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National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Drag Racing Topics:  NHRA

National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

Jeg Coughlin
Gary Scelzi
Tony Schumacher
Bob Vandergriff
October 2, 2007


ANDREW HINES: I think right now I'm more concerned just about whipping the race. We're in a position right now that's pretty good. We're No. 1 in the points. We haven't been there at all this year, so right now is one of the best times to be there. We just had a good race in Memphis and won there the last three years in a row, and hopefully we can roll into Dallas with some momentum. I've never raced there before so it's going to be a new experience for me. We're just focused on trying to make that last Countdown to 1.

Q. As a past champion, you gained a lot of experience, what other experience did you gain in your championships helps you the most now going into the format of the Countdown?
ANDREW HINES: I would say knowing how to handle the pressure of the final few races of the year. The last couple of years I've had to squeak out at the end and I've had to perform toward the end of the season and get those extra points to get that championship.
So this year, it's kind of the same deal because we have to basically try and win three championships in one year because you have to get in the top eight and then the top four and then you know hopefully we'll have a chance to run and be in the top four at the end of the year.
So having the pressure from the last few years has really helped me lately. That really kept my mind-set right in Memphis. I was concerned about just winning the race, not trying to over think too much.

Q. I think it's been 2000 since they have raced at Texas. What kind of adjustment there that be? Will you try and feels things out?
ANDREW HINES: I think it will be a pretty level playing field. As everybody knows we had a new race this year for all of categories which was in Norwalk, and we went out there and won the event. It was great to get the inaugural race win there.
Coming to Dallas, it's about the same position for everybody. It's been so long since motorcycles have run there that they are going to be quite a bit faster than they were the last time. So everybody is going to be kind of on an even keel again. So that will make it easier on me since I've never been down that track before. Luckily my brother is the defending champion from back in 2000, and he can give me a little insight of what I can do to maneuver down the lanes as much as possible. So luckily I have him on the team right now and he's really been pushing us along lately.

Q. Andrew, can you talk about this Countdown format, how has it changed, if it has changed the way you approach going to the race each week. You talk about three playoff s is that what you're talking about?
ANDREW HINES: Yeah, it's definitely changed my mind-set race to race. Right now we are really on offense. We are trying to gain as many points as possible before a couple of years ago we had a pretty good lead coming into these last few races so we could kind of play defense and make sure we go a couple of rounds where now we need to go out there and win every round possible.
Another thing that's changed is how we've worked on our engines back in the shop during the first four or five races before the cut at Indy, we were not going a whole lot of engine swaps at the track, just running what we had normally and we were not running as hard as we normally would. Now that we are in the Countdown after Indy we have really been turning the screws with the motors and to change a couple race-to-race and just tried to get every horsepower that we can and trying to develop more and more horsepower back at our shop, which is something we don't normally do during the season. We just try to get our package perfect throughout the year, where this year we've been trying to find more and more horsepower race-to-race and trying to save it up for these last four races of the year.

Q. When you talk to the fans, and I know all of the drag races are very fan accessible, do you get the feeling they like this format? Do they get it with all of the point changes? Is it too complicated? What's your feeling about that
ANDREW HINES: I think some of the fans are really for it. Some people don't really understand it. It's pretty confusing. Some of the crews out there don't even quite get it yet. So it's a little different for everybody out here.
I'm still a fan of the old points system because that's the way I won my championships and that's the way it's been for who knows how long. It's just a new curveball in the whole program and everybody is going to have to deal with it right now. Luckily it's playing in our favor. I think right now how we are doing, I don't think we would still be -- I don't think we would be first in the standings. I think we would still be six or seven rounds behind. So I'm a big fan of it right now, but I wasn't at the beginning of the year.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today. I'll move on now to Kurt Johnson.
The next driver I'd like to introduce is Pro Stock's Kurt Johnson. He is currently in fifth place, two points behind Allen Johnson for the fourth and final spot in the Countdown to 1, the championship round. Kurt, where are you on strategy heading into these last two races in the Countdown to 4?
KURT JOHNSON: Obviously we need to keep our momentum. Our car is performing well. I've been driving good all year. Kind of had a slip-up at Memphis but going into Dallas, we had good success last year and a race that we felt we could have won. I think I won there a couple of times in Dallas and I just lover racing at the Motorplex. Hopefully we can pick up, we were fourth going into Indy, only a point out of third and coming out of there, we're not too depressed. We know we've got our work cut out for us.

Q. I'm trying to get a feel here for how the drivers feel about the Countdown and you're on the outside looking in on this thing and I'm sure you're not a real big fan of it. Do you see the necessity of it? What's your opinion on the whole format?
KURT JOHNSON: I guess it's sort of a playoff-type strategy where, you know, it comes down to the end and you have to perform at your very best. You know, for me it kind of adds some excitement to it. It's almost like three battles in a war, trying to make the first eight and then the second battle of going down to four and then whoever is going to be champion. It's definitely added some excitement to our camp.

Q. When you talk to the fans, do you get a sense that they like it, they get it, that they feel it's necessary. What do you get from the fans out there?
KURT JOHNSON: Well, I think, you know, as long as the announcers and the media, as long as they pump it up and explain to the fans what's going on here, I think everybody is going to catch on. Everybody that I talk to thinks it's pretty exciting.

Q. I've got a champion question for you. Do motorsports champions have common traits and abilities do you think, and if so, could you identify a few?
KURT JOHNSON: Well, I think it all comes down to focus, focusing and paying attention to detail. Everybody has pretty much got the same equipment out there, as far as the Pro Stock category goes, it's so close and so competitive, it's definitely going to come down to the driver and you know, Jeg is doing a good job, Allen is doing a good job, so there's a lot of good drivers. I drove good for the first part of the season and we're going to have to step it up at the end. There's so many good drivers that pay attention to detail and focus; it could be a common trait, I would say.

Q. And what traits do you think you might have picked up from your dad over the years?
KURT JOHNSON: Obviously the work ethic. You know, you've got to work at this stuff if you're going to be successful. You know, and paying attention to detail. You can work your butt off all the time and sometimes not get anywhere, so you've got to pay attention to what you're working on. You know you have to fix what's broken on these cases and not really worry about the rest, and that's what I try and do. I would say we've been successful at it.

Q. Looking at how these first couple of races have shaped up and everything, has anything really surprised you about how this Countdown has unfolded in terms of the format and how it's really made things interesting?
KURT JOHNSON: Well, I guess you could say that, you know, the leaders in Pro Stock race and David have done a good job all year long and over the last couple of races, you know, they did an excellent job.
I know being around as long as I have, there have been a lot of changes. I hope they are using all their luck up right now. You know, everybody else is going to have to step up a little bit and to the four is definitely going to be interesting going into the last two races. It's all hills and valleys lies up there, so hopefully we can get on a hill here.

Q. As a follow-up, was there ever a point where you could feel reasonably safe with this? I guess will it be like after next week or after the next race and you'll feel like -- excuse me, I should say after this race, and that you kind of know what you have to do as long as you qualify?
KURT JOHNSON: I figure if I can win the next two races, I'll have a lock on that top four. But until that happens, you know, we won't know until Richmond especially coming out of the 5-4 right now. There's four good cars and three good cars behind me. Allen Johnson right ahead of me; I'm within reach of Jeg. You know, there's a bunch of us from the top two that are all tied together there.
You know, we are just going to have to get down and get the job done. We feel that Cobalt can perform. We're going to have to go for the pole there at Dallas and try to get those eight qualifying points, that's for sure. Qualifying points are huge right now and only being two points out of fourth place, that can make a difference in qualifying. So every little point helps right here.

Q. It looks like the playoff or the Countdown has worked to the disadvantage of Greg Anderson, who has dominated the class the last couple of years. Do you still see him as the toughest competitor you have in the category?
KURT JOHNSON: Well, they are all tough competitors. Consistency is going to be the biggest key to winning and obviously he's been doing a good job over the last couple of races. The points have tightened up. David Connelly has, too. We survived Indy. We had some parts break and we had a lot of stuff go wrong at Memphis. You know, it was just freak stuff and you can't have that happen at this point in the game. You've got to go out there, we've got to be tough, we've got to win round and especially these next two races.
Richmond is probably going to be the trickiest because we are not sure what condition that racetrack is going to be in. The only thing that saved us was the cool weather conditions. Hopefully you'll have a surface like Bristol where it's massaged, the ground, and it's equal for both planes. We hope both planes are equal. That will be the key these next two races.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Kurt.
Next we have Ron Capps. Ron led the points in Funny Car for 14 consecutive races before the points reset for the playoff, and he's slipped back to third place right now heading into Dallas.
Ron, what's it like to be in the middle of this Funny Car race with only 41 points separating this murderer's row of drag racers from third through seventh place that includes yourself, Gary Scelzi, Tony Pedregon, Mike Ashley and John Force?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, it's pretty brutal. I was looking at the points again and the other categories don't seem to be as close when you take -- everybody is bunched up from third to six within one round, I think, something like that. But either way, it's close. We've been through it. I think a lot of the countdown down came -- (call instruction interruption) because of what we saw the last few years, and really all of the categories. Some of them were wrapped up early, but the way we came down the wire at Pomona the last few years and Tony Schumacher's run last year to win on the last run we felt like we've been in it. So we can take that experience.
But even being through it like we have, nothing prepares you for it. Once you get to the starting line, it's we're not like Cup drivers where we get to go around and around and you get to make up a bad lap the next lap. A crew chief has one shot at getting the car to go down the track and I think that's really what sets our score apart.
THE MODERATOR: Going to open it up to questions. Before I go to Richard, just to follow up on your point on the points, Ron. Ron has 2156, Scelzi by at 2154, Tony Pedregon at 2147 and Mike Ashley is 2144. So you're talking about 12 points separating four drivers from third through six place. Go ahead with your question for Ron.

Q. What is the strategy, I know everybody is not used to this format and it's new. What is your strategy? Can you just say, hey, whatever we can do to stay in the top four, do you do a lot of scoreboard watching to see what the other guys are doing. What's your strategy with two races left before the four?
RON CAPPS: All of the above. To be honest, anybody tells you they are not counting the points that close, they are more than likely lying to you.
Strategy is so different, and it's unfortunate because like I heard Kurt talking, you really can't have any small mistakes whether it's the team, the driver or the crew chief. You just have to have things -- you have to have some luck on your side because there's going to be some things that you're going to have to overcome as far as luck and if luck is on your side, this is a good time to have it. And more than anything, you just have to be able to peak at the right time, and right now is the time. And it's not, you know, hey we need to do this, you know, in two weeks or this track is coming up. You've got to think now.
And Monday morning, I woke up in Memphis and Ed (ph) wanted to test on Monday but he wanted to wait until the middle of the day at its hottest part, which it was much hotter than on the weekend and that's what we did. He said, "Look at the weather ten days out in Dallas." Saw how hot it's going to be Friday and Saturday, in the 90s. That's what about having him as my chew chief he does all of the things you mentioned. He scoreboard watches to an extent but he understands the game. He understands what's going on, what to look forward to, why we did what we did.
We ran in the middle of the day on Monday, the worst conditions, the hottest part we can find to try to duplicate where we're going next. It tells a lot about the team when a crew team wakes up after a hard, hard weekend and has to put the car together for two runs on Monday.

Q. Have you resisted the urge to compare your points under the old system and where you are now?
RON CAPPS: No, not at all. It's completely different scenario now and I don't even -- you know, I hear people on the Internet are doing that, and that's all fine and good.
It's going to be interesting, at the end of the year, I think you and you talked about it, to kind of look back and just see. Because I think that's what every good team does is they look back and see where they can be better, whether it's football, baseball for motor sport, but I'm not; I know nobody is on our team at the present moment. Jeff Gordon, I saw an interview about why NASCAR should have another incentive to award the regular season champion.
And I guess and I talked to -- on Sunday night, we were talking just about the whole Countdown experience and how there has to be a little more incentive I think in the future, you might see something. Because we went into a test at Topeka, whereas we were under the normal points system we would continue what with were doing which was working pretty good. We may run up 200-, 300-point lead had we kept going. It hard to say, because another team like Roberts Hight, had gone into testing, as well.
It was a strange scenario for us to all of a sudden have to go into a test session for seven races basically to try to get ready for the count down and I think if you had a little more incentive to keep -- we expected to lose a few spots and we didn't. But I think a lot of the guys were testing as well.
I think the only people that suffered through that period were the fans, because they weren't seeing an exact best of a team on that certain weekend because they were -- you know, we were all looking forward to being one of those top eight going into Indianapolis.

Q. As a follow-up, what do you make of this season in general where you've had so many D & Q's, it seems like everybody has some D & Q's, particularly the contenders.
RON CAPPS: Atypical, just what the funny car class has been. For me I went to Don Schumacher Racing in '05 and it's been that way since. We've been in the hunt for a championship, and when you get a category, to come all the way down as many rounds as you have all year long, it comes down to the Sunday morning at Pomona; that tells you how close it is.
I would just say it's gut-wrenching, that's the word that comes to mind. I'm sitting here at my house and I'm already nervous and we haven't gone to Dallas yet. And I'm already thinking about wake making that first run and today we were running, then we have a weekend off to sit for two weeks before going to Richmond, and I sure don't want to be one of them. But there's going to be some nervous people because it's so close right now in funny car that I have a feeling it's going to come down to like it did in Redding where there's going to be some guys getting bumped in and bumped out in Richmond.
That's why I think this race in Dallas coming up is probably one of the more important races we're going to see this year. We have to have a good race -- me and as the funny car group, but as a team we have to have a good race because otherwise that weekend we have off in between is going to be brutal.

Q. As long as you have chased this title, do you feel it's almost unfair; if you had the point lead, is it almost unfair that you've had to deal with the compound, one of your greatest seasons during the regular season?
RON CAPPS: I little bit but we're not going to cry approximate about it. We went in going into Topeka knowing how the points system was going to be, and not for one second will you hear anybody from Don Schumacher, Ed McColloch on down complain about having the points -- we are really looking forward to the points. Not so sure about but some guys are real vocal about that and I think you'll see a lot of changes in the off-season.
But, I'm excited. I really feel like watching the playoffs, football and baseball and it's down to the wire -- not just anything like that but I'm excited for the fans. I feel like a fan feeling the excitement, except that I have a hold of the wheel and I'm sitting in the seat myself.
I think you're going to see the ratings on our TV shows -- a lot of things are really going to make this look positive. But I tell you, from a team member standpoint, I don't want to wait, I wish it was today or tomorrow; it's exciting.

Q. Everybody wants to win the title, of course, but I'm wondering for you, especially being the winningest driver without having won, in terms of just getting it; and then you would have that monkey off your back and coming to the track probably with a whole different attitude, just how important is it for you?
RON CAPPS: Well, it's huge. You know, it's been a lofty goal is to win the championship, and that's something that I've got a pretty empty space on the mantle right now.
You know, we've been wanting to win it for Ed McColloch, the whole team feels that way and that's kind of what's driving us for the last three years. And you know, I'm almost afraid to do anything to think that far ahead, like I kind of peek in my closet to make sure my tuxedo had been to a dry cleaner just in case for the awards ceremony. Last year I started getting nervous about having any kind of a speech to get ready on Monday night for the award thing because I didn't want to do anything to jinx it or chance it.
And it's -- you know, it really, unless you've been involved in something like this, you just feel like you've got an ulcer every minute of the day. When you're sitting in the car, you start to get a nervous twitch because you're thinking about Friday qualifying, you're thinking about Richmond, weighs going to happen there. All of these thoughts are going through your head about what to do right, whatnot to do, just things you never would have thought about before.
I'm lucky I got some good leaders above me, Don Schumacher and Ed McColloch are great leaders. I'm just trying to rely on their experience more than anything else, and I don't think even with them around, I don't think anything is going to prepare you for what we are going to go through. You know, I just said it again, we just have to have a good race this Dallas race. I do not want to go to Richmond, Virginia and have to know that I've got to go to the semis to the finals and everything like that. So we're just trying to prepare ourselves for this weekend and then go from there.

Q. The closeness in as many wins as you've had and as close as you've got kind of reminds me of Mark Martin and NASCAR, you are both great representatives of your sport and you came so close and you've got all of the qualities of a champion. And that doesn't change. What do you think fans might not understand about the frustration you have of not having a championship and at the same time, the confidence that you have because you can win.
RON CAPPS: Well, just the fact that you have everything that you need to win I think makes it hurt a little more if you didn't.
A lot of people probably don't understand and a lot of these other drivers will tell you, you don't always get to get out of the car and say what's on your mind because we probably would be kicked off TV if we said that a few times. The frustration that builds up inside someone when you get out of one of these cars and the adrenaline is unbelievable; and you throw a microphone and reporter asking you a question right after that, it's hard to compose yourself sometimes. But you're representing a lot of big sponsors.
And the frustration level has to be -- you've got to curve it a lot. But I think for somebody that doesn't compete at the level that we compete at, unless you've put every single thing, every bit of yourself into something whether it's a team member, me or Ace or anybody, any other driver, unless you've put everything that you have and wake up every morning with that first thing on your mind is how to make yourself better, what you do or the next race I'm going to, to the point where it affects you and you go home grumpy, your family is affected by it, your friends, you get into these funks; there's just a lot of stuff that goes on.
This ain't Wednesday night softball. This is our livelihood and this is all I do for a living. So my kids' clothes, you know, I don't go out there and do a good job, I'm not going to have a job. But unless you put everything you have into this and have it taken away and get beat on a close right by 1,000th or 2000th of a second and have it all taken away, I don't think people realize it.
So I think they have to take that into consideration when they see a driver maybe not having a good day, maybe looking a little frustrated on TV. We tried to do the best we can. But I think most of them understand, we've got great fans. I think they maybe remember that more than anything else if I answered the question right.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us on today's call. The last driver I'd like to introduce is Brandon Bernstein. Brandon has a career-high five wins in 2007, and he's been in the top four for all but two races this season. The question I have is about Doug Herbert, I made a miracle run at Redding just to get into the playoffs, and now he's pushing you at the last spot in the Countdown. How big of concern is that for the Snap-On Tools Team?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: It is, that team is definitely on a roll and in this sport you kind of have to ride those waves, and he's hot right now. With getting into the Countdown and now right on our heels in fifth place, it's going to be interesting to see. These last two races, he's got a really good car and he's going to be tough. We've got to watch out for him for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for being on the call with us today.

Q. With these five wins, and a sense of going back to some things that Ron said, with these five wins, does it put more pressure on you that this is the year for you to win the championship?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I think, you know, we put pressure on ourselves because when I have had that success, it's been one of these kind of up-and-down seasons to be honest, with the D & Q's; and going out the first round and then turning around and having a career victory, it definitely does. It does give us in the back of our minds, thinking it's our year to win this championship, because we've had the success that we've had this year.
I think it's just a little bit of added pressure that we've put on ourselves because we have had such a great year and we'd hate to not cap the season with the POWERade Championship.

Q. Talk about this season and what has clicked and what's been the difference for you getting the five career wins. What is it about this team this year?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I think from the get-go from the start, we had a great test and everything. We had a great test session in Phoenix, and I look at our record here, we ran in the 450s every run I think. And it just seemed like the two Richards, our crew chief, really had a good handle on which direction he wanted to go with this race car this year. And we've proven in cool weather and in hot weather that he's had a tuneup that can run both ways.
I think he really found something when we were testing in the clutch area that really helped him get our car to that next level and I felt extremely, extremely comfortable in the race car this year, more so than every year before obviously because of the seat time that you get in these race cars. You know, you need that experience, and I think it's just because I've had a lot of experience now.
And this year just seems like everything has been really clicking for us and I have a feeling that -- good feeling that we can pull this thing off.

Q. How big is the event in the Dallas area for you? Is there something that happens to you when you come here and you really want to win it here?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. I grew up here in Dallas, you know, I went to Texas A&M. This is home to be honest. It really feels great coming back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and knowing that you still have a lot of friends and family and even acquaintances through high school and grade school. Just, you know, the teachers maybe are still teaching, they follow us and I get e-mails from when we're coming into town that this is, hey, you're coming back home and everything.
So it is something special obviously coming back to the Dallas Fort Worth area and you always want to do well in your hometown

Q. Well you did well in your hometown last year. Does that help for this year, does that give you some confidence coming in?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I think it does. I think it will give our whole team confidence because we know that we did win last year and it was miserably hot and I think it will be kind of the same condition. So we know we can run well and we won this thing last year. It does give us a little bit of confidence coming into this race.

Q. Ron was on before you talking about how gut-wrenching it is to be involved in this compound. Do you pretty much have the same feeling about this whole format and where you are?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: Definitely. The pressure that this Countdown has created on these drivers and crew chiefs and even the crew, it's tremendous. You're getting down to the last two races to get in this top four, I mean, it's tough.
It's really does, you know, weigh on you. You're thinking about it all the time. You're at the racetrack and you're walking around and you have kind of this knot in your stomach, thinking, man, we've got to do well in this race or we're not going to be in the top four. It's tough the way this Countdown is, it's just going to be really brutal on all of us drivers and crew chiefs.

Q. When you talk to fans about it, do they like it, are they confused about it? Andrew Hines said even some teams are, if that's possible.
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: My experience with a lot of the fans and a lot of my friends and things that know the sport and everything, they are confused to be honest a little bit about it. You know, just because how it works and how the top eight and how you go to the top four. It's been kind of a little bit of a struggle to kind of explain everything to them.
But once you kind of, you know, explain it to them as best possible, they kind of realize what it is. I mean, I don't know if the fans are going to really enjoy this. You know, we'll see. It seems like that it does add quite a bit of drama and suspense to the whole championship race. We'll see what the reaction is when it all comes down at the end.

Q. I've got a champion question for you. Do motorsports champions have common traits and abilities, and if so, could you identify a few?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I think obviously as drivers in motorsports and in general and winning a championship, it takes a lot of drive and a lot of desire and a lot of obviously experience and confidence in everything that goes on. I think a lot of drivers across the board that have won championships in NHRA, NASCAR, everything, I think there's a lot of traits that are similar obviously for the way -- the drive to win a championship and what it takes as far as a top-caliber team and everything. That's definitely critical in every motorsports.

Q. And what traits do you think you picked up from your dad?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I think obviously the competitive in a tire, you know, No. 1 from my dad, because my dad hates to lose. And I'm kind of the same way to be honest. Mine kind of stemmed out of soccer days as a kid growing up playing soccer, and his was racing when he was a kid but I didn't race when I was a kid.
But I still had that major competitive drive and desire to win. You know, just bottom line win. I hated to lose and I think I have got that major drive from my dad and obviously trying to win races is going to hopefully lead to winning championships.
THE MODERATOR: A couple of notes I'm going to read. This weekend's race will be in Dallas; two weeks we'll be in Richmond for the final race of this first-round playoff, and prior to the race in Richmond we'll be having our next teleconference which is Tuesday, October 2.



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