DON PRUDHOMME 2006 NHRA Q&A VISTA, Calif. (Jan. 16, 2006) -- There are very few things that strike Don Prudhomme's main nerve more than the resonating purr produced by an 8,000 horsepower supercharged, nitromethane-powered engine. The Snake has...
DON PRUDHOMME 2006 NHRA Q&A
VISTA, Calif. (Jan. 16, 2006) -- There are very few things that strike Don Prudhomme's main nerve more than the resonating purr produced by an 8,000 horsepower supercharged, nitromethane-powered engine. The Snake has been one of the more recognizable figures in motor sports over the past five decades and the racing legend couldn't be more eager and optimistic to begin his 12th season as a team owner. After watching his two drivers, Larry Dixon and Tommy Johnson Jr., race to second and sixth place finishes, respectively, in drag racing's two marquee divisions last year, the 10! 2-time NHRA winner will see his Miller Lite Top Fuel team and Skoal RacingSM Chevy Funny Car team hit the track for the first time in 2006 as preseason testing gets underway on January 20 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In this question-and-answer interview, the Snake provides insight on his two talented drivers, talks about Don Bender's promotion to crew chief on the Miller Lite rail and admits that he still really enjoys the world's fastest motor sport.
Q: What are your thoughts as Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite Top Fuel team head into the 2006 season?
PRUDHOMME: I think it's going to be a successful year. Donnie Bender is the new crew chief. He's been with Dick LaHaie for years and we've talked with Dick about being a consultant to Donnie and the team to work with him by phone or in person if Donnie has some questions, and I think it will be good for everyone involved with the team. I'm looking forward to the next phase.
Q: After Tommy Johnson and the Skoal RacingSM team rebounded to a sixth-placed finish last season, how do you feel about their chances in the difficult Funny Car division?
PRUDHOMME: I feel real good. I feel excellent about the team because it took some time for them to get the combination up to speed with the setback blower and all the changes we made during the 2004 year. We changed everything over to a new combination and as you know it takes time to work those things out. Overall, I'm plenty happy with it. I think that Mike Green and Phil (Shuler) and the entire team are doing a great job. We've got a few new guys on the Funny Car team, but I think it will add more strength to the team and Tommy (Johnson Jr.) is as good as gold.
Q: With everything that Larry has accomplished in more than a decade as a driver, how have you seen him grow as a driver?
PRUDHOMME: He's really grown as a driver, a person and a family man. He's really a credit to our sport and our team. I couldn't be more proud in the way he drives the race car, and also him as a father, husband and teammate.
Q: Were you disappointed when Dick LaHaie informed you of his retirement last fall?
PRUDHOMME: I was disappointed, but it didn't surprise me. Dick (LaHaie) has been battling the stress of the job and the travel, but I was happy that he did it on his own terms. We finished second in points. He went out as a winner and I don't think you can ask for anything more than that.
Q: Why did you choose Don Bender to replace LaHaie?
PRUDHOMME: I believe that when you build a team and an organization that you like to see people grow and go to the next level. Donnie (Bender) was just a natural to go into that spot. It was something that Dick and Donnie have talked about for some time and that time is now.
Q: Considering it's his first season as crew chief, what are your expectations for the team?
PRUDHOMME: We're all out there to win. Anything less than that, we're all disappointed.
Q: After struggling for a few seasons, how nice was it to see T.J. score the win at the Winternationals and have a solid '05 season?
PRUDHOMME: It was great, but what was really nice was that it was a situation that we were able to do in-house at our shop. We built a solid combination. The guys put their heads together and came out and ran really well. I really admire the team for that, that's big in my book.
Q: T.J. had arguably his best season as a driver in 2005. How have your seen him develop behind the wheel?
PRUDHOMME: Married life has definitely benefited him. When you marry someone like Melanie (Troxel), who wouldn't drive good? He did a hell of a job, now we just need to get the consistency of the tune-up to his level and we'll have a really strong package.
Q: Last fall, you locked up both Johnson and crew chief Mike Green to contract extensions. How important was it to keep them together?
PRUDHOMME: It was very important because of what we built on from the following year, and we'll continue to build on that. Plus, it's not just for the sake of them running well, but I enjoy working with them and being around them. They're good people and the crew guys really enjoy working with them.
Q: How important to the success of DPR are loyal sponsors like Miller Brewing Co. and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.?
PRUDHOMME: I can't say enough about the both of them. Larry (Dixon) has been with Miller since he's been driving back to 1995, and I've had a long relationship with Skoal and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco as well. They've both been great. We try to build a team and organization that the sponsors don't have to worry about and hope they see a return on their investment. Hopefully we can keep doing that and have them on board for years to come.
Q: The 2006 season will be your 12th as a team owner, do you enjoy that role?
PRUDHOMME: Yes, I must say I do. I enjoy it very much. I'm more than just a team owner. I'm involved with the sport. I'd like to see the sport grow, not just our team. It's not just a race team; it's a family out there. It's our lives. There's much more than just owning the team.
Q: What keeps you motivated to stay involved in the sport?
PRUDHOMME: The next chapter, what's going to happen next? How do we run better, run quicker, have a better looking car, a better looking operation? They're all challenges, but they're also fun. There's one side of me that still sees this as a hobby, and another side that understands it's a business. I still really dig what I do.