National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
Ashley Force Hood
February 3, 2010
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. Schumacher is in the midst of one of the most remarkable runs compiled by any driver in NHRA history. He enters the 2010 season with six straight Top Fuel Championships, and seven overall. Schumacher's most recent triumph in 2009 might have been his most satisfying as the U.S. Army team persevered following the departure of Alan Johnson, and with Mike Greene making the tuning call, they defended their title by Alan Johnson's new Al Anabi team with two-time champion, Larry Dixon, at the helm.
Tony, it's been an incredible, incredible run. Some of the results we saw in testing in Palm Beach were also off the charts. Tell us where the Army team is heading into 2010?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, I think we've got a team that's been together for a year now. None of these guys are new at what they do. Just like when Larry went over there and everyone said it was a new team. Of course not. It was my old team.
It wasn't like we hired anyone off a Cracker Jack box. These guys are excellent. Each one of them in their own right. Now we've been together for a year. No one changed positions. Everything's status quo. Brought out a new DSR car, and it ran fast. Two quickest runs in the history of the sport. Had amazing conditions, but just did back-to-back runs.
When you can go out and make back-to-back runs, you know you've got something. The tune-up is where you want it. The clutch disk, the performance, the engine. Everything is where you want it, and we'll head to Pomona. So really looking forward to getting it started.
It was an amazing year last year to be able do what we did. To be able to go out there after losing Alan Johnson and my whole Army team and beat them by two points, which is what everyone in the world showed up to watch. Not us beat them, but just battle. To see what the outcome would be losing a crew chief when so much is put on crew chiefs and drivers.
I think it was just an amazing year. Mike Greene proved he is a very capable crew chief. Something he's wanted to do for a long, long time. Go out there and do it on its his own. Just looking forward to get it started really. After the performance we had testing, I wanted to go out and race the next day.
THE MODERATOR: The next driver I'd like to introduce is Ashley Force Hood. Driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Ashley, again, 27-year-old daughter of NHRA icon, John Force. Ashley is quickly carving out her own niche in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing series as she steadily improved her performance with a sixth place and second place finish the last two seasons after finishing tenth in her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2007.
Ashley was the first woman to win a race in Funny Car in Atlanta in 2008. And she remains the only woman in NHRA Funny Car history to have led the point standings, a feat she accomplished in 2008 and 2009. Ashley, why don't you let everyone know how testing was in Phoenix for you and what the outlook is for you in 2010?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: We had a really good test session. We were out there for four or five days and made some good runs. It's just a great feeling for everyone. Not just the driver, but the crew chiefs and the crew to get back, familiarized with everything and comfortable with the car and everything that you do.
Fortunately, we didn't have too many big changes, so, you know, to the car. A couple of different guys had come over from one of our other teams, but basically the same group. That's, you know, so we felt really confident in testing.
We had had those days out there, and we feel ready to go. We're excited for Pomona. We feel like we're going to have a strong competitive car again this year, and we're excited.
Q. Are you both done testing before Pomona and get some of your thoughts on four-wide Nationals in March?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yes, we're done testing. We made a lot of runs out there. Actually quite glad we didn't go to Phoenix. It was just a weather disaster. We got what we needed.
For the four-wide, I'll say it almost exactly like I said it when the countdown started, I don't get to make the rules, but I read them. It's the way it is. You know, I hear everyone going back and forth, well, what about this, you know. I can't believe the dangers.
You know what? It is what it is. We're going to sit up in the seat. We're going to do our job. When the light comes on, we're going to go. I've tried to oversimplify it. I've told you that a thousand times. Oversimplify it. When the light comes on, doesn't matter if there are 30 cars, when the light comes on, go as fast as you can to the end. When you get out, they're going to tell you if you won. And that's exactly what we're going to do.
I don't think I've read the full set of rules. It doesn't matter. Really, I look at it that light comes on, and we're going to go. And the other four cars staging, yeah, the guys can play a little bit of a game if they don't stage. But in reality, that's how NHRA chose to do it. I think it's going to be exciting. I think a drag race has always been one guy against another guy. But it's something new.
I commend them for trying to improve the sport. No matter what the outcome is, to try to make a change for the sport. You know, I love drag racing. I could have gone in many different directions and driven many different cars and I chose to stay here. I believe in it, and I think it's a great sport.
So it's two races here. Let's go out and see. If it doesn't work out, I'm sure they'll go back to the way it was. If it does work out, we have something new. Let's have some fun.
I don't think the dangers anymore. We've got a guardrail between us. I've flown over it, and I'm probably the only one around this century that has. In reality, there is a guy next to you.
The hardest part we're going to have is three cars smoke the tires or four cars. You know, I'm pretty trained to hearing the car next to me. I'm sure Ashley will say the same thing. When you hear that car, you know what he's doing. You know when he's off and on the throttle. When you have four guys doing it, it's going to be nuts.
But, you know, watching it is going to be exciting. Watching four cars go out there and battle it will be pretty cool.
THE MODERATOR: : Ashley the question on testing if you're done, and then the four-wide at Charlotte?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Yes, we are done testing. Like I said, we did, I think four or five days. More than just a weekend's amount of time. So we felt comfortable. We felt we accomplished what we wanted to do and felt prepared and ready to go for Pomona.
And as for the four-wide, I am embarrassed to say I didn't even know it was announced until I had gotten a new computer. I was in the week long process of getting everything moved over. Which I've kind of been out of my -- kind of in my own little world working on that.
And I got a call from a magazine or a newspaper asking my opinion on the big news that was announced that morning. And after a moment of silence, I'm like what big news? The big news in Charlotte. I'm like don't know. The place your father's at with them and they're making a big announcement?
Well, I knew he flew somewhere but I didn't actually know where he was going. I think the guy thought I was -- I don't know what he thought of me. I was a little embarrassed. But he got me up to date on the announcement and everything.
And like Tony said, you know, it's going to be exciting, exciting if are the fans. And that is a huge part of what we do. If the fans aren't there, we're not going to be there. And to give them the experience of, you know, 32,000 horsepower at one time, I mean, it is amazing.
And I'm sure there will be challenges. With anything that you try new, it's not going to go perfectly smoothly the first weekend. As long as we can go in there and know there are going to be bumps and hurdles to get over. But if we're all positive about it and excited about it, it will be a good show.
It really will be more of a change and maybe a challenge for the crew chiefs and the teams that start the car. As far as the drivers, like Tony said, we're in our car, we do our on thing. That routine is not going to change for us.
It might be a little different, but I think it will more be getting the timing right on starting the cars at the same time, and pulling the cars up into the pre-stage beam.
But I'm still going to try to just keep focused and pay attention to my own car, which is what really I should be doing anyway. The other three cars, it really is no different if you're in -- our race car doesn't know are you running in the final of the biggest race of the year? Are you on a testing run? Are you against one guy on a single or against three people? Your race car's going to do what it's going to do. We just do our job. I think it will be fun. It will be interesting, that's for sure.
Q. Now you finished testing, what is the greatest competition you're going to see this year? We have a lot of great teams coming in lots of new things happening. What is going to be the toughest part of the year, and what is going to be the easiest part, and I ask this of Tony also.
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: I believe in Funny Car the competition has gotten so close. That's why the fans love to see the Funny Car category. There are so many different teams, every pair that goes up, there is a car that can run a great time. There is nobody really dominating anything. So it's exciting to watch, and obviously, it's exciting to be a part of that.
As a newer driver it's neat that I may not have as much experience as some of the other teams out there, but my car has the consistency and ability to run with people, some of which, including my father, have been running longer than I've been alive. That's the excitement about it. It seems equal across the board.
That is going to be the toughest challenge though. There are so many, you know, every pair. Doesn't matter where you qualify, if you're number one or if you're 16 you can be knocked right out of the race. So we all need to be on our game, and every tiny detail will count.
The positive side to that is if you do have ups and downs, as Robert showed last year, as long as you can get your stuff figured out in time for the championship countdown and get your ducks in a row, you don't lose that hope of chasing that championship if you do have a few bumps along the way early in the season. But you better get your stuff together by the end of the season, because you don't want to have any struggles there, or you're definitely out of the game.
Q. Same question for Tony?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I said it at Indy last year. Normally you have silly season. You have this crew chief's leaving to go here, and this driver's moving to this side. I haven't heard about any crew guys, crew chiefs, drivers, anyone leaving at all. I think that just goes to show you that I think everyone's found themselves a pretty good home.
The competition was brutal. You know, yeah, we go out and make a run, and that Saturday night run was huge in Pomona, but most of the time we're running close, very close. That makes it amazing for the fans. That's what we pay the money to come watch. That's what people show up for. They show up for a great battle.
Me and Dixon split up, crew chiefs leave, Dixon gets hired, and we with both win the exact same amount of rounds, the exact same amount of races. That's unheard of. So what people are going to come out and get, they're going to get their money's worth. Especially in a time when people are spending a lot of time thinking about where they're going to put their money. It's good to know we're not giving them a bad show. We're giving them the best show I've ever seen. Best show I've ever been a part of.
And like Ashley said, no one's running away with it. I never expected to win six championships in a row. And I don't expect to go on and win every championship from here on out. The competition's too tough.
We're going to show up, qualify the best and run the best we can each round. At the end of the season we'll know where it falls. But it is brutal right now. It's the hardest thing I've ever been a part of.
It's great to be in it now. It was great to win 13 races in a season or whatever we won, a ton. But 15, I think. Just a bunch of races. But the reality is that just doesn't happen.
You know, last year a lot of cars were coming off. I mean, Morgan's car is running good, Spencer's car is amazing. I know they're gone right now, but he'll drive something. And there's just a list of people you don't wake up in the morning thinking wow, you won. You got to wake up in the morning and prepare for battle. It's tough.
Q. What do you think outside of the competition which as you stated is really tough, what do you think is going to be the biggest factor this year for your class? I mean, is there something out there that we don't see as laymen that could really influence the race this year?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a good question.
Q. I get paid to ask good questions, Tony.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I get paid to answer them. I'm not sure how to answer this one. The fact that we get four test days is big. It equalizes a lot of it. The big money -- we're going to start out with really the same amount of runs.
Yeah, we get a few more test runs than a low-buck team that didn't getting to out and test. But we're left with what we know. Our history and the data that we put together. I think that's pretty cool. It's probably what's made it so equal. We can't go out and test 15 different scenarios because we just don't get those runs.
So we're left with last year. The data we got, the racetrack surfaces and all that stuff, and that's the hardest part. You just can't go out. I think it's great. I bet you Ashley thinks it's fun, too. I'm sure she'd like to make a lot of runs. But I made a hundred plus test runs one year and you just go nuts. You're on the road every day running these cars.
I think it just is a good equalizer when it's done like that. Some day we're going to go back and be able to test. But right now that's pretty much the facts. You get four days to test, that's all we get. If we go anymore than that, we start to lose points, so...
Q. Are you going to be like the Cup teams initially when they hoarded those test sessions toward the end of the year or have you planned those out?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I can't even answer that. I'm sure Mike will have an answer when we'll test the first one or two. We'll definitely wait and use some at the end when we need it. But we've got a brand-new chassis. We've got the in-house chassises, and we'll test them when we need them. But we have our old cars. We'll take those out if we need them.
You do what you've got to do to win. We proved last year, we started testing, and you can't really call it testing. We started trying everything new in Denver, because we knew that we had a car that could win races, but not a championship. So we took out a completely new combination. Changed everything around. And although everybody was saying, you know, I should be able to still win a championship. We've got all the jobs and stuff. We didn't have anything the same in that car. It was so different. And we had to fix it and figure it out.
We figured it out at the exact right time. We went out there and did our last testing in Vegas. We went to Pomona and the stuff we learned allowed us to run low ET on Saturday night and it won us a championship.
So we read the rules like I said a million times. We study them, we know what we can do, and when we can do it, and do it to the best of our ability. That's what wins those championships. Knowing what you can and can't do, and winning the right call.
You can make that call a thousand times and get it wrong most of the time. You've just got to do it when you need to. Mike did a heck of a job last year calling those shots. So we'll take them as we need them. Some guys are going to have to go out and test at the beginning if they're getting beat. You've got to end up at the Top 10. Some guys are going to run real good and get a big enough lead where we can go out and prepare for the last couple of races.
Q. Your impressions of the Ft. Hood ceremonies and the celebrations there?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, it was freezing cold, but it was amazing. Just to be able to show up. I didn't know. When I announced that I wanted to go there, I didn't know that they were going to bring a day of healing that they had had planned that was going to be the day. When I got there, Dana Carvey, and Gary Sinese, and all different people were there. One of the Jonas Brothers who I didn't know at all. But Ashley might know him. That's the 13-year difference in age right there for you.
But it was just an amazing thing. The fans went nuts to go up there and they're screaming. And I think you realize how it's a lot bigger than you think. To be able to drive the U.S. Army car is huge. To be able to present them with a trophy really at a time when they just needed it, man. They needed something.
To have a big day like that, I wish it was a little warmer, but it was packed solid. The amusement park was busy, all different people, comedians there. And it was just a nice day. All in all, ask I got to hang out with Dana Carvey, so what was good.
Q. Now that you guys are three cars, is that going to help you guys out? How does that impact your season?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Yeah, it's going to be weird. The fortunate thing is that we still have all the people. Some of dad's team had decided not to stay on this year because our teams have all moved out to Indy. So some of the guys that were from California chose not to stay on.
But fortunately a lot of Neff's guys wanted to stay on and we were able to find places for them. I got a couple new guys on my team. So it all worked out.
We didn't have to lose anybody, even though we won't have that fourth team this year, we still have all the people there that want to stay with us and we were able to make that happen. That was the biggest concern was you know, we don't want to lose these really talented guys that have become a part of our racing family.
Neff's going to be over helping Austin and Bernie with dad's car, John Mellon over on with Jimmy. So we've been able to keep everybody together, which is our goal. I think that will make our three teams much stronger. It will probably be more entertaining, more opinions, more everything. But we're all in there together. The crew chiefs can all work together, and hopefully have three strong, very competitive cars for the 2010 season.
Another benefit of this is running into your own teammates running each other, and that was a challenge. I ran Mike in the finals in Pomona, which is actually a good thing. We love to run our own teammates in the final. Other than in the final, you never want to run your own teammate. But you're going to run into each other have it in the latter set.
But hopefully this year, we'd rather be beating the competition in the other camps than our own camp. So hopefully we can not run each other as much as the three teams and hopefully get one of these three teams in the championship spot again.
Q. I know that the level of competition is a great motivator for you. But what is it about yourself that allowed you to not become complacent during this tremendous title run?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I just love racing. You know, I was writing on my Facebook last night and people were asking some similar questions. I get up in the morning and want to race. I don't try to look too far ahead.
But it's amazing. Some of the seasons, 2006 we win coming back from 336 points. Well, it's hard to be complacent there.
And the next year we go to a countdown and end up winning in the last race of the season. We just seemed to keep doing it in different ways.
You know, the losing -- I'm afraid to lose right now. It's crazy. We've won six in a row. And guess what? It's going to end at some point, I just don't want it to end this year. You know, I really don't want that to stop.
Being part of a great team, last year what I had to go through was, you know, very difficult. Losing your team. Having to build a new team. So I don't feel the complacency's out there. I don't think I'm going to race that much longer. You know, it's a matter of some years here, but I want to go out with a bang. I think that's going to really motivate me. Because we've seen too many people in the past in all sports go out on the bottom when they were on the top. And you've got to choose your time.
So I'm going to stay focused. Do the best we can do. Surround yourself with soldiers, and it's really easy to get motivated. Every time you get down, you realize these people are going through way harder times. What they've got to accomplish as a team, you know, I think we hear the stories and the motivative information they give to us, my guys couldn't be more motivated.
I've said this a thousand times. I'm not racing for beer and I'm not racing for tools. I'm racing for a way of life and a group of people. It makes a big difference.
Q. Could you comment about the fact that Don Prudhomme has decided to shut down his team? As you know Spencer's out there looking for a ride.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Spencer's looking for a ride?
Q. Spencer Massey's out there because Don Prudhomme has decided to shut down his team. How will that affect the championship run not having those guys around?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, you know, that's a great team. Spencer is doing a heck of a job driving. It's unfortunate that a guy like Don Prudhomme and Spencer couldn't put a deal together. But it's not over yet. They announced they're selling their stuff, but if something comes up, I guarantee you he'll be back out there.
But it happens. Cars come and cars go. When it comes down to it, there's nothing easy out there. I've got two cars in my own camp I've got to worry about. I think my two cars in my own camp beat me more than anyone else.
So there's a lot of good cars out there. Yeah, we lost a good one. I hear Spencer will be driving for somebody. But, you know, he's a good guy. There's teams that will be forming that we've never even heard of at this point that will come out in the next or two years. We'll just keep battling. Doesn't matter who is in the other lane, doesn't matter if a guy comes and goes, you have to stay focused. Getting on the track, staying focused and doing your job driving is all you can hope for.
Q. I had a question for Tony. We had some of the legends on yesterday on the teleconference with Big Daddy Don Garlits and Bob Glidden. They all said winning the Winter Nationals is so special. You've won so many races, so many championships, can you talk a little about how important is this race coming up next week? Is how much does that still mean to you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's just awesome. You cannot -- we've done it. We did it not last year but the year before, you go out and win the first race. What I a way to start. You've waited all year, you know, to get to that race. Believe me, two months off is two months too long. I know everyone needs a little bit of a break. When you love racing as much as I do you can't wait to get there.
I think you can't lead from the beginning to the end if you don't win that first race. That was a gift to win that race and to carry that on throughout the way.
Then you go out and you have a countdown. We get to Charlotte that year, and you had to win that race. It was the same thing, but it all starts at the Winter Nationals. The biggest names that have ever won championships in racing and just races in general started right there. So that's the place. The history of racing comes from California. To go out and perform at that race from the first git-go, man, you just can't beat it. It was an amazing thing to be able to accomplish. I've only done it I believe once, but it was awesome.
THE MODERATOR: Ashley, do you want to talk about the Winter Nationals, next week's race and what it's meant to you and your family and growing up in the shadows of Auto Club Raceway?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Yeah, Pomona has always been our home track. I live 20 minutes away from it. So we've always attended the first race of the year and the final race of the year since I was very -- since I was born, probably.
It's just a huge event. The first race of the year kicks off everything. Everybody new out there, new sponsors, new fans, it's the race you want to do well out and start your year strong. It definitely gives you a great confidence boost if you are able to start your season on such a great note. And I think it's going to be a big deal.
I know that NHRA is promoting a lot and doing a lot of special events and activities. It's going to be exciting. I hope we can do well there. It is a tough one to win because you are coming back after a few months off. You might have a change in crew members or changes with your car.
But we're all out there. That's what's on everyone's mind in their off-season is to go out and win that race. Especially this year. It's such a special one, it's going to be cool.
THE MODERATOR: Tony has won at Auto Club Raceway six times in his career, twice at the Winter Nationals 2004 and 2008.
Q. Your dad is famous for talking, generally whenever I've done a broadcast from the Winter Nationals, by Friday afternoon his voice is gone because there is so much to do. Observing that as you were growing up, can you avoid having so much stuff going on around you with family and friends and the first race of the year and all the tension that's going on? Do you have to work extra hard on your focus or do you just click into work mode right off the bat?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Well, first off, on the topic of dad, he's already lost his voice this week and the race season hasn't even started. So we're all keeping our fingers crossed it might last a few more days than normal so we can have some peace and quiet around here at the shop.
But for Pomona, for any driver and any team when you go to your home race, it's a great race yet it can be the toughest race because everybody shows up: Your family, your friends, your sponsors.
We have a lot of sponsors that are located out here, so we have a lot of customers and people that will come to the Pomona event other.
Then you have people you haven't seen in forever. Old teachers, and kids you don't even recognize from grade school that all come out. So it can be a little overwhelming.
I know there have been times in the past, my first year probably the most in Funny Car, when I just had to go sit down in a dark corner and go holy cow, how am I going to get through this weekend and do my job good with so many people around?
But now that I've gotten a little more used to it, and it's not so overwhelming for me, it's fun. It's exciting to see people. They understand you can't stop and talk for half an hour. They're there with their friends or their family to see you do your thing and to be able to say hello, catch up when you can maybe later in the day. But they're very understanding that you have a job to do. This is our workplace.
And it's exciting to know those people are out there rooting you on. You have such support. You can really feel that in your camp and when you go up to make your run. You know you have a lot of people rooting you on. It is a little crazy at times, but you kind of learn to deal with that.
So you can take it and get stressed about it, or you can take it that you have tons of support there. That is the way that we look at it. It is good to get to see people that you may not have seen for a long time, so I'm excited. I'm prepared for it. I'm learning as I go.
My dad is probably the pro at that, because so many people come from all over from when he was a kid that will show up. But he's able to kind of balance that, manage it, and not have anyone mad at him at the end of the weekend and still do his job in the car.
At the end of the day, that's what we've got to do. It's great to see old friends and family, but for safety of course safety, then of course the competition, we have to focus. Get our minds clear and do our job. Once we're warming up the car, going on the stage, we're running that car down the track.
Q. You're going for seven straight. Whether you talk about it or not. At the same time your family has been growing, growing up. Has it been a distraction? Do you anticipate it being a distraction spending so much time away from them and having to focus so hard on what you're doing? Though last year was probably a harder season than you've had any other time. Do you anticipate that being a distraction? How do you deal with that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's definitely a distraction, but it's a good one. I mean, I'm a firm believer that the result of your life is not dictated by the result and outcome of Sunday's race. And I think that helps me. I have good priorities. I really do.
Yeah, winning is amazing. I cannot wait to get to Pomona. Get my new ring, my new jacket, get all that cool stuff. But the fact is I'm home. I'm picking my kid up here in an hour and a half, and that's what I really live for.
Much as I love racing, Anthony's going to have a junior dragster this year, and it will go on. Apple didn't fall far enough from the tree there, and you I ain't forcing him into anything. But he loves it, and we're having fun.
I'm pretty laid back. For those of you that have met me, it takes an awful lot to get me spun off. I'm going to show up, I'm going to race. I'm going to go home and spend as much time with my family as I possibly can. It's not so much the racing. It's the whole Army deal. Racing is a tiny bit of what I do. You can hear my kids in the background now.
I do it because I love racing. But in a few years, yeah, I've said it to most all the newspapers and all the radio shows. When my kids grow up and start playing baseball, it's time for this dad to be a dad. I have to do that.
You know, it's just I'm lucky, I'm very fortunate that we have Schumacher Electric. We have a company that I can go over there and start learning that. I think it will be very difficult to step out of racing and to go into a business. But when my kids start playing big baseball and stuff like that, I've got to be there for them.
We are an ego sport, man. We get up every day and people pat me on the back and tell me how cool I am and all that great stuff. But at some point that's got to end, and I've got to pat my kids on the back and tell them how great they are. It's what we're supposed to do.
Q. You mentioned a bit ago about the two cars in your camp beat you more than anyone else. I want to ask you about Cory Mack. In a sense he's like the Mark Martin of NHRA. Nice guy. Finished runner up a bunch of times. Are you somewhat surprised he's never won a driving title?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, I am. Years ago he should have. He was talked out of going to -- I can't remember which race. I think the race in Canada. He just didn't show up for it. If he had just shown up with those ten points, I think he lost by eight.
I think he's had it hard. Just like (indiscernible), they've been an amazing team, but the bridesmaid too many times. He's a great driver. One of the very few people in the beginning of my career in '96 in Pomona that helped me along to drive the car and not get myself hurt.
I hope for him every time, if I can't pull it off, I'm right there. It's a battle. You know, he went out and did a heck of a job. He tattooed me a couple of time right there at the end. Man, was it costly.
But it was a great battle. A great race, definitely not someone you take lightly. He's an awesome driver. He does his job right. I think it may frustrate him a little bit that he hasn't won it. It probably plays into his mind a little bit.
But we are a really good team. I bet we're a lot like Ashley and the rest of the force camp, we work together. We talk. We help each other drive the car. If Antron has a question, if Cory has a question, we talk about it and help each other out. Figure out a way to drive the cars better.
I don't care how many laps you've made or how many times you've gone down the racetrack, there is something to be learned in every situation. Glad to be part of their team. We do a good job together, and we battle.
And Antron has not proven to be a slouch either. He's a heck of a driver. We tend to pull pretty good drivers into our camp. You know, just look forward to racing. I hope he goes on and wins that thing. One of these years, man. He sure has paid his dues probably as much as anyone in the sport.
Q. You created such a tremendous buzz last year with your title fight with Robert Hight. Are you prepared this year for what could become a media circus if you're leading this team thing from the git-go?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Well, I haven't really thought about that. We're just going to go out and do the best that we can do, as every team that is going out there. I think Melanie's returning this year. It's exciting to have another girl. It was a little overwhelming to be the only girl in the category last season.
But she'll be out there this season as well. There will be a couple of girls in the category for the fans and everyone to cheer on.
I think we're just going to try to keep going. We've really taken baby steps. My team has never gotten too ahead of themselves. We've known each year we're going to learn and make mistakes. But if we can learn from those mistakes and keep building our foundation, we'll become a better team.
It's paid off so far. That doesn't mean you can have a horrible season and get into a slump. That's everyone's fear. But each year we've moved up the ranks. We started at 10th. My first year we moved up to sixth.
Our goal last year, I remember at the beginning of the season, if we can move up a few more spots from sixth to get up there to around four, that would be a huge sec success for us. And we managed to get up to second.
We were really proud of ourselves and excited about our season last year and how it went. And this year we're going to try to continue. But I had someone ask me, well, you've moved up, you know, 10-6, 6-2. So you could be pretty confident you'll move up to first.
And that is not how it works, that's for sure because our category just is so competitive and so close every race, every round. So it's going to be exciting to see how this year goes. Hopefully we can continue how we've been doing, not take a step back, but continue to take our steps forward.
Maybe the championship will be ours. Maybe it won't. You know, the talent, the skill, all those things are so important. Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck, and that is part of this racing thing as well. We can just do the best that we can do. And not let the pressure that media or fans might want to put on us on this championship, not let it get to us because it doesn't help you at all. Every time you go up to run that car, we're all doing the best that we can do. Whether it's your day to win or not, you know, it's how it's going to be.
You can't get too ahead of yourself. We've got to go out there for the Winter Nationals and we've got to qualify. We've got to utilize every qualifying run. Get that info that we need. I need to get my experience in the car and then go out there hopefully on Sunday for qualifying and have a strong race.
That is the way that we believe and every team, you know, might have a philosophy how they do it. But we try to not even go so far ahead of the championship points. For now we want to win the Winter Nationals. We want to qualify and win the Winter Nationals. So that's where our goals are set as of today.
Q. I understand that all the Force cars are using the in-house chassis and the 500 motor. Are you comfortable with that combination now through testing? Is it a huge difference from what you drove last year?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: No, we have the new 2010 Ford Mustang bodies on which we just tried out in testing and will be running in. I love it. My vision, I can see. It's amazing I didn't notice it before in the older style car, but now that I have the new body it's like, oh, my gosh, I can see so much more.
Not that you need to see all that much more. I don't need to look at the guy next to he me. But your vision has definitely opened up as far as being able to see out of these Funny Cars.
But it is a process to get everything. With the four teams we had last year, just getting everybody -- you don't just need the stuff in your car that you're running down the track. You also need a spare, you know, a spare everything if something goes wrong. You need back-up stuff.
It's been a process getting everything caught up. Getting extras for each team. But that's part of it. You know, hopefully we can get ourselves all caught up.
But as far as the difference that I see, it hasn't affected me at all except the vision is better, I think, in the new bodies which is really exciting.
Q. The Yaz Marina Program, could you comment on that a little bit. Did you ever think you'd sore to be teammates with Rod Fuller?
TONY SCHUMACHER: No (laughing). I don't know, you know. The way my dad hires people, I thought I'd be teammates with everybody right now. I don't know. I think it was a great deal for my father. I don't know too much about it, because really they own the car.
I think my dad's just basically assembling everything. That is what he's the best at. There is nobody out there that is as good at putting a team together and a group of people on short notice. We went back even in '98 when we had to build that Exide car. We're good at getting it put together quick. He's sharp that way. He's a great businessman.
This was a business deal for him. People came forward and asked him to help him put a program together, and he did it.
You know, I don't think it makes me teammates with Hot Rod or Tommy Johnson. I've got to win a race for the U.S. Army.
All the other guys on my team, we're teammates, but we're not out there bumping and shoving them to the front. So when it comes down to them, if I have to race against them, he's just another guy in the car next to me that we have to battle against.
Q. Although probably know nobody knows as much about winning as you do, certainly more than most. One time you had to have a record to get to your championship. This one you had to get two points just by barely getting it. So my question is do the close ones, you know, do they feel different to you? Do they mean more to you? And does winning ever become routine for you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, man, that's a good question. I like that it's routine. I mean, I wouldn't want to be routine stinking because there are guys out there that would routinely get beat. So we make extra effort to make sure that it is as routine as possible.
But the close ones are simply amazing. What we did last year, to be part of a team capable of that is just, there will be -- I'm not going to say there will never be a time where it is equaled, because I have lived some great moments in racing. Just each and every way we've won championships has been so special.
But those close ones, having to set the record against Kalitta, what a huge, massive, bone crushing pressure weight of the world moment, and we pulled it off.
Whether you pull them off or not, the key to that is leaving nothing on the table, nothing is left. If we didn't pull it on off, we could have said we did everything we could do. We left nothing on the table.
And the same thing in beating Hot Rod the next year. We went out and did what we had to do. And last year was amazing.
When he smoked the tires, it was funny. I got beat by my teammate right after that. Five minutes after Dixon got beat, so did I. The pair behind them.
But the fact that I got to watch it unfold, I probably dropped my guard. At that point it was hard to focus on driving at all, you know. Game over. We did what we had to do. And I think fantastic, you know.
So if we win another one this year, if we win another one the year after that, I don't know. I do hope that they're close. Anymore, they're not going to be that far away. With the countdown, it's going to be fairly close no matter what. With the amount of good cars out there, there are going to be no blowouts anymore.
So for my last few years racing, and whether it's two or ten, who knows. It's going to be close. It's going to be dig deep. And that's what you want to be known for. The guy that can rise when the occasion is absolutely mandatory. So I'm just glad I've got a team capable of doing their part. We're all good together.
Q. I promise not to ask you another Danica question again this year. But if you could comment on what you think of her chances and how you think she's doing? And what kind of special challenges does very have that you think that you could describe and maybe have a little bit of insight on it that a lot of other people wouldn't?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Well, I don't know exactly what her plans are for this season. There are all kinds of rumors going around. But I think she just needs to do her thing. A lot of people have asked me about her. I've met her a couple of times. She was real nice. Came over, introduced herself.
I don't know that much about the Motorsports that she's involved in. I kind of am just an NHRA girl, and I always have been.
But as a fellow female racing, I think, you know, the best thing she can do is just do what she wants to do and not let other people's opinions and thoughts get in the way. It seems like she's able to do that very competent in doing that.
I think it is going to take time. Especially if you jump into a new type of car or Motorsport, you're not going to just get it in one day. That is been the fortunate part in my upbringing in this, that was clear from day one.
I never felt that pressure. Oh, you've got to go out and win it all and do everything. It was made very clear to me this was not going to be easy, and there was going to be a learning curve. It has to be there. That is the only way to learn to drive these cars. You're going to hit walls, and hit cones and things are going to happen, and you're going to make mess takes. But you can learn from those. That's the only way to learn.
I've had some really great teachers. My father has won, you know, many, many championships and races. Yet, he can try to explain to me for days at a time, and sometimes those speeches go on for days at a time. But the experience that I get on my own in that car teaches me a hundred times more.
So I'm sure she'll go through some ups and downs. But I think it's easy for people watching to give their opinions and maybe be a little tough on her if she does have any bumps or tough times. But they've got to remember, you have to start somewhere. You have to learn. It's not going to be a flawless performance. You're going to make mistakes.
If you can take that with a grain of salt and say these mistakes are carving me out to be a better driver and you're willing to take that and not have a problem with it, then you'll become a better driver some day.
So, I don't know her that well, but I always root for the girls, because it's not an easy thing. These cars are very challenging to drive. Just like for the men, it's no different. You know, we all face the same challenges, and some people have different ones. I know for me it's always the reaction time that's been a battle that I've dealt with. And for other people that's nothing that they even think twice about.
But we all have our own things that we work on to become better drivers. When all those things come together, that's when you start winning. That's when you get championships. So I think she'll be just fine if she does decide to jump over. I don't know, they were talking about NASCAR or whatever she decides to do.
She needs to not let the opinions that I'm sure are all around her get to her. I've always had a nice protective bubble around me with my father and our team. So I've had probably an easier path than maybe she's gone through. But I've had a lot of support within the NHRA, even my own competitors.
I have people I compete with, Wilkerson, Pedregon. They come over. If you need help, if you need to talk to someone else other than your dad or you need another opinion, and that's pretty cool. I don't think it's like that in all different types of Motorsports.
But I'm proud in this Motorsport, we are competitors on the track, but we appreciate that these cars are not easy to do. We're all in the same boat.
Q. I understand your teammate Antron Brown is on a cruise right now getting rested for the season. What is your working relationship with him? Do you guys share information, or is it every man for himself? He's going to be a contender for the tile, I'm sure you see that, right?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, for sure. No doubt. We talk all the time. We talk about everything from the seat location to the pedal location, so what we look at down the track, everything.
When he was driving the U.S. Army bike and wanted to go to Top Fuel, we talked about it before he even made the move.
He's a genuinely good guy. He's a good competitor. When you beat him, you feel good. Beating a guy that's really good at what he does is what it's all about.
I think there is nothing held back there. There is no reason in the world that I will not teach him or he will not teach me whatever he learns or I learn to move forward and be better as a driver. We just always have.
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