National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
November 11, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome everybody here, and thank you for being part of our press conference here as we get set to kick off the 45th running of the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona, and we're going to finish up what's been just a spectacular year. We are very fortunate to have the great southern California weather that we're going to have the next couple days. It's supposed to cool off a little bit on Saturday. We don't care. It's going to be nice weather. It's going to be sunny, and if it's cool that gives us maybe the opportunity for a track record. Should make the entire racing that much more exciting for the racers, the fans and a few members of the media.
By way of summary, this race coming is a great part of the history of the National Hot Rod Association. It'll be the 45th running of this great final race. The race started out in Tulsa, Oklahoma; it's been to Dallas; it's been in Amarillo; been at Orange County Raceway and then finally settled in Pomona in 1984.
Over the last couple of years with the new format with the Countdown and actually even before that, we've had some of the best racing in the history of the National Hot Rod Association at this event.
Before I tell you more about that, I first want to acknowledge the president of the National Hot Rod Association, Tom Compton, who's here with us today. Thank you for joining us today.
We'd also like to thank everybody from the Auto Club of Southern California, such a vital part of the racing activity, not only out at Pomona but throughout the NHRA world. A lot of us had the opportunity to be in Bakersfield a few weeks ago. They support that great race and all the history of the sport, the museum, and then of course this race, and they also sponsor Robert Hight's car; we'll talk about that in just a moment. We want to thank everybody at the Auto Club, not only for being such a great part of our racing organization and our lives, but part of the lifeblood of the community here in southern California and throughout the state, as well.
As I mentioned, the race coming up now, we have some great championship battles. The Top Fuel battles coming down to three drivers; two of them are here, Tony Schumacher and Cory McClenathan. If you read your pre-race press conference flier religiously, you know Larry Dixon was supposed to be here. Larry, for all of us that know the world of traveling, got caught up, and he was landing in Phoenix about ten minutes ago.
Tony Schumacher then said that there should be a new rule that if you're in the points running and you're not at the press conference for the last race, you should eliminated from contention. That was just Tony's point of view. Larry, meanwhile, said anybody who comes up with a stupid vote idea should not be allowed to be in the points, so we thought that would be fair turnabout. I believe we're going to have to run this thing out on the track.
What I'm going to do first, let's talk about Cory McClenathan. Cory drives the FRAM Top Fuel machine. Cory McClenathan currently is No. 3 in the points. He's 48 points back or just slightly more than two rounds coming into this race. Cory is one of the more successful drivers in our Top Fuel class with over 30 national event wins. He's got a win now in the Countdown.
He's got a couple of wins here at this race, including 1992, and I mention that because, Cory, that was just one of the great moments in your drag racing career. Cory has four runner-up finishes in the points; 1992 was one of them. Cory, you came into that race in exactly the same situation you are in now. You were trailing Joe Amato and Kenny Bernstein in third place in the points. So this is nothing new for you coming into this weekend, is it?
CORY MCCLENATHAN: No, it really isn't. The funny thing is that Robert's crew chief was my crew chief at the time. And the names are the same; we have a Bernstein in the other car. It's just Brandon now instead of Kenny.
It's one of those deals where we just have to go out there and throw down, see what we can do. The guys have done a great job, the FRAM Tough Guard car. Obviously Tony and I, everybody saw it on TV, Tony and I had to race in Vegas, and we raced heads up, and it was a very, very good race. Both run 86, one of those deals where it just shows you what drag racing is all about, the head-to-head deal, and really easily I could have helped Tony along the way there. We couldn't help ourselves; the next race got beat by Dixon.
But it is one of those things where you come back to a race, the final of the season, and it's going to be the last race, and Tony has been here before, too, and won the whole thing, set a record to do it and went on to win the championship that day. So anything can happen.
I mean, I don't wish anything bad for my teammate, but if something goes on, I'd sure like to know that he's got my back, too, and I know he does.
Q. The cars from Team Schumacher, which Cory McClenathan and Tony are obviously both a part, did some testing at the Las Vegas race. Without letting numbers out, Cory, you told me that you're very optimistic about the opportunity to, A, run quick here this weekend; and B, said with that cool weather coming in that we talked about, the possibility of somebody setting a national record, and that's worth 20 points; that's a round worth of racing. Do you think you guys might be able to do it?
CORY MCCLENATHAN: Definitely. We made two runs on Monday after Las Vegas race. That was our fourth test session of year, and it seemed like we needed to utilize that time and effort to try to get used to next year. The only I knew is we didn't have enough fuel pump on the car to make a full pass. We shut it off at about 800 foot and still ran 385 flat. So I mean, I think that shows that whatever we were trying is definitely going to work next year, and if we get enough parts to utilize that, we'll definitely have it on both my car and Tony's car and obviously Antron Brown's car next year, which is now our other teammate.
But there's enough there where if we have to pull it out of the box and make one pass with it, I don't care if it burns every piston out of that thing, as long as it runs the numbers that we saw earlier in our testing. Both Tony and I both ran good during testing, and that's something we have to look at. We have to look not only just to the next race but on to next year. Everybody is kind of being careful in the economy we're sitting in right now, but at the same time you have four days of testing; better use them.
THE MODERATOR: Cory said that thing about burning the pistons for two reasons; first of all, do whatever it takes to win; and secondly, he doesn't have to pay for the pistons. It works out well that way. Having been in this position before, mentally is there any pressure on you coming into this weekend?
CORY MCCLENATHAN: Not really. It's one of those deals where everybody is asking what's going to happen, what's going to happen. Well, I don't know what's going to happen, I just want it to happen. It's time. Let's get with it, let's get down there.
I can guarantee one thing, in Top Fuel we're going to be throwing down. We want three points per qualifying session, they're up for grabs, so that's going to make a big difference right now with Tony and Dixon one point apart. Right now I need one qualifier to go my way. Those are precious points. The three-two-one deal that they brought in for the qualifying thing has really made a big difference, bigger than I thought it would actually.
It's one of those deals, we're going to have to go out there and take it day by day. Looks the weather is definitely going to be there. We all know Pomona, you can run some big mile an hour and some low EGs and I wouldn't be surprised to see a record here this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: That's Cory McClenathan, driver of the FRAM Tough Guard Top Fuel machine coming in in third place. Before I talk to Tony, for those who may not know, the three-two-one points he was talking about, starting the countdown drivers get three points if you're the No. 1 qualifier in each qualifying session; two points for the No. 2 qualifier in that session and one to the third-place driver. That's a lot of points; that can be 12 points over the course of the weekend.
Tony Schumacher is coming into here into a situation that is certainly not new to him. First of all, he's got 61 national event wins, he's rewritten the record book over the last couple of years, basically holds every single record in Top Fuel right now. He's got five wins so far in the season coming in, and he's got four wins here at this event, and he has just run the table over the last couple of years.
Most people recall the 2006 race when he came in here, came into the final race, needed to win, set the record, and he did that in the final round. Tony, I don't believe that mentally you could be going under any more pressure than you did a couple of years ago, so you've got to have a clear mindset going into this weekend.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yeah, it's real clear. And I'm sure that you're going to remind me eight laps every time I'm buckled in that car how big each run is.
THE MODERATOR: We'll do that.
TONY SCHUMACHER: We do speeches at Schumacher Racing every Sunday before. We invite everyone from NAPA and everyone from FRAM and obviously the Army and Gates, and they all sit there, and most of what I like to convey is that at the end of the day on Sunday when you're holding a trophy, that's not the most important part. It's what it takes to get it.
And this race is fairly unique with those points in qualifying. Every day is just going to be brutal. It's going to go back and forth. We all have great cars. And it's not just us three; there's ten good cars out there right now. If you guys watch the racing, it's pretty intense.
So we look forward to it. I look forward to not knowing the outcome on Sunday; I look forward to creating it. I look forward to waking up every morning and living it and making it so that the outcome is caused by hard preparation, dedication and intense work.
For the Army, it's Veterans Day today, and with all the soldiers all over the world fighting for us, man, to be able to present them with this trophy at the end of the day would be incredible. We're going to have to dig.
The pressure is always big, but our car has always been one that's performed the best under pressure. So I enjoy it. I kind of look forward to that pressure. And all my friends, 2,500 people texted me and said, wow, Cory beat you and now it's one point; you love that stuff. No, I don't. Uh-uh. I'd rather have showed up here with it closed up. I want it known right now that if Dixon doesn't show up and lets me and Cory and battle it out, I'm fine with that. We're all clear on that.
But it's been fun. We've had five wins this year. He's had five years this year. Separated on our teams, he got my whole team from last year and five championships' worth of my guys, and we're one point coming into the last race. You couldn't have written that in a better script. NHRA couldn't have asked for anything more.
And Cory is 48 points behind me. We've won two championships coming back that far. It's definitely not out of reach. It's wide open. It's going to be a stout battle. He's got two good cars ahead of him. But he can be assured that these two cars ahead of him are going to be going for it on Sunday morning, and all kinds of things happen. If we can't get it done, we sure hope he does.
Being part of a team we've done an awful lot of work together, and Cory is one of the guys that taught me at the beginning when I started racing. He beat me in my first race ever in Indy in the finals. He beat me in my last race, too, now that I think about it. I hope that ends right now.
THE MODERATOR: The one point is very interesting because you told me that is going to change you guys' approach to qualifying. You obviously want every point available to qualify. To stay that one point ahead, we may look at it and say, well, it's not like it's a round or something, but that would mean if you and Larry end up being in the final round head-to-head, it's nice to have that extra point edge. So that's an interesting approach for you this weekend.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, you've got to stay ahead, and if you both go out the same round, you win. Even if it's tied, I believe if we go in tied, if he gained that one point and we went out the same round and Cory didn't pass us, it comes down to head-to-head battles, and we've both won five races, so it would come to head-to-head, and we've won three of the four.
I just believe this: I believe God has a plan, and I believe the plan is pretty darned awesome, and we're at one point right now. To wake up in the morning each and every day and to have this moment ahead of us -- again, this isn't my first time. This is bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, I'm holding the bat. I've got a hell of a pitcher out there and I've got to deal with something pretty intense. Fortunately for me, so does Larry, so does Cory. We're going to have to cowboy up in morning, man, and the guy that can't do it is not going to hold the trophy.
Q. Do you think God's plan may be for Larry's plane to get lost until Sunday?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's my plan. That's not God's plan; I don't think he does that to anybody.
THE MODERATOR: Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel machine, No. 1 in the points by one.
All the way down there on the left is Robert Hight. Robert comes in with a basically insurmountable lead in the Funny Car class. He's 105 points out, and it really has been a tale of two seasons for Robert. Going into Indianapolis, the last race before he made the cut for the Countdown, not a lot of people even thought that Robert would be in the Top 10.
Robert, over the last couple of races, I don't even think it's arguable that you've had the best car since we got into the Countdown. It has been night and day for you from the beginning of the year until now.
ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, no doubt about it. It's all about timing with this Countdown system and getting everything together at the right time. I actually think the Countdown changes maybe how we race a little bit because if you didn't have that, definitely we wouldn't have stayed lost so long. We would have figured it out and got back on track to where you have a chance.
But the Countdown just changes things, and you know you can do a little testing and try new things, and that's I think kind of what bit us this year. Jimmy Prock definitely got our car turned around at the right time. We've won three of the five so far in the Countdown, and we want to win the fourth one.
To go out at the end of the year and win the last race of the year, it kind of sets the tone for the off-season for the whole team and the other racers. They remember who won that last race and how well that whoever won did. We definitely want to go out and try to win this last race.
But you said insurmountable lead. I wouldn't say that. We failed to qualify twice this year with my car. So that's first and foremost. We've got to get out there and qualify well, and when you see the conditions that we might have, it is possible to set a record. That's what it's going to take for somebody to get us if we qualify well.
We're going to do our best. Force, he has a pretty good way of motivating us. He pulled everybody to the shop this morning, and he had some video clips ready for us all to see, and it showed back in '90 when he won his first championship and how excited they were. And he wanted Jimmy and I and our team to see that. And we actually got -- he even had the '92 world finals that you guys won. They lost by nine points I think it was. And Jimmy Prock was his crew chief. They looked like little kids. '92, they were so young.
He just was wanting to show Jimmy, hey, look how long it's been and how long you've been trying to do this, and just give him a little motivation. You deserve this, you've earned it, and you've worked hard. So you know, get out there and win this thing.
It's like his first championship. He's excited to be a part of it. But like I say, it's not done yet. We've got to work hard and qualify well and then maybe we can enjoy it.
THE MODERATOR: I don't want to take anything away from John Force, but with a 105-point lead, I believe I could motivate you guys to win this weekend.
ROBERT HIGHT: Yeah, exactly, but it was really kind of cool to see some of the old videos, and Bernie Fedderly when he was with Larry Minor, and just all of the guys that we work with and how long they've been doing this and how they still love it. That's what's important.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us about your mindset going into Indianapolis. There was a 50/50 shot, maybe more, that you wouldn't even make the Countdown. Now to be on the verge of clinching your first championship, that's just got to be so cool.
ROBERT HIGHT: It is. There were so many things that could have changed. John switched us around, and I drove his car in Maple Grove, and had Austin not got sick, I would have still been in that car at U.S. Nationals, and Jimmy just had it right. We went out and qualified No. 1, and since then we've had a great race car.
You know, Ashley Force, my teammate, she's had a great race car all year long, and then they just stumbled last weekend, and it ended up being some parts problem. That's the kind of stuff that can keep us from winning this weekend. So we've got to stay focused and just worry about every run and do our best because it's not that easy. These cars are tough. There's a lot of tough competition, and just do our best to try to get qualified. That's No. 1 for us right now.
THE MODERATOR: Robert has got a great race car. He drives the Auto Club Ford, and he'll be racing out there at the Auto Club finals for the Auto Club Raceway. Nice place to clinch the deal.
ROBERT HIGHT: Exactly. It couldn't be better if we could win this championship here and celebrate with all the Auto Club folks. I know a lot of them are going to be out at the races.
They've been with us for nine years, and they've been waiting for this as well as we have. It couldn't be better for me. This is going to be perfect if we can actually clinch this thing and go on to win.
But in front of all of our family, because they are family, it's not just sponsors, they love coming to the races, and we go fishing with them; we do all kinds of fun stuff. Went up to the hot rod reunion, spent the whole weekend with Tom McKernan. He's just a big fan of drag racing, and a lot of the Auto Club folks are that way. This is a perfect opportunity for us right now.
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