Trio of drivers - NHRA teleconference, part 1

NHRA teleconference January 28, 2009 An interview with: LARRY DIXON SPENCER MASSEY TONY SCHUMACHER THE MODERATOR: There are a number of compelling story lines as we get underway next week, not least of which will be the transition of ...

NHRA teleconference
January 28, 2009

An interview with:

THE MODERATOR: There are a number of compelling story lines as we get underway next week, not least of which will be the transition of NHRA's series entitlement from Coca-Cola's POWERade brand to its Full Throttle energy drink brand. POWERade's sponsor began in 2002, and Full Throttle will be the title sponsor at least through 2013.

In the weeks and months ahead we look forward to sharing with you the many exciting plans Full Throttle has to activate around NHRA which will be the first and only sports marketing play for Coca-Cola's premier energy drink.

The 2009 season begins next week, with the 49th running of the Kragen O'Reilly, NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. And NHRA will celebrate the start of the season with a parade of vehicles from the track in Pomona through to downtown Los Angeles back to Pomona on Monday February 2nd.

Details of the parade, including timing, route and participants were e-mailed and faxed yesterday. Please contact NHRA communications if you need a copy of that advisory.

Joining us on today's call will be the central figures in the wild silly season in Top Fuel. We'll begin with drivers Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon, and Spencer Massey. And at the bottom of the hour, I'll introduce team owners Don Schumacher and Alan Johnson.

I'll begin with an opening statement from each driver about the many changes that have occurred in the last several months and what to expect in 2009.

First, five-time reigning Top Fuel Champion, and 2008 Driver of the Year, Tony Schumacher. Tony, share with us your thoughts when you made your final pass at the Auto Club Finals in November and you knew you made your last run with Alan, ending one of the all time great driver/crew-chief partnerships in NHRA history? And bring us up to speed on how the U.S. Army team looks heading into 2009?

TONY SCHUMACHER: Going into Pomona we had an awesome opportunity to be the winningest team in the season in all the four categories. It was a little bit of a letdown when we got beat (in the quarterfinals by Rod Fuller). It was just an outstanding race, and hated to end it that away, but thoroughly enjoyed the season, you know.

I think most people kept asking us, you know, with Alan leaving after Indy, how are you guys keeping it all together? And we had such a great team and such a great combination of people working together, it was exciting every race, and every race was another challenge.

I think our team has always been the best under that kind of pressure. We were always a great high pressure team. And when that last run, when my win light didn't come on, it was a little bit of a letdown. It was sad to end it after the awesome success we had as a team.

But you know, I felt relieved, and I felt really grateful just having five years with such an amazing team. And I think that's what people have to keep in perspective with all the people asking, What are you going to do now? And how are you going to handle yourself?

It was an amazing run. And all teams end at some point, all great combinations and groups of people end. But that doesn't mean the winning ends that just means that group and that situation. I feel blessed and I know my father feels blessed to have that situation, and it was an amazing run and amazing gift to be part of something like that.

With that being said, we'll move forward with (new U.S. Army crew chief) Mike Green tuning the car and a new group of guys, and we made it right away in testing. I feel fortunate that my father's more than capable of putting together an outstanding race team. Hiring the right guys and letting us do our jobs.

So I look forward to the challenge. You know? I look forward to being able to race against Alan Johnson and have big moments lying ahead.

I think the fans with as many less teams as we have, I guess, the fans being able to see some monumental runs this year, they're going to get their money's worth showing up at each of the NHRA Full Throttle Series races. It's going to be a challenge.

I've always said, even when he was my crew chief, I've always said it's about the challenge, not the trophy, not the money, it's about sucking it up, digging it deep and making it happen.

So I look forward to getting it started.

THE MODERATOR: Next up, Larry Dixon, who will be driving for a new team formed by former U.S. Army crew chief Alan Johnson. What are your thoughts you had such a successful partnership with Snake, and what should we expect in 2009?

LARRY DIXON: I had a great time at Don's for the number of years that I was there. All total between crewing and driving, I was there for 20 years, so that's half my life.

Really exciting. Thrilled that we went out and won the last race of the season. I mean, what a way to go out and end the year in that fashion. We moved from fifth going into the final Sunday fifth in the points, all the way up to second. So we did everything we could do at that given moment and now it's 2009.

Got a great opportunity driving for Alan Johnson and his Al-Anabi Racing team. And really looking forward to the challenge.

Obviously everything that Alan touches, he's had a lot of success with, but it's more than just 2009, it's a long-term program, and I'm very excited to be a part of that for the years to come.

THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Spencer Massey who will be driving for Don "Snake" Prudhomme. Spencer, share with us your thoughts as you prepare for the rookie season under the guidance of one of the all time greats in the sport. And coming on the heels of a six-time champion (Schumacher) and two-time champion (Dixon), who you'll be competing against in 2009?

SPENCER MASSEY: Well, first off, I'm very honored and blessed and excited to be in the position that I am. You know, being in the spot that drivers are where they are right now. As a rookie guy coming in, being with Don "Snake" Prudhomme is something I've always dreamed of.

And a team like this, like Larry said, they went from fifth in the points to second in the points just on that Sunday, and this team is very capable of going out there and taking a run for the money at the end of the season. I just need to be on my A-game and do my job. You know, the car is very capable of taking the win lights.

THE MODERATOR: Good luck to all three drivers this season. Questions for the drivers.

Q: Larry, when did you decide to leave Snake after 20 years? Did you know that you talked to Alan Johnson beforehand, or did you know there was going to be a seat available with his new team?

LARRY DIXON: Alan announced what he was doing for the 2009 season at Indianapolis and didn't really get into any serious conversations with him just knew there was an opportunity there if I was available. So I wasn't really sure if it was going to happen or not. And just able to put a deal together with Snake where it worked out great for him and myself and, obviously, Spencer and Alan. Everybody's where they want to be.

Q: Larry and Tony, you sort of alluded to this a little bit earlier. But you're both in long-term situations with the teams that you were under. How much has this change really given you a spark and a new perspective on the season that's coming up?

LARRY DIXON: Well, for me I'm certainly excited. You know, Alan's got a plan for 2009, but he's got a two-year, five-year, and a ten-year plan. And him wanting me to be a part of that is certainly one that's flattering, and two, it's very exciting. So I'm looking, obviously looking forward to, you know, this upcoming season and the years ahead forward from here.

TONY SCHUMACHER: For me it's the same thing. It was awesome to have Alan Johnson tune the race car and have more than just have an outstanding team to work with. But I look forward to the challenge again.

I look forward to building a team and motivating and doing what I do best, and keeping a team positive through the start of team. A lot of guys worked together last year, and the drivers will be different, and we'll have to get used to each other. It's a neat challenge, it really is.

Alan Johnson's the best in the world, and people always, always have said how much fun it is to race against us, because it makes you rise to you're A-game. That's the same for me.

Now being able to have a chance to run against an awesome crew, an awesome team and kick-butt driver with Dixon. I'm fortunate that they put Dixon in that car, because it's going to be just a huge motivation to beat those guys and have fun. Let's face it. We have to rise on Sunday morning, we have to dig deep to win a race, and do it against a group of guys that are outstanding. We're going to have to build some strengths, maybe some of the guys on the team working before haven't seen. We're going to have to reel, really dig, and that makes you wake up in the morning and look forward to getting into the races.

Again, it ain't the trophy, it's what it takes to get it. We'll have to dig really deep, and we'll have to work as a team. I think we have a collection of crew chiefs and an awesome facility and group of people that my dad has put together. So I see no reason why we can't go out there and give it an absolute fantastic run for a Full Throttle Series championship.

To be able to go out there and have that number six in a row out there and have to do it in a very difficult way beating Alan Johnson and some other teams, there are a lot of great teams out there. We're not going to be the only ones battling in the Championship, but it will be great.

Q: Can you talk about how much Alan's presence kind of cuts the growing pains for a new team? And can do you feel like now you're getting some war secrets from what used to be the enemy and use them against Tony now?

LARRY DIXON: Yeah, I just -- Alan has a way of running his program just in the fact that he took Jason McCulloch and Aaron Brooks. You know, Aaron crew chiefed for a few races last season on the Funny Car class. But Jason has been his sidekick for a number of years at DSR, and they promoted him to crew chief.

To watch these guys in two months time, I mean, they drove the rigs back to Brownsburg, dropped their keys off, cleaned out their lockers, and literally went across the street and built a team from the ground up without even a desk or a phone or anything.

So to watch these guys put together a complete operation like they did, and then go out two weeks ago, you know, and just start shakedown runs, I ran quicker and faster and the same for del on the funny car. He ran quicker than he ever had in the 1,000 foot. To see that happening in a matter of seven or eight weeks time, it's just phenomenal.

So to make a long story short, you've got to surround yourself with talent and Alan has certainly done that.

Q: Do you feel like this will give you a little headway in terms of cutting the gap against Tony?

LARRY DIXON: There's a lot of teams out there that you've got to look out for. It's not just Tony and Spencer. But we'll watch Antron Brown make the quickest run in testing the other day. Then the same thing with Brandon. He ran 323 miles an hour. So there are a lot of cars that you need to look out for.

So it's not just, you know the three of us here. There's quite a few cars. And then the Kalitta Team which hadn't done any testing with the dragster yet. They're going to be a strong team as well. You've just got to go out there and try to perform against everybody.

But obviously having Alan Johnson in your corner, I feel pretty confident about that.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Tony Schumacher , Don Schumacher , Spencer Massey