Team owners Schumacher, Johnson - NHRA teleconference

NHRA - teleconference January 28, 2009 An interview with: DON SCHUMACHER ALAN JOHNSON THE MODERATOR: I want to thank Larry and Spencer and Tony for joining us, and wish them the best of luck this season. Next up, I'd like to introduce two of...

NHRA - teleconference
January 28, 2009

An interview with:

THE MODERATOR: I want to thank Larry and Spencer and Tony for joining us, and wish them the best of luck this season. Next up, I'd like to introduce two of the team owners involved in some of the changes in the off-season, Don Schumacher and Alan Johnson.

I'll begin with Don Schumacher, the father of Tony Schumacher and owner of Don Schumacher Racing, which in addition to Tony Schumacher will have under its direction this year a second Top Fuel car, three Funny Cars and one Pro Stock Motorcycle entry.

Don, can you begin with an opening statement on the turn of events that began with the announcement at Indy? And bring us up to date on the U.S. Army program heading into 2009 now that you've had a chance to test with the new team?

DON SCHUMACHER: Well, the announcement of the events of Alan forming his own team that was made at Indianapolis really began when Alan and I first got together. That was always something that Alan talked about and desired to do was to be able to go back and create his own team and be a team owner again. That was known by me, clearly told to me by Alan, and understood.

So all of that was something that wasn't necessarily expected but certainly accepted on my part. I certainly wish Alan and the whole team success, except every time they pull up against the Army car or the FRAM car. We all look to go out there and win every race and every round that we compete in.

But as a person and as a family man, I certainly can only give Alan every accolade that he deserves and has accomplished. Not only in this sport but in life in general. He's one of the best people in the sport, and certainly a great businessman. His tuning ability speaks to itself. Alan is one of the best out there.

THE MODERATOR: You moved some of the parts from the U.S. Army to the FRAM team in terms of personnel the U.S. Army team heading into 2009?

DON SCHUMACHER: It doesn't appear the U.S. Army team has missed a beat at all. It's going to be a challenge to go out there and race against Alan when we raced with him in the past. We'll see how his new crew chief, Jason McCulloch is able to do. But Jason's been No. 2 man for a number of years, and certainly has a lot of talent and knowledge and experience.

So it's going to be certainly a challenge. I look for the U.S. Army team to be in the heat of the competition all year long.

Q: Next I'd like to introduce Alan Johnson. The long time crew chief of the U.S. Army dragster who in 2009 will be in charge of his own team which will include a dragster driven by Larry Dixon, and a funny car driven by Del Worsham. Opening comment from you when this deal started to come to fruition? And can you bring us up to date on where your programs are heading into 2009?

ALAN JOHNSON: Sure, thanks. Appreciate the opportunity to speak with you guys. You know, I had a wonderful run there with DSR and the U.S. Army. It was something that I would never -- it's something that you just don't dream of. It's just something that happens.

I'll never forget the opportunity that I had there and the fun that we had racing together and winning all those races.

The middle of last year an opportunity came about to partner with Sheikh Khalid from Qatar and form the Alan Johnson, Al-Anabi team for 2009 and beyond.

And as our negotiations went on, the opportunity became more and more exciting as we grew. It certainly wasn't something I looked forward to making the announcement that it was going to break up that team over there. But this is drag racing and it's my life, something that I love to do.

The challenge of owning my own team and trying to win under the banner of Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi is something I've looked forward to for a number of years.

We've put together a great team, we've got great personnel, two wonderful drivers, seasoned professionals. We're going to go out and try to create a top-notch professional race team and compete for a championship from the beginning of the year forward.

Q: Can you give us an idea what it's going to be like? There were so many great moments for you with DSR, the end of the season in '06 and '07 come to mind immediately. What will it be like the first time you're there in the staging lanes at the starting line not in the same lane at DSR, standing adjacent to, as opposed to next to, Don?

ALAN JOHNSON: I think we got a taste of that. We got to lineup against him a few times. But like the drivers said, you can't see the paint job when you're sitting in the car, and, you know, I'll be racing my crew chiefs will be racing. You know, the car in the other lane.

We're going to spend our time looking forward and the things that we need to accomplish and the things we have to do to get where we want to be. And we won't, you know, probably not spend a lot of time looking at the past. We're going to continue to look forward and try to get our team in a position, our U.S. Army team was in that great run for five years.

Q: Alan, your racing history is all about championships. Do you think champions have common traits and abilities? And if so, how has that made your job more effective? And how do you think it will help your future?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well, I think you know the Championship thing is just a reflection of the dedication and finding the people who you surround yourself with that can help you do it. You can't do it yourself. I have to rely on the personnel that I've put together.

I think throughout the years winning the Championships and being able to recognize the people that can help me accomplish the goals that we set out to is the key here.

Q: Don, can you walk us through Phoenix last weekend, the test sessions you had with the U.S. Army team? Were there any runs that were particularly noteworthy?

DON SCHUMACHER: I wasn't really in Phoenix for that test session. I chose to stay back east with my family and actually enjoyed myself down in Florida rather than up in cold Chicago.

Today I'm actually down in Indianapolis in Brownsburg. And boy, they certainly did get a foot of snow down here. But the Army team performed at the level that they wanted to perform at. They came away from the test session in Palm Beach, Florida with high hopes and high expectations.

They left Phoenix with that same situation. They ran very good. All of the parts looked good, the team worked well together. They've certainly gotten to know each other and trust and rely on each other. Those were all of the keys to putting Tony together with a new team with Mike Green. Even though Mike Green's been in my organization for a year now, it was key to get them to understand and feel very comfortable with each other, and they accomplished those things in both of these test sessions down in Florida and in Phoenix.

Q: Alan, could you provide a little background in how this team is set up maybe in terms of funding? My understanding is that I guess it's being run by the Sheikh and everything, but do you have any other kind of sponsorship lined up as well?

ALAN JOHNSON: Not really. You know, we formed a partnership between Alan Johnson Racing and Al-Anabi Racing, which is led by Sheikh Khalid from Qatar. My responsibility in the partnership is to provide a championship caliber Top Fuel and Funny Car team. His responsibility is to make sure that the team is funded well.

So far everything is working wonderfully. Our testing has gone as good as we could expect after spending seven weeks putting the whole program together. So we're excited. We're looking forward to it. The people from Qatar are excited as well.

Q: As a follow-up, in I guess a sponsor driven sport like racing, there's not going to be plain brown wrappers or anything like that. They're going to have some kind of design to them, am I right?

ALAN JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. We've designed the cars to try to represent the Al-Anabi, which Al-Anabi the English translation from that is Go Maroon. And their flag is maroon and white. And for seven years their brand recognition for a number of their sponsored sporting teams including their football teams and their -- even their pro mod teams has been Al-Anabi which is Go Maroon. It's almost like saying go USA, or go team USA for the Olympics. It's pretty much the same type of thing.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge that you've faced in the last seven weeks putting this team together in browns berg?

ALAN JOHNSON: It's hard to pick one out, it's been quite a challenge. Fortunately for me I was able to put together a very strong list of personnel, including my general manager Chad Head who has devoted pretty much 100 hours a week to this project, and all the other crew members who have spent 12 hours a day plus getting to where we're at.

Just the challenge of logistics and having all the suppliers get our parts in time to where we can put this thing together is the challenge. Everybody's come through quite well, it's been exciting for us.

Q: You guys being the ones signing the paychecks here for the whole deal, how does this thought of a natural rivalry that you're obviously going to have this year. There are two of you guys?

DON SCHUMACHER: I'm excited about this season as far as the rivalry between Alan Johnson and Don Schumacher. I consider Alan a friend and, like I said, a great businessman and great family man. I'll always consider him that.

I don't really consider anything personal or on a rivalry basis against Alan. Like the drivers have said and Alan said, when you pull up to the starting line you really don't know who the car is and the other lane or who the owner is, you just look to try to win that round and go on from there.

So I respect Alan as a person, and a family man and look forward to racing any car that's in the other lane. And there's a lot of other teams out there that are going to be really tough this year as they have been in the past.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well, I think if there's going to be a rivalry develop between the teams it's probably something that's going to happen on its own just from a pure competitive nature. I don't think there will ever be anything personal involved.

But if it comes down to we're number one and number two going into the end of the year, we're certainly going to want to beat each other. That is the nature, that is the reason we compete in this.

We don't spend this much time and this much energy creating a race team just to go out and have a good time together. We're competitive. I mean, we're both competitive. We had a great time racing together. Now we're going to be racing against each other.

But it's all about the competition to us. If a rivalry develops between the teams or the drivers, whatever, that's going to have to happen naturally. That's not going to be something -- we don't have it now, there's nothing there for us to be a rivalry about. We're going to be two owners going out and trying to compete against each other.

Q: Don and Alan, you guys are probably a couple of the best financed teams. So I have two questions regarding money. Number one, how do you feel about the limit to four days of testing? And how will that affect your budget? And secondly, you've had a year now to run in the 1,000 foot, and I've read you guys have said it's saved you some money. I wonder if you might comment on that.

ALAN JOHNSON: I think Don can attest and my crew members over the years can attest that I'm not a real big fan of testing any which way. That's kind of what qualifying, we try to use qualifying for testing as well. There are occasions with the U.S. Army car did some testing while I was there, but it was never -- it was never anything consistent. We didn't test after every race.

I think last year we may have tested after maybe one or two races. So the fact that they're going to limit us to four days is not going to be an issue for my team. I don't think it will be an issue for Don either being that we've never tested much in the past anyway.

So as far as the 1,000 foot thing, does it save money? Certainly it does. Is it going to be better for our teams? I don't know that that makes that much of a difference. But it's certainly going to help the teams that aren't funds as well be more competitive. Because their smaller budgets will make them more competitive on a race day basis. With us, it should be a more level playing field.

DON SCHUMACHER: I concur with what Alan had to say. The testing situation is really that. Unless you have some new parts to test and some, you know, a new chassis, a driver to get licensed or something that's really different, we shouldn't be out there just running on Mondays to learn how to try to race.

So the Army car did not test much to speak of in all of the years that Alan was aboard. And the way Alan runs things, that's the way it is, and that's the way it should be. So I support the restrictions on the testing on Mondays after the races.

As far as the 1,000 foot versus 1,320 feet the cars definitely run with less part damage running the 1,000 feet than the 1,320 feet. I think it puts on a better show for the fans. Most of the teams. Of there's closer racing, or most of the racing is much closer than it was in the 1,320 feet. I think it's a better show, a safer environment for the teams, the drivers and the fans. It's exciting as far as I'm concerned.

Q: Alan, everyone knows how the economy has taken a down turn. And you've announced your decision to start your team. I'm wondering in light of that, have you ever second guessed yourself for going into a partnership at this point in time? Or has the Sheikh given you a blank check?

ALAN JOHNSON: No, there's no blank check. We have an agreement. We have just like anybody else would. I tend to not second guess myself. I made a decision a number of months ago, and I will maintain my involvement and work as hard as I can to make it work. Now the fact that the economy has gone a little bit backwards, that's going to affect all of us, not just myself. And I just I can't second guess myself.

I think that the people that I'm involved with from Qatar are certainly feeling the crunch as much as anyone else, but on the other hand, I think they're going to do their best to make sure that we stay funded well enough to be a competitive.

Q: This whole thing for you running a team, when you kind of look back on your career, where did you envision yourself being at this point? And how close has this come to kind of fulfilling that dream?

DON SCHUMACHER: In 1999 and 2000 I had a race team with a Funny Car and a dragster. We lost our funding for both teams in 2002. At that point my dream and my goal was definitely to have my own team again. And I knew that I wouldn't be satisfied with either one Funny Car or one dragster.

So the fact that I was able to get one of each has fit the plan perfectly. Would we have more cars in the future? That's certainly possible. But, you know, this is kind of where I wanted to get back as a team owner.

One of the exciting things for me going forward is to be able to watch my new crews for both teams be able to compete on on their own, and watch them grow as crew chiefs and crews together and be competitive in the sport of drag racing. My rule would be to guide them and provide them with the tools that they need and try to turn this into a championship operation for years to come.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Del Worsham , Tony Schumacher , Don Schumacher , Chad Head