National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
October 21, 2008
MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to begin today by welcoming the media who have joined us on today's NHRA POWERade Series call. And thanks to the four points leaders who have joined us, as well. I will introduce each of the drivers and ask them to make an opening statement, then we will open it up to questions.
We'll begin with Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. When that session is complete, I will bring in the Funny Car and Top Fuel drivers.
There are two races remaining in the six-race NHRA Playoff, the Countdown to 1. That's the AC Delco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals next weekend at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the Auto Club Finals November 13th through the 16th in Pomona at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Three of the four regular-season champions remain in first place. The exception is Pro Stock, where Jeg Coughlin has overtaken Greg Anderson. Three of the four current points leaders are defending series champions, the exception is Funny Car where Tim Wilkerson leads defending champion Tony Pedregon by 91 points.
With that said, I'll proceed with the introductions and opening statements. We'll begin with Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, as I said.
First I'd like to introduce the current points leader, the defending champion in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith, who rides the Nitro Fish Buell.
Matt finished the 12-race Pro Stock Motorcycle regular season with a category leading four wins, which was good enough to earn him the regular-season championship. He remains in first place today with two races remaining.
Matt, you've had the best bike all year. Any reason at all for concern entering the final two races with a 42-point lead over Eddie Krawiec of Vance & Hines' Harley Davidson team?
MATT SMITH: There's always concern when you have the factory of Vance & Hines' team hitting at you. It might not be Andrew, but they're going to do everything they can to make Eddie win the championship and overtake us.
We're sitting here, we've been testing. We ran a lot of test sessions since Memphis. We've got a fast bike. Even my teammate Angie has helped me over the last two races dramatically.
MICHAEL PADIAN: I will now introduce the Pro Stock points leader Jeg Coughlin, who is also the defending champion in Pro Stock. Jeg drives the Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt. I'm wondering, Jeg, you have the experience with three championships, including last year. What is it going to take over the last two races to hold off the pack of Kurt Johnson, Dave Connolly and Greg Anderson, who trail you by 74, 77 and 82 points?
JEG COUGHLIN: It's going to take some extremely strong running, without question. Two races left in POWERade Championship, Countdown to 1. Certainly last year at this time we were going into Las Vegas in third place, two rounds behind the leader. This year we're four rounds, or mathematically three and a half rounds above number two.
We can't let down a bit. We've got to be extremely aggressive on offense and get out there and race hard. Our goal is to get out and win Vegas, stroll down the street to Pomona, put ourselves in a position to win that race as well.
But you just mentioned three bad hombres and three very, very good teams that are nipping on our heels. It's going to take a great effort to hold them off, but that's our plan.
That's what's exciting. I think the fans are going to be treated to some just outstanding racing. Most of the championships are appearing to come down to the final race in Pomona. That's drama. That's excitement. For the drivers and the teams, that's a lot of pressure. At the same time we love it as well.
MICHAEL PADIAN: We'll open it up to questions for Matt and/or Jeg.
Q. Matt, the bikes have had a longer time off than the other classes. Do you feel like you really needed that time to get things together and make that final push or would you rather have had an extra race or at least not as much time in between races?
MATT SMITH: I'm kind of glad we had a little break. We don't run as many races as the other three pro classes. But we get burnout, too, just like I'm sure they are. I do a lot of the work myself. I'm really tired and wore out. It was good to have a break. We actually went last weekend and ran an all Harley drag race. Went 689 down there testing, won the race. We got some racing in, too.
Q. Jeg, did you do any testing during the break between Richmond and what's coming up here in Las Vegas?
JEG COUGHLIN: Well, we are planning on testing this coming Monday. We'll be just down the road at Tucson International Raceway, which is slightly more elevated than Las Vegas, but a very good racetrack. We're looking to get out there and run the wheels off and do clutch pieces, fuel pieces to try to get our car to respond a little bit better. We're just trying to split the hairs, make a faster car. I think we're going to run out there next Monday and Tuesday and come into Vegas hopefully with a little more efficiency and a little quicker car than we left Richmond with.
Q. Matt, how satisfying has this season been, to be in the lead when you've got all these good racers in this division?
MATT SMITH: You know, any of the pro divisions is hard. I don't care if it's Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock. But for the budget that we have and the amount of races that are behind us, you have the factory teams of Harley Davidson and S&S, you know, and even Don Schumacher pushing you. It's good to be out there and be in the front and to know that you're doing just as good a job as they are.
Like Michael said, we have won four races this year, the most of anybody. That's what we won last year. If we can win six rounds these last two races, that's what we did last year in Vegas and Pomona, we can wrap the championship up, no matter what anybody else does. So that's our goal. We're going to see what happens.
Q. Knowing there's very little room for error, how perfect do you have to be to defend your title over these next two races?
MATT SMITH: You have to be about perfect any time, whether you're defending the title or you're just trying to go to first round. Our class, you can red light so easy. I think Mike Dunn and all of them jinxed me at Memphis saying I haven't red lit all year long. We red light in the semifinals. Actually the clutch linkage broke on our bike on that run. I think that's why I red lit. I try to set my stuff up to be 03, 04 on the light. If I get beat, I get beat. That's what I've tried to do all year. We're trying to make it happen. We'll see what happens.
Q. As far as the points lead, could you talk a little bit about your mindset? Would you rather chase or be the chaser?
JEG COUGHLIN: Well, any time you'd certainly rather be chased. It's just your own mental mindset, like in my case, as I mentioned in the previous question, you know, we're going to be on the offense as if we are chasing.
You know, I certainly would much rather be in the front and have any cushion, whether it's one point or a couple of rounds, between number two going into these final two races. As we've seen in many of the classes over the years, anything can happen. That's what makes it exciting.
Obviously our goal with the Jegs.com car is to keep it out front. I appreciated Matt's comment. He wins six rounds out of these last two races, it doesn't matter what anybody else does. That's about the same mindset we have. We had extreme success last year winning a final seven out of the final eight rounds the last two races. I can tell you, our goals are no less than that. It's going to be awesome.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Matt, talk about the different perspectives being a chaser and a leader.
MATT SMITH: I think I'd rather be the leader. Last year we were the leader going into Vegas. We went into the semifinals, got passed, then we were the chaser at Pomona. Everybody kind of counted us out last year. They were down to Chip and Andrew. We actually snuck in under the rounds, beat them by six points.
This year we have a 42-point lead right now. We're just going to try to maintain that. I would much rather be making my own destiny. If we mess up, then it's our fault. I don't want to rely on somebody else to mess up. We're going to go out, do our job, win as many rounds as we can.
Q. Jeg, you've got three drivers within four rounds of you essentially. Greg Anderson is at 82 points back. He seems to own that Las Vegas track. Is he going to be your biggest competition that weekend?
JEG COUGHLIN: No, I don't think he'll be any bigger competitor than the other two chasing us or the other 12 or so that are going to be qualified in this event. First we've got to get out there and get qualified. We've had great success. I think we've won three or four times at Vegas ourselves. We love going there to race. It's a premiere facility, one of the hottest towns in America. That's always exciting, as well.
They're definitely going to be tough. Obviously Greg will be. My teammate, Dave Connolly, is having one heck of a rebound season with his Charter Communications and Lucas Oil Pro Stock car. I've been real proud of him for coming over. Their season started with five races down. They've been running extremely hard.
We can't count any of them out. I didn't mention Kurt Johnson. He's probably had one of the best cars the entire season in Pro Stock. A lot of the teams have just fallen on some dumb luck here in the countdown, ours included. Here we are on top, ready to stay that way.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks to Jeg and Matt for joining us today.
I'm opening up the call now to our Funny Car and Top Fuel points leaders.
First I'd like to introduce the two drivers, beginning with the current points leader and regular-season champion in Funny Car, Tim Wilkerson.
Tim, you've been one of the great stories this year in NHRA if not in all of sports. You've won more races this season, six, including two of the four playoff races, than you'd won in your first 12 years of racing. Of course, you're in the points lead now for the first time in your career as well. You're only two races now from winning a championship, Tim. Even the slightest slip-up, of course with the talented drivers and teams that are right behind you waiting to pounce, are the last two races business as usual for you, are you doing a little scoreboard watching, watching what the drivers behind you are doing?
TIM WILKERSON: I'm trying not to watch what they're doing. Let's put it that way. I think it's hard not to. You try to just do your own deal and whatever happens happens. That's what we've done all year. I heard Jeg talk about being on offense. I remember talking with Ace and Capps in the past, when they were doing so well. It come down to the last few races, they ended up getting beat by a little bit. I believe that's exactly what happened to them. They started playing defense. Let's just run good enough, let's get in the show.
But we're not going to do that. We're going to run as hard as we can. I know we haven't qualified as well as we had been the last four or five races. But if you look at the qualifying shows, like the last race, we run an 07 with a 9. There were five 07's and we were the slowest 07. We really didn't qualify that bad. It just didn't look that good on the piece of paper.
It's been an exciting year. There's no doubt about that. We're just going to keep our nose down and hopefully we can get some help from some of the other cars, take one of those other hot dogs out before I have to get to them.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Finally I'd like to introduce the points leader and regular-season champion in Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher, who drives the U.S. Army dragster. Tony has set NHRA Top Fuel records this season for wins in a row with seven, wins in a season with 14, and wins in a career with 55. The all-time record, by the way, for wins in a season in all classes is 15, set by Greg Anderson in 2004.
Thanks to the record-setting season, all you need to do, Tony, to clinch your fifth straight and sixth overall championship is qualify at Las Vegas. Talk about this record-setting season and the bigger picture, which is with the six POWERade Series championships, you would join Kenny Bernstein, Warren Johnson and Dave Schultz for third place on the all-time NHRA career championships list.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think it's truly unbelievable. Just being in the position to win five in a row, it's a blessing. We've probably assembled the greatest team, and I know there's other records out there that are a little better. Greg Anderson winning 15 in a season. I'm sure they had a wonderful team. This team is just absolutely dynamite. They've done things and won races when we weren't running a 10th of a second ahead over and over again. They're good quality, hard-working people with good morals. It's just been so fantastic to get buckled in that car knowing that these guys built it and go after these records. The records just kept falling this year.
It's been great. That's a great list to be on. With our team breaking up at the end of the year, we're trying to get every bit out that we can. We'd like to win the next two races and set the bar so high that it's impossible to break. I mean, the records we broke this year, I'm sure years ago people thought were impossible to break, too. That's what records are meant for. In junior dragsters, there are people that are going to be setting their sights on these records we're setting right now. There will be different crew chiefs and teams. Just want to set that bar awful high.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks, Tony and Tim. We're going to open it up to questions now.
Q. Tim, when you got your first win of the season here in April, you said you might have had an advantage because your car was always one of the heaviest, and with the added weight, it didn't affect you as much. Five wins later, what is your excuse?
TIM WILKERSON: Well, I think the word "excuse" was what the other guys were using (laughter). The word "reason" is what I'm trying to use. I appreciate that. At that time it my have been a good reason and excuse for the rest of them. Hundreds of runs later, I think they've used that one up a little too long.
Now, I think you're right. As my grandma used to say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. That's our deal. We have a good car. I think we've proven that through the year here. Not to beat our chests, I don't do a lot of that. You guys know me, I'm not a guy who beats my chest about how good we are. I do have a terrific group of guys. They've made my car good. They've allowed me to make runs with me being the guy that has to make a mistake. And that's how we've won races this year.
We've just had an extremely good, consistent car. As I've said in the past, my driving's probably the weakest part of it. But we're proud to be in the position we're in.
Q. Are there any advantages to being a one-car team? Everybody talks about the multi-car teams out there having a big advantage. You've kind of destroyed that.
TIM WILKERSON: I think the only advantage we have to being a one-car team is we don't get lost in all the mumbo-jumbo. We're a smaller circus than the Schumachers or the Forces. We don't have all the politics of four crew chiefs. We don't have 20 blowers to pick from. We don't have all the five different sponsors. This one didn't quite get taken care of. You know what I mean? I know that sounds facetious, bass-akwards, but it's not. That stuff goes on. I think people that have all those cars know that. Force has asked me a hundred times how come I can whoop him this year. I don't really know what the answer is totally, but I believe that having a single-car team, sometimes you can focus on your car and the few sponsors that you have, and you can take better care of them because you don't have all the politics. You know what I mean? I know sometimes with multi-car teams, there's some clashing that goes on in the different crew chiefs. It's just the way it is. That's the way it happens.
I think if I only had four dragsters instead of two, he would see some of that, too. That's just part of it, in my opinion.
Q. Tim, you mentioned Team Force. I think your record against Force cars is 15-5 this year. Twice you've beaten three of them to get to a title. Is some of that motivation, if not for you, for the crew?
TIM WILKERSON: Oh, yeah. Of course, it is. Nothing worse than seeing one of them guys first round. That's happened to us a couple times where, you know, we took them a little lightly there at Charlotte and then lately we haven't.
But they're, of course, great motivation. I guess you hit the nail on the head. When you have to race that caliber of organization, and to go up there and even think you could run with them first off, and second off that you can even imagine to beat them, would be a feather in anybody's hat. For us to have done that a couple times this year, yeah, my guys, they strut around like some peacocks over there when that happened. But that's good. That's good for them. Because I've always said, everybody out here needs to win a race. I mean, the crew's whole atmosphere is based around how the car runs. Their attitude is based on the ET slip. When you can have a crew that does well, Tony even hit on that, his guys do such a terrific job with their car, it seems like the better the car runs, the better job they do. I don't know if it's psychological for the crew chief to believe that, but I believe it. I see in it my guys. When our car runs bad, they're pissy acting, they're not having fun. It's not the same. When things go well, I get them all together and see, See, this is what we can do. When you guys pay attention to your job, let me be the guy that makes the mistake, this is what we can do. We have been fortunate enough to get that job done a few times this year.
Q. With your hometown of Springfield giving you a day of honor, if you win this championship, are they going to give you a key to the city?
TIM WILKERSON: That would be good. I asked them if I could renege everyone's real estate taxes for one day. They told me they wouldn't let me be the guy of the day if I ever asked that again. We just had another kid, Justin Allgaier, win the Nationwide championship here in town. Now the pressure's on me to bring the Funny Car title home to Springfield. Hopefully we can get that done. That would be fun, though. I think it would be a good day for all of us.
Q. Tony, as you get closer to clinching the title, have you had a chance to really comprehend all the history that you're about to make this season? There's more records than we can probably think of. Have you really got your arm around all this?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I really have sat back kind of this week and really soaked it up. Especially because A.J. is leaving next year, you got to look at it as we're going to have a different team. Neither side of this team, mine or A.J.'s going in our own directions, is ever going to have this chance again. This really was just a perfect season. A lot of great things happened. Even when everything wasn't perfect, somebody else would make a mistake against us. So the records are just enormous.
And, yeah, I've really sat back and said, even before some of the finals the last couple races, you know, I'd tell the guys, Now is the time to stop and smell the roses. What's going to happen in the next 10 minutes, going out and trying to win this race, the outcome, don't let that define the season. The season's been so fantastic. We got into every minute of it. I think I told you at the last race, it's like the '80 Olympics, when those guys were done with the Olympics, beating the Russian team in hockey, they never saw each other again. They all went their own ways and did their own deals. But they always have that time. It was such a big time, big for everybody.
I don't think what we do changes the world in any way, shape or form, except the world of drag racing. The fans that got to witness it this year, the teams that got beat, our team that had a chance to be part of it. Even Corey Mac's team, my teammate, had to watch it from within, it was awesome for everybody.
I have truly woken up every day and felt blessed. I've also woken up every day and thought there is so much pressure. I'm sure Tim can feel it right now. When you got the team that everyone's watching, everyone's trying to beat, they're going to do everything they can to beat you, the pressure is just flat enormous. The more races you win, the more pressure's on you. So I felt like I have gotten through a very difficult season this year.
I look back and I think they took 550 points away early on. I thought, man, we'd set every record. If we can't finish these last six races, we can't close the deal. Yes, the rules are the rules. I'm going to walk over and shake whoever's hand that wins it. But, man, what would we be giving up. The pressure was just brutal. With pressure and with the hardships that you've got to get through comes the pleasures. The more you win, the more difficult it is to keep going. When you think how are we going to win seven in a row, how are we going to win six in a row, Indy, all these big races. When you pull off these huge miracles, it's fantastic. It makes it that much better.
Q. Speaking of that next phase, when A.J. leaves, that might open up the division, level the playing field. How do you anticipate that kind of thing going? Do you think it's going to be a lot tougher?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think it's just going to be different. Oh, yeah. I'll tell you, in 1999 with Dan Olsen, we won a championship. We won one race. We beat A.J. and we beat Scelzi. It was difficult. Then A.J. comes over and we won nine races, 10 races. The last two seasons, last run of the year, I have had the pleasure of winning championships many different ways. When I heard A.J. was leaving, I thought okay, all right, brutal. I love working with the guy. He's a great crew chief, best there's ever been. But there's much more to a program than just that one guy. I look back at our season and I think, okay, who's going to be the next crew chief? How are we going to put a great team together?
You know, I motivate people by being positive. We won against Kalitta in '06 when the weight of the world was on us. We pulled together as a team. We are all really good at not pointing fingers. That comes from within. I hope we can build a team like that again. I look forward to the challenge. I look forward to racing.
I love the rumors that he's driving his own car next year. Those are the pest rumors I've ever heard. I don't think he will, but, man, wouldn't that be fun. I actually talked about going to Funny Car. If A.J. is gone, we've won every race and record, why shouldn't we go to Funny Car. Then I heard A.J. was going to drive. I thought, I ain't going nowhere. I'd love to run against him. I'm kind of sitting back and waiting to see what happens there.
But we'll take the day as it comes. I love a new challenge. I don't care what form of racing it is. Haven't made up my mind what I want to do. All I know is it's going to be some form of drag racing.
Q. Tim, you've had a couple extra weeks off to kind of prepare for this final push. How big has this extra time been for your team seeing as how you don't have the mountain of personnel it takes to go in some of these long stretches of races?
TIM WILKERSON: Well, we're doing what Tony just mentioned. We go over everything with everybody and make sure there's no mistakes, that everything is happening correctly, that the car is prepared as well as it can. We got nicked for a boil-down deal at Memphis. Try to make sure that little stuff like that don't bite us in the butt and continue us on our path so hopefully we can be the champion.
I'm very happy with our progress over the last couple weeks. I don't like being off. We went 11 weeks in a row through the middle there, went match racing every weekend between things. I seriously think that makes us a better car because everybody, they're just better at working on it when they do it constantly. It's like everything else you do, I believe the more you do it, the better you get. Even if we're match racing, they're taking the same nuts and bolts off, they're still preparing the car. It really makes a better team out of it.
We did need a little bit of time to get our junk back in the pile. There's not doubt about that. We're fixing cylinder heads the last couple weeks, trying to get enough motors in the trailer to go to the next couple races so we'll have enough to finish fighting the battle in the end.
But give the guys a little bit of time off. They need a breather every once in a while. I'd go every day if I could. My kid and I went bracket racing two weekends in a row. We haven't stopped racing; we just stopped racing the Funny Car.
Q. Tim, I'm sure you're just tickled pink to hear that Tony Schumacher is thinking about moving to Funny Car next year.
TIM WILKERSON: That's the first time I heard that. I think that would be fun if that's what Tony wanted to do. Tony and I did a lot of Funny Car racing back in the (indiscernible) days. He's got a great organization over there that his dad's put together. He can surely step into one of them things and do a good job. I'm sure about that.
If I was him, like he said, I'd want to continue racing against A.J. That would be a fun deal to be able to beat him at his own game, if I was him. That would be my main goal, to show the world that just 'cause A.J. left don't mean we're going to stumble. I hope and pray that he stays in the dragster just because of that, because I would if I was him. I'd make sure they were unhappy about the day they all left. I'd make their life as miserable as I could. I'm not saying that to be mean or anything. I just think they had a great team there that they split up. I'd make sure they had the worst time they could making it successful on the other side.
Q. Tim, what has been the one thing, if there is one thing you can nail down, as to what has turned your season around and made you such a strong competitor this year and a championship contender?
TIM WILKERSON: Well, again, I've kind of mumbled about it all year long, that we just really have kept our eye on the ball this year and worked hard together as a team. We kind of have the same exact chemistry I guess is the word you'd like to use that Schumacher's dragster team does. We all get along. We all know what we're up to. Everybody can stay on the same page and understand the reason why we're going. I got some young guys. This is their second year. That's really been better because last year they started out. When they first get in there, it's kind of a dream job that they all wanted to do. Then it's all of a sudden, Wow, this is a lot of work. So after we got that through their head, then this year we've been a lot better team.
Of course, the alliance with Don Prudhomme has gave us some opportunities to use some equipment we really didn't have available to us before. In the end of the '07 season, Don Schumacher actually let me use some of his equipment over there. That made us a little bit better team at the end of that year.
I don't know. Again, I like to think that we were this good a team before; we just didn't quite have the opportunities and the where-for-all. Dick Levi stepped up and gave us more money than we ever had this year. I just think it shows you with the right amount of money, the right amount of perseverance, any team out there can do it. I mean, you seen Tony Pedregon do it last year. Cruz is coming on good this year. We got Beckman's car running good. Some of the others have faltered. That's just the way it's going to be. Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield. Fortunately this year we get to be the guy going into the last couple races ahead of schedule.
Q. Keep up the good work. You may end up being a teammate of Schumacher in Funny Car next year.
TIM WILKERSON: That would be fun. We could be a two-car team. There would be stranger things than that that ever happened. We could sure use the big check at the end. I hope we can figure out a good way to get there.
Q. Tony, any update on crew chief status for next year for the Fuel car?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, I keep hearing different rumors. Really, until my dad announces it, I'm not exactly sure. Then I threw the whole curve ball into them last week and said, What about a Funny Car. He said, We got a lot of parts and pieces. We're still taking that kind of slowly. There's very good guys out there. We'll make a decision soon.
I'm sure we'll hear something by Vegas. I have to decide if I want to do Top Fuel or Funny Car first. More than likely I'll stay in Top Fuel just because as much as you hear A.J., A.J., A.J. won a championship, there's been a lot of stuff that led us to win championships for many years. It's a great team. It's a great overall group of people. So I do want to be part of the team that gets to race against him, not egotistically, not to go out and say ha-ha, but to let people know there's other great people out there. We've beat them before. We'll definitely give him a fight and a run for his money. Whoever we put will be a great team. Whoever our crew chief is will be a great crew chief. Whoever we hire will be the best of the best. We will work together. We'll motivate people.
You know, I'd love to give you an answer. But if I had one, I would. I think if I had one and I wasn't supposed to tell you, I would. I'm dying to know myself. There's a short, short list of people that we're going to put there, I just don't know which one it is yet.
Q. Are you really going into next year in a no-win situation if you go back into a Top Fuel car? The greatest season ever in Top Fuel. If you only win 10 races next year, you won 14 with A.J., it seems like the Funny Car would be very appealing.
TONY SCHUMACHER: It is appealing. But I absolutely have to remind everybody, the beginning of this year, we had to run Kalitta first round. I said, This is how you start a year off. Also ran car with one of the greatest drivers ever. You rise to the occasion from the first time you hit the throttle. That will carry the momentum through the end of the year. I mentioned that. I told the papers. They printed it. I am all about the challenge.
So the Funny Car does seem great. But the Top Fuel car does, too. It's not about those trophies. It's about how deep you can dig to beat A.J., to beat those other guys that are going to be great. It's going to be a different season. Believe me, A.J. is not going to go out there and win 14 or 16 races. We have not finished this season out. He's not going to do that. I don't care who he puts in the car. This was just a crazy, awesome year for one particular team. That's it. Those numbers aren't going to come up again. Whole lot of things had to go right for that to happen week in and week out. Many of the times when I smoked the tires, so did the other guy. That has to happen. That's just one of those things where this year it worked out so well for us.
No matter what I drive, it's not going to be the non-win-win. I get in a Top Fuel car next year, if I do win six, it's going to be harder, having to compete against a guy like A.J. That will be gratifying. It's not impossible. I've seen what he uses. It's all great stuff. What wins those races is not just a great tune-up. It's eight guys that build that car without mistakes. We can build that again. We can build great people. We have great people in our shop.
It's keeping a lot of our stuff private, too. Our shop, we keep our stuff pretty locked up over at the Army camp. We don't let all the other teams dig. Like Tim said, when you go back and you have yourself a shop that no one else can go in and check your barrel valve three times a week when you're not in the shop, mess it up. We lock our stuff down. We're very careful. We're very disciplined. We know how to do that. A.J. just doesn't know how to do, that our team doesn't just know how to do that. Overall, my dad, myself, we know how to do that so we'll be able to build it again.
Q. Tim, you've been on the NHRA safety task force created after Scott's death. What has this group accomplished so far and are there any changes in the works for next year that will alter either what you do or the show that the fans see?
TIM WILKERSON: Boy, I can tell you that the accomplishments, they appear to be minimal from the outside because I've had other people ask me this, but I think they're not. I think there's a tremendous amount of effort that's went into the end of the racetracks where we feel there was an issue there in the demise of Scott.
I don't think that our work is near done. Dan Olson, who heads that safety council, is just doing a terrific job. He's done a tremendous lot of research on safety barriers. Jim, I and him have got together on nets. I mean, it's the kind of sand we're putting in, the aggregate changes, depending on where it's at in the sand trap. There's just a ton of things that went on that I believe has made us a lot safer.
Our biggest obstacle is just, quite frankly, to try to get the racetracks to participate in it because it's just such a tremendous cost. No matter what you think, whether life's involved or not, you can't go to a place and say you need to spend a quarter million of a dollars to get it done. In this economy, it's hard to do that.
We're all trying to figure out ways to get every racetrack involved and get the thing done. But NHRA's committed to making it better. I think they've put Dan on it and he's the guy that needs to be on it because he does a good job and he cares. For Matt's sake, we're heading forward. They just implemented some new devices on Funny Cars. You're going to see them on Top Fuel before next year comes that has a device on it that when you throw the fire bottles off, it shuts the car off, throws the parachutes out. That's a neat deal, too. They're talking about in the future maybe having some type of device at the end of the racetrack that if the driver is unconscious it does all that.
There's a lot of things that's been going on, so it's not stagnant by any means. It's hard to get all that stuff implemented in a matter of a month or so. We're trying to get it done first off so it's not financially disabling to smaller teams and second off so it's the correct thing to do. You know what I mean? Not just something to do.
But, no, I think in the big picture everybody should be pretty proud of the efforts that's went on over there in that deal. I know sometimes it doesn't get done quick enough. I'm one of the guys that's bitching. I'm down there, What the heck. This shouldn't look like that, like this. I tell you what, they're there, they're on it. You can be assured of that.
Q. Tony, could you talk about the experience of achieving your first championship. After that, any difference in your thoughts with each succeeding championship.
TONY SCHUMACHER: The first championship, we hadn't won a race all year. At the beginning of the year, we ran 330 miles an hour for the first time. We were a brand-new team. It was a brand-new experience for me to run the full season in a Top Fuel car with basically a group of guys I had never met before led by Dan Olson. The pressure was pretty brutal. When we got down near the end, we were averaging I think mid 60 some points a race. We weren't winning. We're going two, three rounds every race. We weren't going out first round, we were doing a good job. We had Joe Amato and Scelzi and everyone else behind us. I'm thinking to myself, What do you do? This is insane. It was a lot to get through as a new driver.
Now I'm a lot more comfortable in the seat. I understand the guys are great at what they do. I also understand a lot more how you can have the most perfect car and something breaks. I have broke throttle cables, silly little parts and pieces on cars that can cost you a championship. I'm much more in the belief that, hey, man, make everything perfect and enjoy the moment. Believe it or not, the pressure before was a lot more.
Now with that being said, having a guy like A.J. tune your car and a group where you should win every race, there's a little more pressure in a different area. Now you got the car where you should win. As a driver, the only thing I can do is screw it up. If I push the pedal down at the right time, we're going to win, right? That's not the case, but that's how it seemed for a lot of the media. I hear it all the time. A.J., the car goes fast. Well, the car goes fast because I stayed shallow, which makes the numbers look better. I'm not patting myself on the chest. Dixon, Kalitta, myself, we stayed shallow. A lot of guys have a lot of good cars a lot of the time. So there's a lot that goes into that. That's from experience. That's from doing it.
Now, this year, unlike the last two years, we are going to actually go into Vegas just having to qualify. I'm going to enjoy the last two races as much as I ever have in my life this time. Now, that's not to say going down to the last run it's not enjoyable, but it's almost ruthless, weight of the world pressure on you. This time I'm going to go and have a good time.
Had we had the old points, I'd like to figure out, I have never done it, but I bet bead be 700, 800 points ahead if we had the old points structure, right, Michael?
MICHAEL PADIAN: People race differently with the new points format, so it's hard to really compare.
TONY SCHUMACHER: We were a great example of that last year. We did a whole lot of testing early on in the season and it paid off at the end of the year. You come down to crunch time when you have to win and do you it. I'm a firm believer in that, too.
But, yeah, you know, all things considered, I wouldn't trade the position we're in now for any of the championships. But I've enjoyed each one probably an equal amount. Every time I've shown up at Pomona, hopefully this year it will be six championships, I will have enjoyed it and it will all be a different way we've had to earn it.
Hope I answered your question. Kind of a run-on sentence.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Tony, I thank you and Tim for joining us today and all the media members on today's call.
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