National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
Ashley Force Hood
August 20, 2008
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to begin by welcoming the media who joined us on today's NHRA POWERade Series teleconference. And thanking the drivers who carved out the time in their very busy schedules to participate today.
First, couple of notes as we prepare for the 18th and final race of the Countdown to the Championship regular season. The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals which begins Friday August 29th and finish on Labor Day, Monday, September 1st.
In Top Fuel, 8 of the 10 playoff berths have been clinched, and only ten points separate the three drivers, Dave Grubnic, Doug Kalitta and Morgan Lucas competing for the final two playoff berths.
In Funny Car, the ten driver playoff field has been set. In Pro Stock, 8 of the 10 playoff berths have been clinched. Ron Krisher and Greg Stanfield have a 96 and 72-point lead respectively over six-time world champion, Warren Johnson, as those three compete for the final two playoff berths in pro stock.
In Pro Stock Motorcycles, 7 of the 10 playoff berths have been clinched. With Craig Treble and Steve Johnson holding virtual locks on two additional berths. Leaving it, for all intents and purposes, down to the 10th and 11th place drivers, Karen Stoffer and Hector Arana competing for the final playoff spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle. And only 12 points separate Karen and Hector.
In addition to its position on the schedule as the race that set the ten-driver field for the NHRA Playoffs and its significance of the world's most prestigious drag race, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals also features the bonus races for Funny Car, the $100,000 U.S. Smokeless Showdown and Pro Stock Motorcycle, the $25,000 Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle.
The 8-driver field for both of those bonus races are set based on performance and qualifying. The U.S. Smokeless Showdown pays out a total purse of $239,000, with $100,000 of that going to the winner. The defending champion is Jack Beckman who did not qualify this year.
This year's U.S. Smokeless Showdown will be contested on Sunday, August 31st, and the first round matchups are as follows: Top seeded Ashley Force against her father, John Force. Second seeded Robert Hight will meet Del Worsham, third seeded Tony Pedregon will meet his brother, Cruz Pedregon, and fourth seeded Tim Wilkerson who leads the Funny Car points this year will meet Ron Capps the three-time champion in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown.
The Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle pays out a total purse of $76,000 with $25,000 of that going to the winner. The defending champion is Andrew Hines.
This year's Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle will be contested on Saturday August 30th, and the first round matchups are as follows: Top seeded Chip Ellis against Matt Guidera, second seeded Matt Smith against Chris Rivas, third seeded Andrew Hines versus Karen Stoffer, and fourth seeded Eddie Krawiec versus Angelle Sampay.
With that said, I'd like to proceed to introducing the drivers and ask them to make a brief opening statement.
First I'd like to introduce Dave Grubnic, driver of the DHL Dragster. One year after being bumped from the Playoffs by Doug Herbert's dramatic win at the 2007 Toyo Tires Nationals, Grubnic is looking to offer a different story line in 2008.
He enters this year's final race in the same position he was in 2007, which is to say he'd be in the playoffs if they started today.
Entering the regular season finale next weekend, Dave is in 9th place in Top Fuel with 736 points. He's four points clear of teammate Doug Kalitta with 732 points, and 10 points clear of Morgan Lucas with 726 points.
Dave, what, if anything, do you take from the final regular season race last year and that experience and apply it to this year in 2008?
DAVE GRUBNIC: Here we go again. Went through this year last year, and, as you said, got bumped out by three points. And to make matters worse we had a rain delay and that race never got finished until Wednesday. So for two days I was sitting there stressing out on what was going to happen.
But it is what it is. We've got knocked out, and here we are looking down the barrel, fighting for our position again. But you know, we're definitely not going to let it go, that's for sure.
Our attitude stays the same. We get asked a lot. Are you going to do anything different? Will the pressure affect you or whatever? But we go to each event with the same goal. And that is obviously our goal is to be the number one qualifier and to win the event. So nothing really changes there.
So we're going to go back into Indy with that goal as well. So, you know, hopefully, if we can achieve that, it will keep us locked into the countdown. But I know how it is. Morgan's going to go in there with the same attitude, and so is my teammate Doug Kalitta.
And we'll just have to wait until Indy and see how all this plays out. But it definitely makes it an exciting event, that's for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Next up I'd like to introduce Ashley Force, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Ashley is the No. 1 seed in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown, and she'll face her father, John, in the first round.
Ashley is the first and only female driver to ever qualify for the U.S. Smokeless Showdown and has also already clinched her berth to the countdown to the NHRA Playoff.
Ashley, your thoughts on competing in the first smokeless showdown, and for the first time you get to meet a familiar face in the other lane?
ASHLEY FORCE: Yes, first I want to mention and find out if it's all right that I'm being filmed by ESPN right now. Is that okay?
THE MODERATOR: I think so, yeah.
ASHLEY FORCE: Okay, so back to the question. I'm really excited to get to participate in this this year. It's one of my strongest memories I probably have growing up. We always got to the Indy race, and it was always such a big weekend for us.
Because I think most all the times it was back then the Big Bud Shootout. But it was just an exciting time growing up. And now to actually be involved in it, it's just so special that I'm able to race my dad.
It will be really exciting for the fans and of course for the media. But it will be fun for us as well. We know one of the Force's will be going to the semis of the Showdown.
THE MODERATOR: Next I'd like to introduce Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Ron is a three-time winner of the U.S. Smokeless Showdown. He won in '98 and '99, and also in 2002. This will be his ninth overall appearance in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown.
In 2007 last year Ron reached the final against his teammate Jack Beckman, and he was narrowly defeated with a 4.95 to Beckman, to a 4.976 to Ron.
Ron, you're in 8th place in the overall standings and clinched your berth to the countdown to one. So with that out of the way, do you focus on the U.S. Smokeless Showdown or what are your intentions going into next weekend's race?
RON CAPPS: I think every year we go into the whole Indy experience and I've kind of fed off my elders. You know, that's one thing Ashley can do as well, is talk to her dad. Because in the past sometimes you go into that race, and that race is on Sunday and it still counts towards qualifying.
There have been times when guys weren't in the show yet they were going around in the Showdown. You know, you're trying to concentrate on getting into the show, but you're trying to win the race at the same time. That is $100,000 for the U.S. Smokeless Showdown.
So I've got the same team in the NAPA guys this year. NAPA Auto Parts came on board. It's the same team we had the last three years. We went to the final last year in the Showdown.
So I think the approach is to get into the show, get qualified Saturday and Sunday, and then you can kind of let it all hang out and treat Sunday as the Showdown as just a race by itself. Hopefully, win that and get ready for Monday.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Ron. Finally I'd like to introduce Andrew Hines, who drives the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Andrew will be making his sixth appearance in the Pro Bikes Battle and looking for his fourth win. He's won three of the last four Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battles.
I'll start there with you, Andrew. Winning it three of the last four years, what's been the secret for the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines team?
ANDREW HINES: I don't want to give that secret away. If there are any competitors listening, it's something we want to keep secret with the Vance & Hines team. But we've had a good track history with that event.
My brother won it three or four times back in the '90s. And our team has won it four straight years with (indiscernible) winning it three years ago.
It's been a good event for us. What makes it really fun is you're racing for money and not points, so it takes the pressure off, and it makes the crew guys happy when you win that.
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to open it up to questions now.
Q. Dave, with so much on the line in Indianapolis as far as your Countdown hopes go, do you have to set aside the magnitude of competing the U.S. Nationals and what a win there would mean? Do you have to set that aside to focus on making rounds and more importantly, making more rounds than Morgan and Doug?
DAVE GRUBNIC: You bet. You're absolutely right. Considering the year that Kalitta Motorsports has had, there are a lot of other things that we look at as well when it comes to winning the U.S. Nationals.
But you're absolutely right. That has to be set aside. We go out there like facing one round at a time. You know, we've obviously got to win that round. In qualifying we've got to run well.
But that's my attitude, exactly. Sort of like well, we've got to be in the Countdown, we've got to win the U.S. Nationals. There are so many things that sort of weigh up, and you've got to set it all aside and take it one round at a time, but you're absolutely right. That's my attitude.
Q. I want to look ahead a few weeks and ask Ron to comment on the upcoming race at Charlotte and how important it is for them and the whole NHRA sport to make a really good impression right there in the middle of NASCAR country?
RON CAPPS: I can't wait. Dan Olson, who works for NHRA just got back from going there, and I talked to him yesterday morning. He said I know we called it the Bellagio of drag strips. That's what Bruton had called it when I met with Bruton.
He said it's Disneyland. That's what Dan Olson called it. This place, he said, it's by far the most incredible drag strip we're ever going to go to. So I'm excited about it. I know the track will be good.
But I'm more excited about getting into that area. I know when we first went to Bristol, that whole North Carolina, Charlotte, NASCAR country opened their arms for us, and it's been a big crowd since then. I'm looking for more of that.
THE MODERATOR: Ashley?
ASHLEY FORCE: Yeah, I'm really excited to go there. You know, this is my second season in Funny Cars, so I've had a lot of firsts. For everyone I compete with, they've been to these tracks before and been down these lanes before.
Here's finally a situation where we're kind of on even ground. We're all going as a new track, and I'm excited to be part of that for the first year. I think it will be a great race.
I'm excited to go there. I haven't been to the Carolinas since I was a little kid. It was just beautiful country out there.
It will be a good race and exciting that the Countdown, things will be happening there. And, hopefully, we'll do well there, but it will be exciting to try out the new track.
Q. Some of the conversations I've been having with some other guys over the last week or so, there seems to be a growing sentiment out there to make the 1,000-foot thing permanent. I'm just wondering what your take on that is?
RON CAPPS: I've been waffling a little bit, which I try not to do. As a historian, I didn't want to veer too far away from the quarter mile. It's kind of what the foundation was built on. It's what Parks built everything on. But I've got to tell you, you can ask most drivers, and the majority of them are going to tell you we're pretty happy with things the way they are right now.
There were a few more explosions and such in Redding last weekend, and we kind of had a feeling because of the conditions, the weather, the atmosphere conditions were good there. So guys were really leaning on their stuff to run better.
But I think just finding a good way to mark the 1,000 foot for the Funny Car guys and gals is important because you kind of get lost when the clutch comes in, and it's hard to find a thousand foot sometimes.
But I've got to tell you I'm pretty happy with it. And more than that, I think I told you, Steve, before was the fans are probably the best beneficiary. Because they're allowed to go in the grandstands, take one drink in their hand, and sit through the whole session and not have oil downs take a half an hour here and there. And they're able to go back in the pits and watch their favorite drivers and crews do their work.
It's a win-win thing right now. But I think containing these cars at the finish line will be the key. We'll see what happens next year. Bu that's not our call.
Q. Couple of drivers have suggested of going back and forth. The tracks where there's plenty of runoff area. Never been a problem of running the quarter mile there, and places where there is a problem of going with the thousand foot. What would be your opinion of going back and forth? Or do you think the decision needs to be made to do one or the other?
RON CAPPS: My personal opinion would be NASCAR is running Bristol this weekend. They'll be in Daytona in early '09. I don't see any reason why some tracks we can't go back and forth.
I don't know where NHRA's head is in that and if that's what they're thinking as well. But, you know, I don't see that not happening. There are some tracks we can't, but Pomona really worries me because they can't extend it either direction. There's railroad tracks or a golf course at each end. That is one of the most historic tracks we got to and one of my favorites.
Del Worsham and I were talking the other day and I would rather run our cars the way they are, full tilt, get your attention. That adrenaline rush that we get and running like that to 1,000 foot, than to have a governor put on these things that they only run 300 miles per hour to the finish line. That's my personal opinion. They become slot cars at that point.
We went to Denver, and 1,000 foot was good. And the weather conditions there being the mile high the cars always seem to run slower anyway. So those two put together.
We left Denver, but when we got to Seattle and that first lap in Seattle, I looked at every other driver and said, man, this is what it's all about. You step on the gas and this thing makes your eyes the size of a half dollar, it's, you know, there is nothing that replaces that.
So my personal opinion is I'd rather run them like they are to 1,000 foot, than to have them slowed way down to a quarter mile.
Q. If I could for Andrew and Ashley, did you have an athletic ability growing up? And if so, did it transfer to drag racing?
ASHLEY FORCE: Did I have what?
Q. Athletic ability growing up?
THE MODERATOR: Did you play in any other sports?
ASHLEY FORCE: No, I wasn't. I'm very clumsy. And if you ask anyone who knows me, they know that. I was always in competition sports. I was always in team kind of sports. When we were younger, we traveled to as many of the races as we could, so we couldn't take part in a lot of sports: Softball or soccer or anything that had games on the weekends.
So my sisters and I got into dance and gymnastics because you could take classes during the week and still be able to go to the races on the weekends. Then as we got older, that led into cheerleading.
Which, it's funny, because cheerleading is such an opposite world from drag racing, yet there were a lot of things similar to me. It's a team sport. You work together. You're not going to win a cheer competition or a race without the people around you.
And I really loved cheerleading more for the team aspect than the particular things that we were doing. And that is the same with drag racing. I love racing the cars. I love being part of the events. But probably my favorite thing about being a drag racer is working with my team.
So that is the background I have. But, yeah, I wouldn't call myself -- we've been actually watching the Olympics this whole week and I got really into it. It's amazing the talents these people have.
But I'll stick with my race car. That's what I'm good at. As far as anything else, I'm a big klutz.
ANDREW HINES: Very little athletic background for me. I played Little League baseball when I lived in California for about five years. But when I moved out to Colorado, I had more fun riding dirt bikes and riding four wheelers than anything else. So I stuck with that during my high school years.
During my high school time I was in Junior ROTC, and I was part of the marksmanship program there. And I was the top marksman for three out of the four years. So I learned how to control my nerves quite a bit and control my breathing and control my heart rate and stuff. So that helps when I'm sitting on the starting line getting ready to pop the clutch on the Harley.
So being able to be in situations where you have to control your physical and mental abilities, it helps out a lot. Along with riding the dirt bikes, it made it a lot easier going from jumping dirt hills and stuff to getting on a Pro Stock Motorcycle, because you have to be on top of it, just like you do driving a Funny Car.
But on these bikes, we're not strapped in, so sometimes you have to hang off the side and use as much body English as you can. Just kind of plugged away at it, and everything paid off. I think the most important thing was the marksmanship and learning how to control mental ability and the physical breathing and stuff like that. So it worked out.
Q. Going back to the 1,000-foot issue, it seems like there is a lot of focus on the finish line. Do any of the four on here have any comment about the advantages of bringing the finish line closer to where the fans are watching the race from?
THE MODERATOR: I'll direct that to the Nitro drivers. Dave, you want to try that first?
DAVE GRUBNIC: The 1,000-foot really, yes, we go out there and we race every weekend, and deep down that's what we do. But also we're in the entertainment business. We have a lot of people turn up and want to see a good show.
I concur with what Ron said. If we can go out and put on a better show and turn the cars around quickly and everything else, ultimately, I believe it's better. The tradition of 13-20 which I'm all about, that's fine. But we don't have the facilities to support that now. And we can't pay for tradition with the lives of our drivers.
So until we can come up with something safer and better so we can go back to 13-20, I don't see there's any problem with 1,000 feet. As long as we put on a show and entertain the crowd, the television crowd and the local crowd, we're doing fine. It can only be safer.
ASHLEY FORCE: Dave put it into good words. As much as our sport is about competition and winning a big, big part of it is the fans and media and bringing people to be interested about it. It's Sad but true, the attention span of people isn't that long and that's why we all love drag racing so much.
It is tough on the fans just as it is on the teams to wait on oil downs. It makes for long days where it's a lot more exciting when you're seeing pairs run pair after pair. It's better for us, better for them and the safety issues as well.
So it seems for now it's the best option we have. It's been working out well. The fans at first I don't think they were -- they were nervous about it and they weren't too happy. No one likes change. But now they embrace it and see that it is more entertaining than sitting and waiting for the next pair to run. So we'll see how it turns out.
Q. The distance that you're watching to the finish line is there any advantage to 1,000 feet there at the track for safety?
THE MODERATOR: The question was for the fans with the finish line being 320 feet closer to the stands, is there an advantage for the fans?
DAVE GRUBNIC: I wouldn't think so. It just means they don't have to turn their head as far. But they're going to turn it anyway. Because 95% of the people watch the parachutes come out and make sure the cars do stop or slow down and make sure there is in no problem.
Ultimately I think it's better because most of our bleachers and everything else stops around the 1,000-foot mark anyways. So they probably get a better shot or a better visual of the cars going across the finish line.
You know, ultimately I'd say, yes, it probably is better for the fans, to be quite honest with you.
THE MODERATOR: Ron, Ashley, do you have an opinion on that?
RON CAPPS: If we had gone up there and not told any of the fans and ran a whole session to 1,000 foot and not had scoreboards, they probably wouldn't have been able to tell to be honest with you.
The very hard-core fan might have said, oh, they're shutting off early. But the majority of the fans and the majority of the grandstands in the paid reserved seat area, you can't tell. And I think it does help a little bit being closer, because you're seeing more of the action.
But I think the ultimate goal and we're all hinting around it is live TV. I think one thing we didn't expect this to do was to make the show go better.
Our last frontier right now as far as our sport is to be on live television. Too many viewers get on the internet, check it, and see what happened and don't watch ESPN2. That's been our downfall. As soon as we can go to live television, I think you're going to see, I hate to use the term the next level. But I think you'll see our sport go to the next level.
Q. Ashley, how do you prepare for a race within a race the U.S. Smokeless Showdown? And since you've secured a playoff berth, does that make a difference in terms of your focus going into next weekend's race?
ASHLEY FORCE: Securing the spot in the Countdown definitely makes a big difference. It's just one less thing that maybe playing into your weekend.
But I've never done a race like this. This is all new to me. I've watched my whole life my dad compete in the race inside a race, but I've never experienced it. So we'll see how it goes.
There may be a lot of yoga leading up to the race or something to keep me relaxed. But we're excited. It's really the approach my team's taking. It's only our second season in Funny Car. The class is so, so competitive. That we were even able to play in this Showdown, it's exciting to us.
So it's more of a fun thing, and that's how we're trying to keep it. Not let the pressure get to us. We get to race with the big boys, and we get to do it at Indy, the biggest race of the year, and compete on Monday.
We're really excited about it. Whatever happens, especially running dad first round, whatever happens that we got a chance to be involved in this, we're excited about it. That's how we're taking it, step by step. But we'll see. That's easy for me to say now. In a week from now, we'll see how I'm acting.
Q. Are the butterflies bigger going into the big go? And what works best on on those nerve Buggs?
DAVE GRUBNIC: Well, yes and no. Again, it's sort of like the butterflies are bigger, obviously. It's especially in my case with everything that's going on.
But again, you have to kind of like keep it in the back of your mind. You can't let it affect you, if that makes sense. You go up there and you worry about it, and you do this and that. But once the helmet goes on, it's like, okay, you have to become a machine and do your job.
It's one thing in drag racing is we can't afford to do as drivers, we can't afford to make mistakes. We can't pick it back up next lap and so forth. The answer to that is yes, and no. There is more pressure, but you can't let it get to you.
RON CAPPS: Yeah. For me, and our NAPA team, we've got obviously the U.S. Smokeless Showdown. And it's funny, because you heard Ashley talk about who she ran, and she mentioned her dad. That's one unique thing about this race.
In our sport, it's much like match play in golf. This race coming up, we already know who we're going to race first round. I have Tim Wilkerson in the first round, she has her dad. So we've known this for the last four, five days. And we're going to sit on this until Saturday.
And believe me, when you get to Indy Thursday night and you've got to sit through Friday and all the stuff you've got to do, it drags on. All you think about is who you race first round, because in the Showdown, Monday's a big race.
But all you think about is getting qualified in the show for the race. And all that looms in the front of your brain is who you're going to race first round, and it's not an unknown. You know who you're going to race.
So I think that type of pressure is a little extra. It always has been for a Funny Car driver at Indy because we have the showdown there. There's always more pressure especially for Funny Car drivers.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Ron, and also thank you to Dave, Ashley, and Andrew for joining us on today's call and the media as well. Have a good day.
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