National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
February 1, 2006
Q. 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.
Q. Gary, I know -- 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 Meth (ph) 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 Meth 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 Meth'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, with 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 gets did much 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 driver and they recognize me. I'm sure the Scelzi (inaudible) 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, 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. Do you see this year developing the same way, is Force still the guy to beat and who else besides him?
TONY SCHUMACHER: 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 Coyle (ph) 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 Meth is ready for them and let's start the swing and ring the bell.
Q. 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. 23 races 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 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 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 Oakley Dodge. Alan Johnson is a genius and an inventor, and not everybody has a guy like that; John Force does. I think that just the way our team is run and the resources we have, you know, Worsham has a dyno -- inaudible -- but they are going to be new at using that type of stuff. And I don't know how big of an asset or a hindrance that will be because sometimes you take a blower off the blower dyno and it doesn't run as well as it's supposed to on the car.
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 coal let that cars and I'd probably still have to go with that because I think -- that car goes out -- inaudible -- 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, it's a -- 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. The 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 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 backup.
Q. What are your thoughts on Hilary Will, is she likely to be a player in determining who wins the championship?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think she's going to be a tough one to race against because she's first a lightweight driver, she had a very fast car. Now can she drive a fast car? I don't know, man. I can't even begin to answer that. These cars, the faster they go, the harder they are to drive, and they are doing some silly things out there. We have seen them go down the racetrack and run in the 40s. Can we do it when it's hot and smoking tires? I can't begin to give that you answer yet.
I think the best people to answer that question are the teammates that are watching her in and out and probably helping guide her through the first 100 runs or so. But Scelzi can probably answer that just as good as I can, because we've both seen her make the exact same amount of runs.
Q. When you talk about her being a lightweight driver, do you have any idea how many pounds you're giving away to her?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I'm 158 pounds, and look at her, I can't see that she's 100 pounds.
You know, the car still has to weigh the same amount. If doesn't matter, if we can take the weight off in different areas, we're good. My car is not that heavy. We're only barely ten pounds over anyways. So we can move the weight, too, and fortunately I'm not a heavy guy, so still have to make horsepower. But when you have 8,000 horsepower, does it matter if it's 8,002? Herbert is a heavy driver, he's a big guy, he's in the middle. But me and her and Melanie guys like Capps, Scelzi has been working out, he looks in shape. That's determination there, man. A lot of people don't get that.
Q. Tony, as competitive as this division is, with so many challengers, the fact is, there have been many dynasties between you and Larry, is it one of those things where you win a championship and that formula tends to stick and it lasts longer than, say, some of the other divisions?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, if there were no rule changes and none of that happening, I would say, yeah, man, we've got a great handle on it and this thing can go for a long time. But it has simply blown my mind over last two years how many rule changes we've gone through.
You can have something that is working just absolutely perfect and year-in and year-out be successful and all that can change. I mean, we stepped up around Larry when they were running extremely well, and no one could come close and force them to step up a little bit, which took them a little while and ran them out of time. If a team comes around and does that to us, it's going to be the same situation.
Fortunately, and I know Gary is going to answer this, too, we have Alan Johnson. He is just so smart that when he can put a team together and put in the same guys and maintain his trust this them, it's a hard act to follow. I hope I answered that question right.
Q. Yeah, yeah, kind of leads me to this other one, with all of these rule changes that you alluded to, you still have been able to adapt and win and you credited Johnson for that, but have you really allowed yourself to think about a 3-peat?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I would love nothing more. I get up every morning and I do whatever it's going to take to keep me in shape physically and mentally to do that now -- inaudible -- people ask, are you ready to go, and the fact is when we show up in northern California, we are all tight and everything sounds great but we have to go out and win rounds.
And my team, I'm blown away that they are not cocky in any way, shape or form. They show up earlier than everybody, stay later than everybody and work harder because they do want that 3-peat. It's just a word right now but those guys have so much determination that me as the driver, man, I want to show up and -- I sure don't want to be the weak link with that many people showing up. Those guys eat, sleep, drag racing every day and they can't wait to go win a race. So that makes me feel comfortable.
Do I want to sleep nine months into the future? No. I'm just going to show up because I can't think about anything that's going to help me do it other than focusing on the first round that we get to.
Q. Leading into the last few races last year, we talked and the subject of retirement came up, and you kind of hedged there. But you said it was close. Was that ever a consideration in the off-season thinking that, you know, maybe I'd like to go out on top here?
GARY SCELZI: Oh, I thought about it. I'm not ready to quit. I'm just going to play it year-to-year and see what happens. Both of my boys came up to me after we won the championship, I went to the motor home and they said, "Dad, you can't quit, you can't quit, this is great." And that's my biggest thing is being away from my kids.
We'll just see how it goes, we'll see how it goes this year, and if I'm still having fun and life is good, you know, Schumacher Racing, I'll stay. If it's not, then I'll leave. Now, whether I retire or not, I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see.
Q. Quick question on the Dodge Charger body, how is that coming along, how did you like it in the testing?
GARY SCELZI: Capps (ph)is the only one that drove it. I wasn't there in Vegas in December. I sat in Ron's car when I was back in Indy a couple weeks back and it is way swoopy looking piece, it is really neat.
My car is being mounted right now and it's off the paint. I don't believe we're going to have it by Pomona. But we should have one or possibly two for Phoenix, it just depends how quick they are coming out of the mold. I'm not sure on that to answer your question. As soon as my car is painted and complete, from what I understand, we will be the first ones running it.
Q. When you were saying that Force is no longer cracking jokes, do you mean he's actually not saying anything or is he still the same old John just maybe not telling as many stories?
GARY SCELZI: No, John is as nice as he's always been to me. I believe that we're friends and that's never going to change. But he doesn't come around much and offer me a beer. (Laughter).
He's been pretty focused last couple of weeks and rightfully so. He lost his championship. Not only did it hurt his budget from the bonuses I'm sure that he lost, but John doesn't not want to be known as the champ and get all of the attention. I can't say that I blame him. When I lost the championship to Tony and the other guys in Top Fuel, Bernstein and those guys, I didn't like it.
Once you've tasted it and you've eaten from that golden spoon, you want it more and you get greedy and you want to win it more and more and you want more attention. It's just good for morale. When you don't have it, you work harder to get it back, and they are going to be plenty tough.
Q. When you look back over this past season, was there any one thing that was critical that turned the team around and got you in the Championship Chase? Is there any one thing that you can look back on and say, that's what did it?
GARY SCELZI: You know, I really can't. Because our focus from the beginning was to be good, and to be better than we were on the tracks that we were the year before, and I think we accomplished that. You know, we were five final rounds and in the final round we ran as good as anybody else, and they were both close races, so we could have won five race just as easy as three.
I can't really take anything out. I can pick a mistake out that I thought lost it and that was my untimely red light, red light in Dallas, which amazed me. It was my second red light in my career, and where it came from, I have no idea. I was as shocked as anyone.
I do know that I've learned a lot of things about myself over last year that I believe I'm on the right track on and ready to do battle this year, and I know Mike Meth has learned some things in mistakes we made last year.
One thing we did last year is when we made a dumb mistake, we fixed it right then. We made sure that mistake would never happen again. Now unfortunately in drag racing you always come up with a new mistake, but we are able to fix things as we went and got better as a team. And that's one of the reasons why I'm so excited about the beginning of this year.
Q. You had that rivalry with John Force and of course with Capps. It was a great shootout finish, you finally beat Force, he came in third, not second. Do you think maybe you created a monster, he's been tested in the -- he's really motivated?
TONY SCHUMACHER: We were right with him. We ran 70 flats at both places and ran 330. So again like Tony mentioned earlier, the testing thing is great and the one thing that we learned was consistent and we tried some new parts that didn't work, some of the new parts did work. Force is going to be tough on a dirt road. Is it going to be more focused? Absolutely. And if someone is able to beat him again this year, then you know what, then that's going to show who really means business this year, and you know, like I said, we may be in tenth place, who knows, but right now I like my chances.
Q. And you've got the same crew so you have the consistency that you're going to carry over in 2006.
GARY SCELZI: It's very important to keep the same people like Tony mentioned again, it's the fourth year that every single guy on my team is there that and they are all motivated and they are focused and they are there because they want to be there.
So, you know, they are happy where they are at. They all know their jobs. One run in Vegas, and we've been off in the winter months, they serviced that car just as quick as they did at the finals last year. I know Force has some new members on his team and sometimes they make mistakes until they get in the group. Hopefully those mistakes don't cost them races, and you know, we all make mistakes but I'm very confident in my team and my crew chief that, you know, if we can't get the job done, we're going to be right in the middle of it.
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