National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
Tommy Johnson, Jr.
August 23, 2006
THE MODERATOR: All right. I would like to welcome the media online on the call for the Skoal Showdown teleconference. I am going to turn this over to Bob Fry at this point.
Bob, if you will begin with some history and then go ahead and introduce the drivers. Bob, go ahead.
BOB FRY: Thank you. For those who may not know, the rules for qualifying for this event are fairly simple. Drivers get points based on their qualifying and the higher you qualify the more points you get. 175 points if you are number one and 165 if you are second. It drops in 10-point increments for the first four. It really does put a premium on being in the top four. It drops off by five points after that. If you are the 16th qualifier, you get 85 points. Unfortunately if you do not qualify, you get zero and that has happened to a couple of the drivers this year and we will talk more about that in a bit.
Points actually begin right at the U.S. Nationals. For example, after Indy last year, John Force was the number one qualifier. Six of the eight drivers in the top eight after Indy last year managed to hold on to the entire season and will run for the Skoal Showdown this year. It is pretty important to get off to a good start and make the other guys chase you.
This will be the 25th anniversary of the Skoal Showdown. It has been a great program. It is the first race. It got started back in 1982 and a couple of Hall-of-Famers are the guys that won. Doug Hauly beat Don "the Snake" Perdon. Snake has a team running in the Skoal Showdown and it will be Tommy Johnson, Jr.
Some of the background on some of the numbers for people who competed. In the 24 previous events, 49 drivers have competed and that's a pretty select group over the last quarter of a century. 23 different drivers made it into the final round and there have been 14 winners of the Skoal Showdown. Ironically with all the good drivers that have been in there, only six drivers have won it more than one time. Two of them we have on here for the teleconference; John Force has won it five times, and Ron Capps has won it three times.
It is tough to repeat. Just getting into the top eight is very tough, especially with the quality of the field, but it is tough to repeat. Believe it or not, in the previous 24 years, only two drivers have won this event in back-to-back years. Al Hoffman did it, and one of the drivers we have on the teleconference, Ron Capps, did it. It is a very tough thing to do.
Last year's winner of the Skoal Showdown, Del Worsham, won the Skoal Showdown and then won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals the next day. He did not qualify for the event this year. It is not unprecedented. Prior to this season only five times did the defending champion not qualify for the event the next season. I am sure Del doesn't want his name to be on the list. As I always say, I don't write them, I just read them.
The race day purse is $147,000. That is just part of the money that the folks at U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and Skoal put up. During the course of the year they pay $4,000 at each race as low qualifier money. That's another $132. If you add it up, it is a quarter of a million dollars that the folks from Skoal and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco put up in cash against this event every season. Del Worsham last year wins the Skoal Showdown and then backs it up with a win at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. That's another $50,000 bonus. There are six drivers that have done that over the past few years.
In addition to the four drivers who were scheduled to be on the teleconference, we have Robert Hight in the program, Eric Medlen who went to the finals last year, Tony Pedregon who is the 2003 champ will not be happy when I mention this stat, has the distinction of the driver to beat in the Skoal Showdown the most times without a win. He has been in it 11 times coming into the season. Last year Del Worsham had been in it ten times and had one win.
It is interesting to note, while the drivers are racing it is part of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The PowerAde point battles qualifying to go into the Skoal Showdown is important. The points carry over or reflect what are do in the national standings. Last year the final champion, Gary Scelzi, who won the PowerAde Championship, won it, even though he had less race wins than the guys who were right behind him and the qualifying points were very important for those drivers.
It is good to get off to a great start. And two of the drivers we have on for the teleconference, John Force and Ron Capps, are involved in that points battle this season.
That gives you a very quick history of what has gone on in the past. As we said, with $50,000 up. The reason I don't usually give the runner up money and the semifinals is the drivers will tell you they are not out there to run for those, just for the stats because it is part of a huge purse that the folks from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco puts up. The semifinalists is $6,000 each and the first round losers pick up that $5,000. That's the $147,000 on race day that's up for grabs. Everybody appreciates the help from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and Skoal for the great support and all the promotional effort and all the extra pizzazz they have given to the event.
We will talk to a couple of our drivers. Ron Capps is on with us. Ron, are you there?
RON CAPPS: Yes, sir.
BOB FRY: Ron has three wins. He won in '98, '99 and '02. This is the first time you have been back in here. How does it feel?
RON CAPPS: It feels good. Last year I was crushed I wasn't in it. You win it not only once but you win it like we did three times and you look so forward to this event, and to stand around and walk up and watch it when you are not in it, it was a pretty empty feeling. I talked with Ace and we said we would work real hard to make the field this year.
BOB FRY: You had one of the more emotional wins here. Tell us about it.
RON CAPPS: It was a snakeskin car. I have been with U.S. Smokeless Tobacco nine or ten years. We had a special car put up in the snakeskin. We caught it on fire first round and they sent me to the infield care center, the burn center and the late Steve Evans snuck me out in the golf cart and we got back to the pit area. And there was about 30 fans helping put the car back together because I think Del Worsham at the time was in the force. And I was in the burn center watching the TV. I said, we may have a shot at this. Steve Evans snuck me back and we went on to win the thing with our backup body. It was an emotional day.
BOB FRY: Everybody on the team was walking off and Snake had tears in his eyes. It was impressive with the team you have together. You have qualified well for this thing and it has been consistent in your performance all year.
RON CAPPS: We haven't qualified as high as we wanted to. Last year we sat down and looked and the showdown points that Skoal put up is to get into the field, but you also have to look at it for points, at season-ending PowerAde Championship points. So we lost a lot of points with our standings in qualifying and we really want to work on that, not only to get into the Skoal Showdown but to make sure we gain as many points as we can and everything that goes with that.
I have said it especially the last ten races, almost every interview, we are fighting for a championship right now but our second goal right behind that was to get into the Skoal Showdown. We got in. It is a tough field. Dale is not in, like you said. There are tough cars that didn't make it. A few races ago I was pretty nervous. The last race we knew who you were and then you look at who you are going to run the first round. We are nervous on a race day where after Saturday qualifying you know who you are going to run. Now we know who we are going to run for a week so it has made it pretty difficult.
BOB FRY: We wish you a lot of luck here this weekend. Make sure to keep the cars in one piece.
RON CAPPS: Okay.
BOB FRY: Tommy Johnson is also on with us. He will be representing the Don Prudhomme team and the Skoal Smokeless Tobacco debuted the limited edition of the Skoal Monte Carlo a couple races ago. It is his third appearance in the show. How are you feeling?
TOMMY JOHNSON, JR.: Good, good. Proud to be in it. That's probably one of our team's most important goals throughout the season is to make sure we make the Skoal Showdown and to get the car and not only for the championship for the whole season, but that's probably one of the bigger things on our minds throughout the season.
BOB FRY: Now, you have been in this twice before. You still get a little nervous going into these things with the kind of money and competition that you are competing against?
TOMMY JOHNSON, JR.: I guess you get a little nervous, but not really. This is the eight best guys out here as far as the eight best cars and the best guys you race against every week. It is not really more nervous, but it is definitely the toughest eight cars out here. It is not going to be an easy trip.
BOB FRY: What about the fact that you are running for the Skoal folks? I know a lot of people say if their sponsors are sponsoring an event, it turns out to be a hectic time for them.
TOMMY JOHNSON, JR.: Yeah, you know, last year, this being the thing everybody kept asking me if there was added pressure, I kept thinking yeah, there is a little bit of added pressure. When it came down to it, the support they give us is win, lose or draw. I was actually most comfortable going into that first round last year and probably drove better than I've ever driven and still got beat. I think there is probably just more added pressure we put on ourselves, not from the sponsors, not from Skoal or anybody involved.
Skoal Racing Monte Carlo, you want to make sure that's in the deal and I think that's where the pressure comes from. And when you finally get in it, race day is kind of a relief. I feel more relaxed I think than I do all season.
BOB FRY: You have a pretty good race car. The big win at Brainard and the low ET in the finals. You have to have as much confidence in Mike Green and your team as you have all season long.
TOMMY JOHNSON, JR.: Absolutely. I couldn't think of a better time to peak in the season than coming into Indy for the Skoal Showdown and the U.S. Nationals. Definitely the car running right now the way it is it gives me a lot of confidence and definitely gives you a hope that you have got the car to beat going into that. We qualified, I think -- I think this is the highest I have ever been in the Skoal Showdown coming into it and we missed getting lane choice by just ten points there last weekend.
I don't think that's important. We are trying to have a little bit of advantage, but I don't think it will hurt us at all. It will be a great race between Gary Scelzi and myself.
BOB FRY: Michael, do we have the other drivers here yet?
THE MODERATOR: I was going to check. Force just got here.
JOHN FORCE: We are running.
BOB FRY: First of all, John, nice to have you with us here today, getting set to go into the Skoal Showdown. This is like a regular part of your Indy ritual, isn't it? You know you are going to come here and run in the Skoal Showdown.
JOHN FORCE: It is really good because if you can win it, it is just kind of -- you have worked all year for this and part of last year qualifying. So it is kind of a way to flex your muscles if you can and back it up back-to-back, that's really cool, and make NHRA give you the extra bonus. We all like this.
BOB FRY: John has been in the race 11 times in the final round. That's a record. He has five wins, that's a record. Six more runner-ups. A little bit of history is because you are not going in as the number one qualifier. It is the first time in 17 years that you haven't been the number one guy.
JOHN FORCE: Well, stuff happens.
BOB FRY: Do you find it a little hard to swallow or what?
JOHN FORCE: Nope, yeah. It is just the way it goes. This year we have come out and we have pretty fast hot rods, just can't win races. Capps is whipping me in the heat. I hope we get a cold front here in Indy so I can survive. It is what it is.
BOB FRY: You run for this thing, and there is an awful lot of money and you share that with your teams. We wonder what motivates a champ. It must be the money because in the whole history of the Skoal Showdown you are the only guy to win a whole round on one shot. Does that add up for this kind of thing?
JOHN FORCE: I better have to if I am going to whip these young guys. They have the energy. I have to find it through PowerAde or something or Power Bars. I am on the Power Bars.
BOB FRY: That's great. Has Gary joined us yet?
GARY SCELZI: Just got in from the rest room. That's probably too much information.
BOB FRY: Gary?
GARY SCELZI: Yes, sir, Bob.
BOB FRY: You are getting set to go into this thing with a very good team with your Mopar Oakley Dodge. How do you like running these big money events?
GARY SCELZI: It is flattering to be in these because it is the eight best of the whole year and Funny Car is such a tough class anymore that it is like a normal race. Anybody can win from any spot. It is just the eight of us are the elite, and the 100 grand is always sweet, too.
BOB FRY: It will be interesting now that you have raced in both the Top Fuel and the Funny Car classes. We were talking to Tommy and he said you don't have a prayer.
GARY SCELZI: Tommy has been drinking a lot lately and I think he will try to get off the sauce before the Skoal Shootout. We will give Tommy all he wants, so to hell with Tommy.
BOB FRY: He didn't say that.
GARY SCELZI: Damn you, Fry.
BOB FRY: You have been such a fixture in the Funny Car class we think you have been in the showdown a lot, but this is your third time in the Funny Car class. You run it the same way as you did with the Top Fuel cars. Just let it all hang out?
GARY SCELZI: That's it. Hopefully we will get the car qualified early on Friday and Saturday so we don't have to mess around and we can go stand on it and see what we can get away with it because it is 100 grand. It is a gamble. You have the best of the best. You have to see what you can do on Monday. The key is to make some good runs early so you have a good idea of where you are at and hope the weather doesn't throw you a curve.
BOB FRY: That's great. I want to appreciate the four on the line with us with Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson, Jr., and Gary Scelzi and John Force.
Q. I like to be thought of as a good friend of NHRA. Ron, how is Ace doing, first of all?
RON CAPPS: He is good. He is pissed off; he is waiting in line with the car and he is up there and I am down here. He is back to normal.
Q. Is he all done with his chemo?
RON CAPPS: Yes. He didn't have to do it. The stuff they pulled out was noncancerous. That was the best news, he had no chemo to go through this time.
Q. This is for Tommy, Ron, and Gary. With the successive forces TV show, has his head gotten any better?
GARY SCELZI: If Force can't fit in the room, that's because he is talking from the parking lot.
Q. Is he wired?
GARY SCELZI: He is always wired.
Q. Ron, what do you think? Tommy, is he the same quiet kind of guy?
RON CAPPS: He is looking a little older.
GARY SCELZI: I am sure the people who don't watch the show and they are gasping and they can't believe they are seeing him. We all know it is the Force we know. We have seen him in the room with his underwear on.
JOHN FORCE: I don't know how to act, first of all.
Q. Thank you, gentlemen.
JOHN FORCE: I want to race, not interview. It has been so long.
Q. I guess I do just -- if I could just have John comment. John, have the Muslim communities made any comments to you or your PR people about the pig running through the pipeline?
JOHN FORCE: I have been hearing about how much trouble I got in.
Q. Were you serious?
JOHN FORCE: Are you trying to make me look dumb?
Q. Did you know the pig was going to run 3,000 miles?
JOHN FORCE: It is a 3,000-mile pipeline. If he put him in there, they wanted him to come out the other way. They said they put pigs in the pipeline and I take it for what they say. If they don't come out the other line, you know you have to get them in the pipe. What's so dumb about that?
Q. This is for John. You have been a popular driver for several years. How much more popular are you now to the non-racing audience since your show has taken off?
JOHN FORCE: Well, the first question I'm asked every week, now that Scelzi, do you have any chance of catching Capps? Still has nothing to do with the TV show. People are caught up in what I do out here and it is exciting. We find a new group of fans with my family and just interested about racing. And I think if we are accomplishing anything, we are showing them what we do, and that will help the sport and that will help us find new sponsorship, all of us, not just my times. We are getting a lot of new people looking. We will see.
Q. This is for Ron and Gary. What is it about Indy that has become -- it has been special for decades now. Is it the fact it is a little more special now knowing so many teams have moved to the area? Just explain this is for Ron, Gary or whoever else wants to answer this, how important Indy is to NHRA.
GARY SCELZI: I think it is the prestige and the age of the race. From the beginning this is the race that the guys from the west coast would come out to, the guys from the east coast, from everywhere. If you didn't have money, you saved your hundred to come to Indy to make the splash. If you could do well here, that would be your ticket to paradise, you could land a sponsor, at least you would be recognized or try to become a household name.
I mentioned the story years ago in 1986 I came here with my alcohol dragster. I was dead broke, battling for the championship with Bill Walsh. I made it to the final and I got beat by Eldon P. Slick. Nobody had heard of him before. Nobody heard of him ever. Every time this guy was in a drag race, it was Eldon P. Slick, the winner of the U.S. Nationals in 1986. I think he ended up winning two or three races. Great guy, but that was his tag, that was his deal that he won the U.S. Nationals.
It is one if you win the championship or you don't win a championship, if you have won the U.S. Nationals, you have done something.
RON CAPPS: Growing up in the sport, I used to it watch all the heroes. You watch all the other drag races but you particularly watch Indy. To watch all the guys that have won Indy over the years, the history, it is definitely something you want to put on your résumé as the driver.
JOHN FORCE: What makes me nervous about Indy, the guy we are up against right now -- we are up against everybody in the room, but Ron Capps' crew chief has won this thing ten times or something. He holds the record for wins here. No one has dominated at Indy like he has, so we will keep an eye on you.
Q. How are you doing today? I have a question for TJ. TJ, Bob alluded about the fact that the added pressure of the sponsors event. Since Indy is your transplanted home and the fact that not only do you have to race the rounds of the Skoal Showdown but you are also in qualifying for the elimination come race day, how does that all transpire or come to play into your philosophy for the weekend?
TOMMY JOHNSON, JR.: You definitely want to go out and try to get the car qualified Friday and Saturday so you don't have to worry about that. That's the last thing you want to worry about when you go into the first round of the Skoal Showdown. If you are not qualified, it puts more pressure on there. As long as the guys go out and get the show good Friday and Saturday, you can forget about qualifying for a short period of time and just go out there and go back to a normal Sunday race.
Being able to sleep in my own bed a couple miles from the racetrack, that helps a little bit and takes the pressure off. There is still added pressure. Indy is so big and you want to try to win the Skoal Showdown on Sunday and get back and win it on Monday. I think it will all go back on how you qualify Friday and Saturday. The first run may dictate how the whole weekend goes.
Q. Despite who wins the Skoal Showdown, you guys are all winners in my book.
JOHN FORCE: Thank you.
RON CAPPS: You and the seven others of us are going to sleep in Tommy's bed.
Q. This is for John. How are you doing?
JOHN FORCE: Pretty good.
Q. With all the distractions of taping this show, how are you managing to keep a focus going into the best race of the season, the Indy?
JOHN FORCE: I thought I was going to be free at Indy, but A & E wants more shows so the cameras are coming to Indy, which is going to be a pain because it is hard to focus. You walk around with a radio stuck to you all day and a radio in your ear. I took a job, I have to do it.
Q. Are you adjusting or is it still difficult?
JOHN FORCE: It is hard on the whole family because you live it. It was fun at first and then it got painful. We are trying to work through it. To win a championship as everybody in the room knows, you have to focus every day on just that. If your focus isn't there, you can't win.
And that's the issue that I have of getting back to Castrol and Ford and Mac Tools and the money they are spending. They are great I have a TV show and it is doing good. But, you know, we are here to sell Mustangs and you need to get that job done. It is a way for any driver, Capps or Scelzi or Tommy here. So I just have to get my stuff together. There ain't no party and beer drinking in my life. It has pretty much come to an end here for a while.
Q. Here is a question for any of one of you. You struggled with the weather in Memphis. What's the weather forecast for the Indy race?
JOHN FORCE: I don't think it will be as bad as Memphis. If it is as good as it is here today it would be wonderful.
Q. Let's hope so because the cars affect those cars.
JOHN FORCE: It depends on the fans. The fans take it either way. Tires smoking, balls of fire or national records. They are always happy. We will give them something.
Q. Tommy, how is Melanie doing? Kind of fell into a slump after that great start.
TOMMY JOHNSON, JR.: She is not any easier to live with at home, I can tell you that. The TV show is affecting John's household, the slump is affecting mine. She is all right actually. She is enjoying the success they had earlier in the season and hopefully see will be up here on the starting line rooting for me on Sunday in the Skoal Showdown.
But I think they are on their way back. It is a little bump in the road. We all go through them. I went through it earlier in the season. We had some struggles and I used her for motivation. Hopefully he can kick her in the butt and she can do better the rest of the year.
Q. When you made the comment Scelzi about everybody sleeping in everybody's bed, I wasn't sure what you were talking about.
GARY SCELZI: You have a good imagination. I am sure you will figure it out.
Q. Can you comment on the tire situation this year? Everything going okay? No problems?
GARY SCELZI: We are testing new stuff for next year right now and we made two runs on them and they look good. So I think the tire thing is a thing of the past.
Q. Goodyear --
RON CAPPS: Good Pros Regular.
Q. Goodyear came out here with NASCAR Craftsman truck with testing of the new oval. They paid for the test. It costs a lot more to run an nitro car in testing. When you go out to test a Goodyear product, do they pay for your expenses or anything?
JOHN FORCE: You are compensated whether it is through money or through tires which you get over the course of the year.
RON CAPPS: They pay us a little more than the rest of them, John, but you don't know it.
JOHN FORCE: We want to sure thank Skoal for putting up the money for this show. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: All right, thanks, John. Thanks to Skoal and thanks, Bob, for hosting today. Take care, everyone, and we will see you in Indy.
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