National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
July 29, 2008
MICHAEL PADIAN: I've got Jack and Morgan on the call right now. We'll go ahead and get the call started now for the folks who joined us.
There are three races left in the 18-race regular season that will set the 10-driver field for the NHRA playoff, the Countdown to 1. Beginning with next weekend's Lucas Oil's NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Today we have two drivers sitting right on the playoff bubble, Jack Beckman and Morgan Lucas. I'll introduce each driver and then open it up to questions.
I'll begin with Jack Beckman, who drives the VALVOLINE/MAIL Terminal Services Dodge Charger RT for Don Schumacher Racing. Jack, you began the Western Swing at 13th place, 56 points behind Bob Tasca. And you exit the western swing in 10th place, 42 points ahead of Bob. Last season you won twice on the western swing, and although you didn't win this year, you made a major move.
To begin with you, Jack, what are your thoughts on the western swing, what major effect they've had on your season this year and last year?
JACK BECKMAN: Obviously last year was perfect. I guess we couldn't have scripted it better, except I would have liked not to have been in a slump going into it. This year we started off strong. We actually Saturday night at Houston earlier this year, which I believe was race four, we were leading the points. Then we just dropped off the face of the earth, all the way down to 13th. We kind of dwelled there in the cellar for a while. We had I think a seven-race streak where we didn't win a single round. We had three DNQs. One of our DNQs, we were the next car in line behind Scott Kalitta when he had his tragic accident, which not qualifying was the last thing on my mind after that. We just need to make sure we rebound from that.
The Western Swing is interesting. It's three races in a row, and maybe more important, it's five races over six weekends. You know, we get a week off, then we've got to go do Brainerd and Redding back to back. It's not the time to go into a slump. It's not the time for the car to throw you a curve in the tune-up. With Goodyear implementing the new 25/50 tire at Denver, everybody was kind of holding their breath hoping it didn't cause a lot of issues. So far so good. It seems to be a great, predictable tire.
But leaving Denver with a runner-up, getting round wins in Seattle and Sonoma was exactly what we did need to do. We would have liked to have gotten some more round wins out of that, but the reality is each race we left better off in the points than when we came in there.
We're still not comfortable, though. We're two rounds ahead of the two cars behind us, and in 13th place our teammate Gary Scelzi who could go on a streak at any time. So I think we really need to win one of the next three races.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Next I'd like to introduce Morgan Lucas, who drives the Lucas Oil dragster. Morgan, you also made a move during the West Coast swing with two trips to the quarterfinals to get within nine points of 10th place Doug Kalitta and within 31 of ninth place Dave Grubnic. Why don't you talk about the performance of the dragster right now and what your team's mindset is heading into the final three regular season races?
MORGAN LUCAS: To be honest with you, the Western Swing is brutal on us, just like it is for everybody else. It's a fun set of races. But, you know, it's almost like who's going to last the most to kind of go the rounds. The thousand-foot deal has really kind of (indiscernible) with our tune-up. We're kind of looking forward to racing more like that this year.
To be honest with you, our main goal and focus right now is just getting one if not both cars in the top 10. I know JR's car, it's almost impossible at this point. But we're going to work our butt off to make sure it happens.
We actually got kind of a pretty good announcement. Just as of today, we hired Jimmy Walsh to come over. He's going to start running my car. That might add a pretty cool mix to things and hopefully he can bring a performance advantage over and maybe even get us further than just 10th or 9th, maybe get us around that 9th place spot so we have a little cushion.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks. I'll open it up to questions now.
Q. Morgan, you mentioned, this is all about championships, you've grown up among champions. Do you feel champions have common traits and abilities, and if so could you identify a few?
MORGAN LUCAS: Well, I think in our sport, as far as when you're talking about being a professional Top Fuel or Funny Car driver, I think one of the biggest things from our standpoint to do is just be as consistent as possible. I think you see that in some people that can go up there, know how to react to things. It's almost like second nature for some of them. They don't buckle under pressure. That's a lot of characteristics that make a quality championship driver in my opinion. Joe was one of those kind of guys, you know, Amato. He was a great driver. You know, a great team owner, too, when I was around him. He just showed his personality, how he carried himself and everything else in life.
He's got it together. I think it was a good kind of beacon for me to work towards that as a driver, to try to be able to go up there and do the best I can every time.
Q. Jack, you know a lot about drivers. Obviously you taught a lot of them. Do racecar drivers today need more and better skills than the racers of four or five decades ago that started out the sport?
JACK BECKMAN: Great question. I think that any time you put more competitive people in a single environment, it raises the level of performance for everybody. I think stick and ball sports you can make the same argument. 40 years ago most of the drivers were also the owners and the tuners. Their objective, quite different than ours today, was to make money. They did a lot of match races. They'd do as many as a hundred match races a year, so they'd beat the cars down road, unload 'em, drive, load 'em back up. So there wasn't this specialty. Today a lot of the drivers are just that, drivers. Our other duties include interacting with the fans, and with the sponsors and the media. So I think it has freed us up to focus on things that can help us be better at our single duty out there on race day.
To the question you asked Morgan, the character traits. I would say mental clarity, you know, ability to focus, ability to block out any distractions out there. That's what separates the good ones from great ones, not just in physical sports like baseball or football, but especially in a mental sport like drag racing.
Q. Jack, can you put your finger on what has helped you turn around your situation in the Western Swing?
JACK BECKMAN: Yes. A win light keeps coming on. It had been broken for several races. Morgan and I were actually talking about this. A lot of times it's not who you race, it's when you race 'em. You might go out there and have second low ET the first round and you race the person that had the quick ET. Conversely, you could have the second worst pass of that round and race the person who was slowest.
I think qualifying is important. I think that Morgan would agree with me that neither one of us have done a great job capitalizing on qualifying this year. What happens is you go up to first round not necessarily at a big disadvantage, but you do have one strike against you.
We are now making more consistent runs, but consistent doesn't win if it's not quick enough. But I think that the more times in qualifying that we can get our car down the racetrack, the more usable data it gives us to help us make it go quicker.
Q. Morgan, with the thousand-foot distance, the consistency of this new tire in three events, everything has tightened up, qualifying times and also the elimination runs. Has that made reaction time more important?
MORGAN LUCAS: When you think about the ETs tightening up, the qualifying orders, everything else, with the thousand-foot racetrack, your first thought should be reaction times are that much more important and they really are. You know, a lot of cars, they can go down the track, they start dropping holes, you see some ET difference there, some loss and gains. Now with this thousand-foot rule that we're racing with here, I mean, every car is within a half a 10th of each other for the most part. That reaction time thing is that much more important. That's something I've been working really hard at lately, trying to get better at. That way, as the time comes, believe me, when you're driving, you know how much work the guys put into it, you know how much work goes into everything. To make that one four-second lap, you don't want to be a guy that's coming back to the pits saying, Sorry about that, guys, we lost because I was on the tree. You know, there's nothing worse than having to come in and basically admit to being the weak link in the situation.
Q. Jack, at a press conference last Wednesday before Sonoma, I saw you looking at points, what you needed to get in. Talk about how difference it is in the countdown versus years past.
JACK BECKMAN: I'll give you a perfect example of why NHRA is ruining the drivers' lives with this countdown format.
Our team, we went into Seattle in 10th place, won one round of racing, left in 10th place. Precountdown format would have been a completely disappointing weekend. We didn't achieve our goals of making it to the final round and winning the race. Now that NHRA has implemented the countdown, increased the level of excitement, now we're starting to look at crumbs as being more important.
In Seattle we didn't accomplish our goals. By the three cars behind us losing first round, we actually left with a bigger points lead. Then the exact same thing happened in Sonoma. Typically two second-round losses in a row would be a major letdown for any team like ours. But it actually was a small sense of accomplishment for us simply because we stretched our points lead in there.
I think that's the excitement that this countdown generates, before they take it to 10 cars, and then it's going to be incredibly exciting because it's kind of analogous to NASCAR waving a yellow flag. At Indy we all bunch up again. And the people that were down there in seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, now if they're on a roll, actually have a very realistic shot of running for the championship, where in years past, typically those cars would be 10, 14 rounds out of first place and you would basically be racing for a top five spot.
MORGAN LUCAS: We were talking about the same thing in our pit this weekend. Like what would happen if Schumacher went out and dominated like he did all year long, and for whatever reason when the countdown hit, he struggled and somebody else wins the championship? It can make or break the whole deal. That's the beauty of it and also at the same time the tragedy. You never know what's going to happen. What Jack is saying, basically at the end of the year you can either hate it or you can love it, but it can make or break you. It's all in how you do it. It makes you perform better all the way across the board during the year and makes you want to be better.
JACK BECKMAN: You look at Tony Schumacher right now has a 20-round lead. He literally could sit out four races and still be the points leader. After Indy, what that will amount to is a 30-point lead. He'll have one and a half rounds of cushion instead of a 20-round cushion, so it's going to be interesting.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Last year Tony benefited from that. Dave Connolly is an example of someone who may not have benefited last year, but benefits this year.
Q. Jack, obviously with the thousand-foot rule and everything pretty much to the end of the season, how will that affect your countdown strategy? Is it something that you would be comfortable with the rest of the season? How do you adjust?
JACK BECKMAN: It's not a big adjustment. The reality for us it's about seven, seven-and-a-half 10ths of a second. We're just shutting off at a different point. I think it's made a lot of us breathe a lot easier because you could have something go wrong, a late chute deployment, a brake issue, an engine malfunction at the top end, and still get these cars stopped. But the biggest issue is that cutting out that last 320 feet, the stress on these 8,000 horsepower motors, you're going to see a lot less explosions. The side benefit is way less oil down, less downtime. The fans aren't going to have to stand in the stands and watch these trucks roll on the racetrack for a while.
But tune-up-wise, you know, I talked to our crew guys. I said, Can we make our cars quicker now that we know they don't have to survive another 320 feet? What we're doing right now is accelerating these cars as hard as we possibly can, and the clutches don't completely lock up till roughly about 700 feet down track. I think the only possible increment of the racetrack where you can gain some ET from the new thousand-foot format would be from 700 foot to a thousand foot. And I don't think there's much more than a hundredth of a second out there. So we're really not taking any different of an approach.
Q. Morgan, being on the bubble at this point in the season, what does it do for your strategy? Do you kind of go all out? Do you try to play it a little bit safe or what?
MORGAN LUCAS: It kind of goes back to that phrase God hates a coward. You know, we know we got to be aggressive about getting the round wins and trying to make our own destiny, trying to basically block out Dave Grubnic or Doug Kalitta. These are priorities for us. But you have to also go a level ahead. You can't go in and with -- you have to compensate, but you've got to know there's still a chance. You just basically have to put the extra work in. And as far as from the driving aspect, you know the team has put the actual work in. At the end of the year, bonus money-wise that could be the difference of, you know, I can't even say how much between, you know, these guys in their household, that's a lot of money.
Q. Do you like the week off and what do you kind of do?
MORGAN LUCAS: There's the lake, there's golfing. Actually, to be honest with you, this week, I think Jack will back me up on this one, it's nice to take a couple days and breathe and think about what you have coming up, but not engulf yourself into it. Because, you know, just like anything else, you can think about it too much. To be honest with you, I work out, I golf, I eat and I hang out with my girlfriend. That's my life. You know, and think about racing, of course, that's probably number one.
This week, going to be fun, looking forward to coming up to Brainerd. I think we're going to practice in Redding on Friday morning up there. Actually a street fair thing going on in Minneapolis Wednesday night. We've just got a lot of stuff. Just trying to get ready for it.
JACK BECKMAN: My grandfather grew up in Minnesota, so I got a lot of relatives coming out. It will be fun for that. You guys have that zoo deal out there. I hear those people wait 11 and a half months out of the year and save up all their adrenaline. So that's the fun part about coming to Brainerd. But more specifically with the racing and our personal lives, my wife, I and our 16-month-old baby did the Western Swing in our motorhome. And they're going to be staying at home. I'm going to be flying out for the next couple of races. It's going to be tough not having them. But getting back home, it's kind of nice to unwind a little bit. I was really disappointed. First thing when I did when I came home, called my surf buddy, he said there's no waves up there. That's usually how I try to unwind.
But it will be nice to get back into a little normalcy. However, our guys schlepped all the equipment right back to Indy. Not only did they work business as usual, but if you can imagine, the wear and tear on the parts from three weekends in a row racing, these guys actually worked extra hard.
So the interesting thing is a lot of the crews can't wait to get back to the racetrack because they almost don't have to work as hard as catching up from this three-race swing. Because we've got a little bit of momentum going now, I'm really excited to get back out there.
Q. There's so many things a driver has to do to adapt. Do you think the ability to adapt and adjust is the best skill a driver can have? If so, what can anyone do to improve on that?
MORGAN LUCAS: My phone broke up, to be honest. I couldn't hear the question.
JACK BECKMAN: He said the ability to adapt and adjust, is that one of the best qualities a driver can have.
Drag racing, it's such a mental sport. The people that overplay the physicality of drag racing are really missing what it's all about. When that crew chief motions you forward into the stage beam, there's not much you're doing physically. You've got a hand brake, a foot throttle and a steering wheel. You're not bench pressing 300 pounds. It's about controlling your emotions and doing the things that you need to do. And a lot of times something out of the ordinary will happen. The idol will stick on the burnout. They'll have difficulty when the body is up doing the fuel system changeover. In a Top Fuel car like Morgan's you might have your visor fog up. Funny Cars have air tanks in there.
Yes, I totally think the ability to overcome distractions and stay focused on the task at hand is the biggest trait.
Now, when you leave the starting line, you've got another series of events that can happen. You've got to keep that car in the groove. If it goes out there and starts to shake, you have to make a split-second decision. Sometimes it will drive through the shake and you'll be okay. If it doesn't, you better be off and on that throttle as quick as possible. Morgan is one of these few drivers that can actually drive with the brake on a run which is a pretty cool skill. When you're getting down track, you're listening to your motor, feeling the car. If it's a qualifying run, you're already in, it does something funny, you're after the throttle immediately much
If it's qualifying and you need that run or if it's elimination, it's a totally different set of parameters that you operate by. So there's a lot of things to occupy your mind in less than four and a half seconds.
MORGAN LUCAS: It's funny, at the end of a run, four and a half seconds, you can talk about it like it was a half hour rollercoaster ride.
Q. The reports about the methane shortage, how much of a concern is that with the teams, particularly with you as a driver, testing for the rest of the year?
JACK BECKMAN: Morgan as a team owner is probably more qualified to answer than I am.
MORGAN LUCAS: (Indiscernible).
JACK BECKMAN: I'm going to take the testing part of that. Any time that there's a change, there's always unintended consequences whether good or bad. Not being able to test theoretically impacts all the teams exactly the same, except for a lot of the teams implemented the new mandatory sticker tube chassis earlier in the year when they were able to test, and it was a smooth transition.
Many teams, including ours, didn't do it because we had a long wait in line to get our brand-new chassis. We were faced a very real prospect of bringing an untried car out there. We actually went up to an IHRA racetrack to make some test runs just to make sure that our car would go down the racetrack safely before we came out.
Cutting the racetrack to a thousand foot, unintended consequence, that saves about a gallon of nitro a run, which could make a difference. From what I understand, even though the price is just astronomical right now, we're going to be okay with these cutdowns that NHRA has made in testing and we'll be fine for the rest of the year.
But also going to a thousand foot had the unintended consequence of almost penalizing the big mile-an-hour cars, which is interesting. You look at a lot of these cars that are quick early but don't seem to run well the last 400 feet, this theoretical played right into their hands. I think it's exciting. We've changed tires, chassis, we've eliminated testing, but yet you're still seeing good quality side-by-side racing. It's almost like it hasn't had any of the negative consequences we thought could happen.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Folks, thanks for participating in today's call.
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