways, but I think I guess if you could pick, I guess it's better to go down to the wire like I did last year and everybody is just battling and you don't know who is going to win.

Q: Gary, do you see this year developing the same way? Is Force still the guy to beat and who else besides him?

GARY SCELZI: Force and his two other cars are very angry right now. They went into test mode. Force doesn't come around and joke anymore. He's dead serious, it cost him a lot of money to not win the championship and (Austin) Coil (crew chief) and those guys are working a lot of overtime. And so are we. We're not going to rest on our laurels, it's not like we crushed them last year but we did have one of the quickest and fastest cars consistently all year long, but it could have gone either way. I could have won it, John could have won it, but they didn't. The way testing went the last couple of weeks, I'm ready. I'm ready for them. I think Mike Neff is ready for them and let's start the swing and ring the bell.

Q: Gary, it seems as though there are about 11 cars in the field this year that have a chance to maybe even win a title. Can you talk a little about whether you think this year's championship will be harder to win than last year's championship, and I mean, is it possible that this thing could be even closer than last year in?

GARY SCELZI: I believe it can. I think that there's 11 cars that can win. I don't think there's 11 cars that can go (for the championship). But I do believe that there's going to be at least six that could come down to Pomona. Three of those cars being Force's cars, at least one of them, Capps and myself being able to go the distance and there's a couple of Pedregon cars, Worsham cars, six or seven you'll see at the end. But I guarantee you up until halfway through the season, you'll have 11 different winners and you'll have everybody pretty tight, but I believe by Indy it will start to separate.

Q: What is it that's going to separate guys over the long haul? Why do you guys have an advantage or Force have an advantage or what if Worsham gets hot?

GARY SCELZI: Well, we've been together a lot longer. You know, our team has not had a change in personnel in four years with the Oakley Dodge. (Schumacher's crew chief) Alan Johnson is a genius and an inventor, and not everybody has a guy like that; John Force does (with Austin Coil). I think that just the way our team is run and the resources we have.

And I think we've been through that enough now in a number of years that Schumacher Racing has been around that we can distinguish what's good and what's bad. So I think that's an asset. Plus we have three cars that we can draw from, we can try stuff on my car, Capps' car, the crew Chiefs are all working together. And I don't know that you have that on any other team except for John Force's.

Q: Who is it that worries you the most, I know that Dixon has a new crew chief this year, and how big an impact is that going to have? I realize you're kind of on the outside looking in at those guys, but who worries you the most?

TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a good question. Last year I would have said the Kalitta cars and I'd probably still have to go with that because I think -- that car goes out in testing and ran a 45. I just think over time, Alan has a better handle on different racetracks, different places, not to say we can win 23 races, but some of those guys have a better handle on individual tracks and the Kalitta cars would be the group that I fear the most.

Last year I would have said near the end of the year Dixon, but we're going to have to wait and see. That's a tough question. It's so early in the season because we don't know what the new crew chief is going to do. He may go out and be great but we just don't -- that's a tough question to answer right now. I think Morgan is going to be winning his first race this year, but I don't know if he's going to go out and win several of them. Bernstein is always right there. And you know, you're watching what happened in testing and that doesn't mean anything next week. It sounds great that we went out and ran a 48 and Grubnic ran a 45. Bernstein could go out and win the first three races, you don't know. They haven't lost any talent over there. They know what they are doing and Brandon has grown into a better driver each and every year.

So there are several guys to look out for. This is not a runaway field. Even though you get guys commenting like Scott last year saying that we have a car that's running away, that is just pressure for other teams to try harder and when they catch back up, it's a battle. Scelzi has been with Alan Johnson for years, too. He knows how that works. Alan is strong at the beginning, the middle of the year he does a lot of testing, and at the end of the year he's almost unbeatable. But what if he doesn't come out as strong at the end of the year; what if things don't go as what you're counting on at the end of the year. We were not ahead at Indianapolis and we needed those last seven races to catch back up.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Austin Coil , Mike Neff