National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
November 11, 2008
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome the members of the media participating in today's teleconference as we prepare for the sixth and final race in the six race, NHRA Playoff, the Countdown to 1.
Joining us on today's call, drivers in the Funny Car race, as well as the Pro Stock Motorcycle race, the two categories at which championships are still at stake.
Before I introduce those drivers I'd like to quickly acknowledge Tony Schumacher and Jeg Coughlin. Tony clinched a fifth straight in six overall POWERade Series Top Fuel World Championship for the U.S. Army Team at Las Vegas last weekend. This weekend in Pomona, Tony can break Greg Anderson's all time NHRA marks for wins and round wins in a season.
Tony's 15 wins have equaled Greg's 2004 total, and his 74 round wins are two shy of Greg's 2004 total.
In Pro Stock, with his win in Las Vegas, Jeg Coughlin all but clinched a second straight overall POWERade Pro Stock World Championship for the Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt Team. All he needs to do to clinch the Championship this weekend in Pomona is to qualify.
So joining us on today's call, we have Chris Rivas, Pro Stock Motorcycle, he's in third place. Robert Hight, Funny Car. He's in third place, and Tim Wilkerson, also in Funny Car, he is in second place.
First, gentleman, I'd like to introduce is Chris Rivas, he's 39 points back in that Pro Stock Motorcycle race behind Matt Smith and Eddie Krawiec.
Chris, a point or two in qualifying could mean the difference in needing to go one more or one less round than the riders ahead of you when we get to Sunday race. How much are you focused on qualifying going into this weekend?
CHRIS RIVAS: We always try to qualify with the best that we can, always putting our first good step forward. You know, the drag specialist team is doing everything that they can to go ahead and qualify well right off the trailer.
The guys back at the shop in Americus, Georgia and G2 Motorsports are there working on a new engine for us, something that they've been working on for a while. They're trying to get it, it should be actually probably already in the air on the way to Pomona. If not, it will be there soon.
So we're doing everything that we can possibly to get our first qualifying sessions as good as they can possibly be. Obviously, we want to achieve the pole position, and that will kind of hopefully lighten the load as to what we need to do and the rest of eliminations on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: With Chris being 39 points back, round wins are worth 20 points each, so you can do the math. He's right now within two rounds of catching first place Matt Smith. If he was to fall 41 points behind and lose two points in qualifying, he'd then have to win three more rounds than Matt on Sunday.
Next I'd like to move on to Funny Car. The first driver I'll introduce is Tim Wilkerson who is 12 points back behind Cruz Pedregon. Tim of course pilots the Levi, Ray and Shoup Chevy Impala that he, himself, tunes.
It's been an amazing season with 6 wins and 16 weeks in first place, Tim. What are your thoughts heading into this week's finale having to make up that deficit behind Cruz, and keeping the guys behind you at bay like Robert, Tony Pedregon and Jack Beckman?
TIM WILKERSON: I think our thoughts are just to go down the racetrack and not make a mistake like we did in las investigate as. Had a good car in Las Vegas, and just smoked the tires first round out there about 150 feet out. Then the worst case scenario that happened to us did, and that is Cruz going to the finals and winning the race.
Really after he got to the finals it was irrelevant whether he won the race or not, because in order for me to beat him, I would have to beat him in any round at Pomona anyway. So I was rooting for Robert the whole time, to tell you the truth, because I would much rather fight it out with Robert.
So, hopefully we can go to Pomona and things will be good for us there.
THE MODERATOR: The third driver I'll introduce is Robert Hight who pilots the Auto Club L.A. Dodgers Ford Mustang. Robert is currently 39 points back of Cruz Pedregon, 27 points behind Tim Wilkerson on that 39-point magic number that we talked to Chris Rivas about.
Robert, you've won three straight races and four out of five at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona where we'll be racing this weekend. If you extend that streak you could well be hoisting a lot more than simply a Wally on Sunday night. Have you let that thought creep into your head at all?
ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, I have. We love racing out here at Pomona. It's our home track. But this Funny Car class, it is so tough just to get qualified, you know. We can't go out there and be shooting for the moon and trying to get number one spot and stay ahead of all these guys. It's tough enough just to qualify at any field in the Funny Car class.
So, we can't control what the other guys do. All we can do is what my Auto Club Ford and Jimmy Prock know how to do. And it's not always that easy.
I think we qualified in the bottom half at the Winter Nationals, ended up winning. But every point is going to count, you know. That 39 points that I'm behind Cruz, that could easily right now, you know, that's just two rounds. But that could easily, if it was 41 points, it could be three rounds.
So every point is critical, but we can't let that consume us. We've just got to go out there and do what we know how to do.
THE MODERATOR: Eddie Krawiec has joined us. Eddie is 19 points behind Matt Smith right now. Eddie drives the Vance & Hines, the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
Eddie, you have had an amazing season. A couple of times this is year in Memphis and most recently in Vegas you wanted your shot at Matt Smith and you got it. I'm guessing you'd like nothing more than to hold your destiny again this weekend and have another shot at Matt Smith?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: The field in Pro Stock motorcycle is actually pretty tough. You know, it's grown leaps and bounds in the past two or three years. Now just to be able to qualify for the class is a big deal. Not, you know, not just to say, basically, what it comes down to is qualifying, which it's not going to.
But it's tough to just get in there. And that is where the weekend starts. Hopefully we can put our Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley up on the poll there and get another No. 1 spot. That will definitely help out.
But to race against the guys out there, Chris and Matt and everybody else, you can't count any rounds as a give-me. So our main goal is to just go out there, focus, be consistent, go rounds.
Bottom line is I'm going there to win the race. If I can win the race, I'll walk away with the championship. So that's my plan, and I'm not going to change it.
Q. Well, to do that, you'd obviously have to stay within the one round to hold your own destiny. You're 19 points back. We talked to Robert and Chris who are 39 points back. How important is qualifying to make sure you stay under that 20-point threshold?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: It obviously is. That is the main thing is to go out there and qualify well. You know, Matt is right on the top of the board there, so you've got to outqualify him.
Thank God, you know, I have enough points that it sort of covers the qualifying against Chris, but anything can happen in that situation. So qualifying is the main goal. I know Chris just said he has a new motor and everything. And trust me Vance & Hines certainly isn't sleeping on the week and a half off. So we're going there looking for the No. 1 spot as is Chris and as is Matt.
Q. Robert, you've been in the battle two years in a row now, 2005 battle for Rookie of the Year. In second place in 2006 and 2007. How do you tap into that experience? You've been in these battles two years in a row, and here you are again.
ROBERT HIGHT: Well, if you look at the three of us. Actually, we can't forget about Tony and Beckman either, they're right behind us. But I'm probably the rookie of the bunch. Even though I finished second the last two years, I don't know that that gives me any kind of edge or anything. It's just tough.
We just -- I do have John Force behind me. He's won 14 championships, and I have three other Ford Mustangs that are going to be out there trying to help me and knock off some of these guys.
But I don't think there is any edge as far as the last two years go. You start the season out and you think well, man, I want to get to No. 1 this year. I'm tired of finishing second. But second isn't always that bad either. If you look at it, I could be fifth or sixth if this doesn't go the way we planned. So second would be good, but we really are shooting for that title.
Q. Tim, they mentioned the amount of weeks that you had held the lead, barring that you're trailing now albeit such a minor amount of points. Will you approach Pomona differently now that you are the chaser rather than the chasee?
TIM WILKERSON: Well, I probably would say that we have to be a little more aggressive than we normally would, because we have no -- there is no room left to make-up, right. So in order for us to come away with the trophy, we need to make sure that we go as many rounds as anybody and one more round than our friend Cruz, so there we have it.
I think you did hit the nail on the head though. It's not going to be an easy transition going there thinking that now we have to win every round. Robert reiterated that we all have the same goal. And whoever gets to the finals is going to be the Champion it looks like to me.
So with any luck, it can be the Levi, Ray and Shoup car. But like Robert said, you can't forget about Tony and Beckman and his other Mustangs. They're going to be out there trying to knock the rest of us off, too.
Quite frankly, Ashley's had probably the best car in the class the last half a dozen races, so she's not going to be taken lightly either. It's going to be an interesting weekend. I hope all of you understand how really cool this is coming down to the last race.
Q. Eddie, you have not been in the winner's circle this season. You talked about this weekend if you were able to get in the winners circle t would be quite a way to celebrate your first victory, would it not?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Yeah, it's sort of a little bit of an understatement. I sort of have mixed emotions on it. I really want to win this championship, and I really want to win a race. But it sounds kind of weird, but I would be happy to hold off until next year if I could win the Championship.
Bottom line is that that big POWERade trophy would be a pretty exciting thing to have. And to have that before winning the race would, I think, etch my name in the books there. I believe there is only one other racer to do that. I think it was in Top Fuel in the late '70s, I believe I heard. But I think that would be a pretty cool task.
Yeah, I definitely want to get a Wally. I want to put it on top of my desk. I walk around the shop here and walk into Matt Hines' area, and he's got POWERade trophy, and Wallys and so does Andrew. I would love to have one for myself. So sort of leaves me a little left out.
But I would be willing to wait if I could put that POWERade trophy in its place for this season.
Q. I know you guys try to focus on what you're doing trying to get your car down the track, but I imagine run order on Sunday will be an important thing to keep an eye on. Where the guys in the top 5 in the standings in racing in that first round on Sunday morning. Robert, you want to take that first?
ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, you know, there's lots of scenarios and things to look at. You know, I talked to Tim last Monday after Vegas, and he likes to run first, you know. I kind of agree with him. Because you end up changing your car or changing the way you're thinking or you're, you know, just the whole outlook on racing if you're looking at other racers. It's easier if you can just go up there and be the first pair and do what you do. Get the win and just let each pair come and each round come as they come. Sometimes that's harder to do.
And I know Tim had it hard last week. He had to be No. 8. He was 8th pair. So he had a lot of time to think about what everybody else was doing, and what he was doing with his car.
Honestly, on Sunday, if I have first pick, I want to be first pair.
Q. How about you, Tim? Talk about last weekend in Las Vegas and how that might effect your decision where you prefer to run in the order?
TIM WILKERSON: Yeah, Robert and I did discuss that. That's exactly what happened. The reason we got into this discussion was I was yelling at him because he runs so well first round that I figured I could do that, too, and I went out there and smoked the tires. I told him, way to go, I had my car set-up so I would have beaten that, and there you go and screw me up.
But it is a scenario that happens to us a lot, especially when I'm trying to tune and drive at the same time. I pay attention to a few select cars. And Jimmy Prock and him is one of them, because they have such good cars. If they can go a certain ET, I always feel like I can at least run close to that. So I felt pretty confident in the call I was making there and it just ended up not working out.
But like you say, the first round draws are very exciting. I tried to lock Cruz in the port-a-john there on Sunday in Vegas, and it didn't work out. But if Beckman don't do a better job for us next week, then we're going to lock him in the port-a-john, that's what's going to happen.
Q. This is, well, I had a question first for Tim, and a question for Robert. You're having such a, win lose or draw whatever happens on Sunday, do you still look at this season, I mean, when it's all said and done you're having one of the best seasons of your career? You can't walk away a loser, really, can you at this point? It's been such a good season for you.
TIM WILKERSON: No, I think you're right. We've won more rounds than I think anybody possibly can at this point. I had a fan tell me the other day I've won more rounds than anybody possibly can. So already it's a championship in our own minds.
Unfortunately, the points system, the last six races really makes it more important than we've been able to accomplish unfortunately for us. But it's been a really good year. And you're absolutely right, there is no way we're going to leave this year with our head held down.
We've proven that we can run with the best of them. And with the best of them, I mean Robert and Cruz and Tony, and the Schumacher group. When you can run with those guys, you're really just doing a terrific job.
So for my guys, I'm very proud of them. I mean, the financial end of it would really make our year to win the Championship, no doubt about that. Robert and I have talked about that, too, how any of us could end up third, fourth or fifth, and the payroll goes down substantially from first to fourth or fifth. So I'd about give Robert the trophy if he would trade me the check, I can tell you that right now.
Q. Robert, this off-season, how important is this off-season going to be? We've seen this year with the rules changing and the NHRA four-year class. You go from 1,000 feet to after the tragic accident of Scott Kalitta, we see the economy really struggling at this point in our nation and there's a lot of concern about sponsorship, not only in NHRA but all forms of Motorsports. But if you can talk about some of the things to watch in the months to come before you guys open up the season back in February, how important is this going to be for you guys?
ROBERT HIGHT: Well, the off-season gives you a chance to kind of recharge your batteries and that. I'm very fortunate being here with the Auto Club of Southern California, we have a long-term sponsorship with them. But it definitely the economy is definitely felt all throughout Motorsports.
That is one thing we need to work on this winter is trying to refine things and maybe try to do things to save a little money for the months coming ahead, because it's not going to get any easier.
When you're at the races, it doesn't look like NHRA has been hit that hard. Looks like they're doing a great job of getting the fans in the stands. You know, it's a good time for all of us to just recharge our batteries and try to get ready for next year.
I think this off-season is going to be a little better than last because we had to completely redesign cars and build new things to get out there this year after the accidents that we had last year with John and Eric.
So this is going to be a better winner for us. You know, I'm excited about it. I just hope that we can do a little more testing, and we don't lose a lot of cars. There are 20 good Funny Cars at every race, and I want to see that continue next year, because it just makes the challenge that much greater. And when you can win, it makes it that much sweeter.
Q. Good point you talk about you watch it on TV and you see packed grandstands at the place you go. Is that just a great testament to what how loyal the fans are? In tough times they still manage to find that income to come out and support the guys?
ROBERT HIGHT: That's for sure. And it shows that NHRA is doing their job at advertising and promoting, and it just shows what a great product we have to offer to the fans. You know, I hope the sponsors see that as well so they'll continue dumping the dollars in so that all these teams can continue to do what we love.
THE MODERATOR: Footnotes regarding the packed stands. We did have all of our reserve seats at Las Vegas last weekend were sold out.
Then following up on some of the Tim Wilkerson questions. Tim had six wins this season, which is one more than he had in his first 12 years of NHRA POWERade Series racing. He had 5 which gives him 11 for his career. The first place prize money for the 2009 POWERade Series Champions and Top Fuel and Funny Car is half a million dollars.
Q. You've been so close the last few years in the points and everything, and you've had the low qualifying spots as of late. Do you feel you're doing all you can do? Or do you feel you're scratching your head wondering what it is that you're missing?
ROBERT HIGHT: No, I think we've done a great job with my team. You know, it just proves how tough it is. There are 20 good cars at every race that can qualify. That means there's four good ones that are on the outside.
You know, that's definitely what we don't need to have happen this weekend. You know, that could happen if you go out there and try to shoot for number one. Because if you're number one, that means that we're going to be within two rounds of the lead, which is better than three, you know, with four to go.
But you can also step on your foot a little bit and you've just got to get qualified. But there are so many good cars. Anybody can win at any race.
You know, Tim Wilkerson, I think he's won double the races that he's won in his whole career just this year. So that just shows how tough it is, and how many good cars there are and how anybody can win.
So I think my team's done a great job. And finishing second is nothing to hold your head about. After you've done it, you want to be No. 1. And it's just not that easy, you know.
Cruz Pedregon, he came from nowhere. They haven't won races in a lot of years. He's been competitive, but now he's leading the points and he's got a great team he's put together. He's a great driver. And, you know, the budgetary issues, Tony Pedregon beat us last year. The teams with the biggest money aren't always going to win.
I'm just excited to be going to Pomona with a shot. We actually have a better shot this year going to Pomona than we did last year. We would have needed a national record, and this year we're two rounds back, so I'm looking forward to it.
Q. You wear two hats as a driver and a tuner. Which is more stressful going into the final race? I know you felt you were too aggressive at Vegas with your set-up?
TIM WILKERSON: I don't know. I think it's much more stressful being the tuner. Believe it or not, when the car starts, I'm happy (laughing). So I'm usually in pretty good shape when the car starts. Couple of people have told me I don't know how you can drive and tune both.
But tuning just seems much more stressful. I enjoy driving and I'm not the greatest leaver out there or the greatest driver, but I find myself in the middle with anybody that's out there and hopefully when it comes down to crunch time I'm not doing the wrong thing. I just try to be a little machine up there, be consistent and hit the gas and do the best I can.
The tuning part of it, I can tell you, Robert and I did talk about that on Monday at Vegas. When you're the last pair, you're walking around there on pins and needles. You know all you need to do is beat the guy beside you, which doesn't sound like much, until you think about the quality of the teams that you're racing against, and the quality of the cars.
You look at our qualifying times, sometimes, and from time to bottom we're not that far apart. So usually you're racing a guy that's only .02 or .03 hundredths slower than you. And I've won two or three races this year from the bottom half of the field, so anybody knows that can be done.
But it's really exciting. And I think that everybody's going to have a good time at Pomona. I know we're all looking forward to it, that's for sure.
Q. Next year are you going to have a tuner or you're not going to do that anymore yourself?
TIM WILKERSON: No, I'm still going to be the tuner. Nothing has changed except we'll be running the Ford Mustang, and Bob and I will be exchanging some ideas. And Chris Cunningham and I and Mark Dooner will do a lot of talking about how to make their car better and hopefully make our car better.
Q. Tim or Robert, talking about the safety deal. Going into next year, has NHRA given you a decision whether they're going to go back to quarter mile or stay at a thousand or given a preference to stay at a thousand?
TIM WILKERSON: I really don't have the preference. I like the 1,000 foot because of the safety of some of the racetracks that are a little short that we run at. Pomona is really one of them that's a little rough. It's a little short.
We've never had any bad incidences there, but after Kalitta's problem, we decided as a group that a thousand foot would be a good deal. NHRA implicate that themselves. I don't know that there's a decision to go back to quarter mile because of the heritage and all.
But Robert may know more about that than I do because I'm not really in the political loop. But the 1,000-foot deal is fine with me. I don't think it's hurt racing and I think the fans are getting accustomed to it. It's almost like the 90 to 85%, the cars were a little slower at first, then everybody boo-hooed it. Then it got better and better.
And I think the 1,000-foot racing that's made them closer based on our qualifying times. What do you think about that, Robert?
ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, I agree 100%. Just lucky to be driving, and no matter what the distance is.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to everyone, and to the drivers who took time out of their obviously busy schedules this week. Look forward to this weekend.
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