National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
July 7, 2010
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome the media to this teleconference for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. This call is for the upcoming Western Swing which will begin this Friday, July 9th, at Pacific Raceway in Seattle, Washington with the NHRA Northwest Nationals. From there, the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series will head to Sonoma, California, Infineon for the second stop in the Western Swing, the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals July 16 through the 18th. After that the series will head to Denver, Colorado, for the Mopar Mile High NHRA Nationals, July 23rd through the 25th, the 16th race on the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing schedule and the final stop on the famed Western Swing.
In the 21 years since the Western Swing began, only seven drivers have ever swept the three races in three-week stretch, five in Top Fuel, one in Funny Car and one in Pro Stock. Of those seven, five have gone on to win the World Championship in that same year.
We have two drivers on the call today that swept the Western Swing and also won the World Championship in the same year. Joinings on the call is seven-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher and three-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson. We'll have a brief introduction of the two drivers, then open it up for questions.
Let's begin with our Top Fuel driver, Tony Schumacher. Tony is currently second in the Top Fuel points standings, just 176 points behind leader Larry Dixon. He has four wins this season, including wins in Gainesville, St. Louis, Topeka and Bristol, and one runner-up finish in Chicago. He's the defending world champion, and is one of five Top Fuel drivers to have swept the Western Swing, doing so in 2008.
Tony, talk a little bit about what it was like sweeping the Swing in 2008 and how important this year's Western Swing is to your World Championship hunt.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, 2008, sweeping it, just such a short list of people that have done it. We joke about it. When you get to the first race, used to be Denver, now we're going to be in Seattle, you don't win the first race, you can't sweep. Last year we got to the finals, and Antron beat us. I said, now you know there's only one guy that can sweep this thing. It's critical. Every single round you get closer to doing something that so few people have ever done, it gets more pressure.
Then you leave one race, go to another one, the pressure builds. It's amazing to put yourself on the short list of something. There's other short lists, but this one is very difficult. To go out and run in three completely different climates, altitudes, to go out and win all three of them in a season, man, with such great teams and competition, it's one of the accomplishments that we're going to be very proud of for a long time.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Tony.
We'll now turn to our Pro Stock driver, Greg Anderson. After Greg's quick remarks we'll open it up for questions.
Greg is currently fourth in the Pro Stock points standings and is coming off of an impressive week in Norwalk two weeks ago where he won the Horsepower Challenge Pro Stock bonus event as well as the Summit Equipment NHRA Nationals. With the win he extended his current active streak of consecutive seasons with at least one win to 10, the longest such active streak in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Greg is the only Pro Stock driver to have ever sweep the Western Swing and did so in 2004.
Greg, talk about some of the feelings you had during that stretch in July of 2004 and what it would mean to do it again this season.
GREG ANDERSON: It was definitely incredible. We were on one heck of a run that year. Really what it takes to win the Western Swing, it's like Tony said, you have three completely different atmospheric conditions and types of racetracks. Generally a race team kind of has its strong points. It has these type of tracks it's good at, these types of weather conditions they're really good at. To capitalize on all three of them, win all three of them, vastly different like that, that shows that you've got the completely well-rounded team it takes to win championships.
That's why it seems like when you're able to go on a sweep of the Western Swing, you go on to be a champion because you're able to master all those different types of racetracks and conditions.
Very, very hard to do. You don't see it happen very often. When you have a year like that where your car is working well at every kind of racetrack they can throw at you, hot, greasy, killer conditions, whatever you want to come up with, your racecar is good on all of them. They just don't happen that often.
It happens in sort of those dominating seasons where you go on and win a lot of races like Tony has done before and I've had a chance to do a couple times.
It's a great accomplishment. It just shows you're clicking on all eight cylinders that season. That's what it takes to win championships.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Greg.
We'll now open it up for questions.
Q. Tony, what do you do mental and physical with your sponsor is important. Do you study mental methods? I know you work out.
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know what, I won't say that I study them. Do I research and look into them? Yes. Not just me, but everybody that has ever had to do anything physical knows that it starts by being mentally strong, and vice versa. You can't be mentally healthy when you're way out of shape.
Yeah, we all do what it takes. We all think we know something special. But eating healthy, staying stretched, being in good physical condition, you know, is really the stem of it. I know that. I'm thankful that the Army makes sure that I'm always healthy and keeps me in check when I get a little bit lazy. That's good.
But I think Ryan Newman, he was doing some different programs, working with some bracelets, this and that. I don't know about all that stuff. But I know I'm afraid to change the way I do it. I don't know if Greg will feel the same, but when you're winning, you don't care if there is a better way, you don't want to change anything.
I feel like when I get in that car, I'm very comfortable with how I drive. I'm comfortable with the way I'm doing it. I don't want a doctor, even if he is better, believe it or not, to tell me what he thinks might make me improve. If I start to falter, believe me, I'll be the first one in line to get help.
I just don't know what to do right now. We talk about that all the time. I've always said, I'm not going to give you a 40 ration time, I'm going to give you a 60 to an 80, like a machine. I'm not going to figure out what it takes to give you a 40 because that's going to give you some red lights. I'm going to give you the perfect average but always be there. I don't want to change that.
I know there's probably things I can do to speed up something, but it has to put you over the edge, too. I don't want to be living that far over it on the Christmas tree. I like my place. I like doing the basics of what athletes have done for years: eat right, stretch, stay in good physical shape, go to bed on time and get up and race, and that's it.
Q. What would it mean to you and your teams to be the first person to double sweep the Western Swing?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Haven't even thought of that. It would be incredible. Anybody that follows a sport, that is such a difficult thing to do, to do it once. But I will go on a different side of it. When we had to win in 2006, we had to set a world record on the last run of the year and win the race. Easy task, right? Well, we did it. It was the most amazing run ever.
Then the next year, we said, How are you going to match that? Well, it comes down to we have to win the last run of the year again. Same kind of thing. You pull it off once. Is it possible to have a team great enough to do this again?
So to be able to go out there and me doing it would be even more gratifying because I have a whole new team. The team I did it with all is Larry Dixon's crew right now. I wouldn't be doing it with the same group, with the same people.
We were also written off last year and went out and won a championship. So I do not doubt my guys in any way, shape or form. They would be extremely gratified because these guys, it would be their first time. Yes, I did it. But for them it would be the first time they get to go out and sweep.
THE MODERATOR: Greg, what would it mean for you to be the first driver to sweep the Western Swing for a second time?
GREG ANDERSON: Like Tony said, it would be huge. Especially for me this year, I haven't got a run going like I had back in 2004. I haven't been able to be strong at every type of race out there, every type of race condition, every type of atmosphere. For me to be able to do that this year, it would be a bit of a surprise, to be honest with you, because we haven't been swinging at a hundred percent clip this year.
So it's gonna take just a tremendous effort from us. The good news is, we do seem to be finally now hitting our stride and gaining every week on our performance level and have a chance to go win races again. Back in 2004, we were almost expected to win every time we showed up at the racetrack. Mike Edwards is expected to win every time he shows up at the racetrack. For us to pull that off this year would be a major feat and would be a heck of a turnaround for a season that's been a little lackluster.
I think it would mean more to me in the long run because we're not expected to do it this year. It would be one heck of an effort for our team. I'm not sitting here saying we can't do it, because definitely we can. The odds are a little bit against me this year and they were not against me back in 2004.
Q. Tony, everybody knows the kind of grind the Western Swing is. You're doing seven races in eight weeks. Could this be the biggest grind you faced in your schedule in your career? What are ways you can plan ahead to ease some of that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know what, believe it or not, this is not the most intense one. A few years back it rained. We were forever going. You know, you just do it. I hate weekends off. I love racing cars. I think it shows in your performance, it shows in your attitude. I just love racing. Every now and then we need a break. I've been very lucky that I've been able to take my family with me to a couple ones at least at the beginning. It won't make the seven weeks seem long at all.
I love being at the track. If I could race a racecar every day. People ask me, if you won the lottery, what would you do? I'd buy another racecar and drive them both.
It is a grind if you are losing. I could imagine if you had to go seven weeks and lose first round every time, that would be extremely tough and hard to deal with. You'd have to pull yourself together. That's also when a great leader leads a team.
We have an awesome car right now. We're battling head-to-head with Dixon. He's beaten me the last three. I owe him a few. I'm looking forward to getting up Sunday morning and kicking butt.
At the end we're going to have a month off. I'm not going to know what to do with myself. Let's just get going.
THE MODERATOR: Greg, how has your team been able to handle this seven races in eight weeks and is this quite possibly the biggest obstacle that you faced as far as schedule-wise in your career?
GREG ANDERSON: I don't think so. You know, I agree with Tony on that. I want to race every weekend. I want to race every day. That's what we are, that's what we do. We're racers. We love to race. Tony mentioned that it might be a struggle if your team is struggling, you might not look forward to going back for seven weeks in a row when you're sort of behind the eight ball.
You know what, you can always say we got next weekend. If we lose today, we can come back next week and try again. You don't want to wait three weeks if you're out there struggling. You want to bounce back as soon as you can, try to find a way to get back on track. We love to race every weekend. Quite honestly, it's not a job to us. We love what we do. We don't consider it a job. We want to do it every day of our life. The more times we can strap into that car, the happier we are.
I'm not going to sit in here and whine. NASCAR guys don't get a break all year long. We can't sit back and cry. We don't probably have the resources and the manpower they have, but still we get about twice as many breaks as they get.
We're not going to whine at all. Absolutely as a driver, as Tony said, we want to get in that car as many times as we can, as often as we can. Not a problem at all. We look forward to challenges like that.
Q. Tony, I wanted to ask you, your old rival Larry Dixon is back at the top, you're battling. Are people going to look back on this as one of the great rivalries in NHRA ever between the two of you? Do you feel you make each other better? Like you said, he's pretty much got your old crew. That's even more incentive. Do you feel like this competition between the two of you has made each of you better?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I definitely think so. I think a lot of the guys out there have. But he's probably the guy, because even when they were in their peak with LaHaie, the Miller Lite deal, people would ask me, who is the best driver. I would say, you know, Larry Dixon is a helluva driver. He's probably the guy I would put at the top of the list.
We went out and dominated for five years. They'd still ask me. I'd say, don't worry about the scorecards, he's still one of the best drivers. When Alan said they were leaving. I got a short list of people. There were a lot people that wanted to drive that car. There really were only a couple, and Larry Dixon, I think Kalitta, a couple of guys that were worthy of that car, their driving performance. They're great drivers and can handle Alan's pressure.
When you got a car that's supposed to win and you don't own it, it's not your car, you're just out there, you have to win. If you show up at a race, you should win. If you don't make any mistakes, that's a lot of pressure. A brutal situation to drive Alan's car.
Me and Larry are making each other not make mistakes. I good out there and have a 40, 50 light against him. As long as he's got a 70, if they're two-hundredths ahead, like they are right now, it's going to be hard to beat. He's been a machine, man. He's doing a good job. So I have to do a better job driving, and in turn it turns back around and he does the same thing.
Later in life when we look back, I think it will be one of the greatest rivalries. I talk about Snake and the Mongoose. That's what I grew up on. The fact is, Snake won most of that. He had a great car, great budget. They won a lot of stuff.
The same Snake and Mongoose carry that rivalry a long way. Me and Larry, just a couple of guys, have great cars and great records. It truly is possibly the best battle I've ever seen in Top Fuel. There's been other battles in other categories. But in Top Fuel, myself and Kalitta had an awesome rivalry in 2006, 2005, 2007. But, man, me and Dixon go back. Year after year, it seems they're always there. He's a flawless driver. Always has a car that's tough to beat.
Q. Greg, when you won the K&N Filter Challenge there, you remarked you would probably look back at that as the point that changed your season around and then you won the race. Now that you've done that, you're not a hundred percent happy with your season, do you feel you're at a point where you can leapfrog and put some pressure on Mike Edwards?
GREG ANDERSON: I hope so. I really think so. You know, big part of this racing deal is confidence, at least it is for me. You got to have a lot of confidence when you show up at these races, strap in that racecar, no matter who you line up against. To be quite honest, I'm lacking a little bit in the confidence area this year. I haven't had a real race-winning horse to ride. We haven't been performing at a top level. Seems to wear on you, get you down.
That's no excuse. You can't be like that. Even the situation Tony is in with Larry right now, last couple races, maybe he's been a couple hundredths behind. That doesn't mean you go out there and lose. Doesn't mean you go out with the mindset you can't beat the guy. I fell into that trap against Mike Edwards. He's been outrunning us by a couple, three hundredths. You go up there thinking 90% chance I'm going to lose this. You can't have a mindset like that.
It's a tough, tough lesson to learn. I'm working on it every day to keep a positive mindset. But when we rolled into that race and our car ran within a hundredth or so of Mike, you start to believe it again, I can actually win, I can win this round.
You have to get that mindset every time you roll up there no matter what the performance difference is. I now realize that I think I've got a car that can be very close to him and that's enough for me to get that confidence back. So I think that's what's going to make the big difference. I really believe we're on the right track with gaining performance with our Hot Rod. It's getting better every week. Should be able to keep that confidence level up.
Yeah, I think that's gonna be a changing point in our season, at least I hope it is. I can tell you one thing, we sure feel a whole lot better than we have all year, and it brought back a lot of memories at times when we were really able to go out there, run fast, dominate, win races. That's what we want to do as a team here. We showed flashes of old times for a change last weekend. Hopefully that's a sign of things to come this year. I think a big part of it is just keeping a positive line.
Q. What are some of your memories of Sonoma and what have you learned from your history at the track?
GREG ANDERSON: Sonoma is great. I love going to Sonoma. I can remember, good god, back 15 years ago when I worked for Warren Johnson, it was a racetrack that it always seemed like it got 90 some degrees out there, and the racetrack was 60 or 80 foot of concrete only, had nothing but asphalt after that. We had more trouble at that place shaking the tires than anyplace in the world. We ended up doing some pretty radical things on Warren's car and ended up winning the race. Learned a few things for that racetrack for years to come, won a lot of races there.
Now they have a brand-new racetrack facility. Plenty of concrete now. It's icy smooth. No complaints at all with the surface. I guess I can't remember the last time we saw 90 degrees. So it's been a great weather condition, a great racetrack for the last half a dozen years, at least since I've been driving a car.
It's just a place you can go and you can run fast. You got cool mornings, little fog comes off the bay. It's not real hot in the morning. The cars run real fast in the morning, they run real fast in the evening. You get a high spot of sun in the afternoon. Weather conditions change throughout the day. You have a great surface to run out there. Great people.
They run a great facility out there. It's the neatest looking place you could ever imagine with all the rolling hills, big road course up on the hill there.
I love going there every year, look forward to it every year. I've had a lot of success there. I usually can't wait to get back there every year.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, we'll ask you the same question. What are some of your fond memories of Sonoma and Infineon Raceway?
TONY SCHUMACHER: First time I raced there was the Skip Barber formula car. It was a blast. When you got to that racetrack, you were a real racecar driver. It's so far from Chicago that if you're going there, you're doing something. It was just so cool. You're in California. You're in a different part of the world. Like Greg said, the most beautiful track on the circuit. When people ask, we're going to go to one this year, what do you think? There's a few that I love, but it is an incredible racing facility.
They've made it so spectacular. I remember looking up at the crowd last year, how big it was, how big the stands were. Geez, this has got to be the biggest day I've ever seen. Been to Indy, looked at big crowds. It was just amazing last year.
Love going there. Look forward to it. Look forward to the city. Look forward to going to Scoma's and eating. There's just nothing bad about it.
When you push the pedal down in the Top Fuel car, you don't know if it's gonna haul butt or smoke the tires. That weather change is crazy. Just enjoy it. Top two or three on the list of places for me to go racing.
Q. Greg, obviously things seem to be getting back to normal on the track. Are things pretty much back to normal now off the track? Have you moved into your new house? All the stuff that happened with the fire behind you now? Do you feel your life is back to normal yet or not?
GREG ANDERSON: Just about. Just good. As far as the new house goes, we were supposed to close on it yesterday. They had a couple of paperwork issues on the seller's end, not my fault, so we had to push it back a couple of days. Very close to getting moved into the new house. That will straighten things around the home front.
Ken Black is on the road to recovery, getting better every day. He's talking about the possibility of taking a motorhome up to the Sonoma race. That would be fantastic for us, for him. Great morale boost for both the race team and for Ken Black.
You know, he's gone through real rigorous training every day with rehab trying to get his left arm and leg back to work so he could walk again. Been a real battle for him. Like I said with the race team, it's a positive energy type deal to keep driving every day, to have a positive attitude. Seems like if we have a good time at the races, it helps him on the other end. If we can get him back to that racetrack, it's going to help him towards his recovery. Really look forward to that.
Things are very, very close to getting back to normal. I really can't wait for the first race that Ken can walk onto and I'm hoping it might be Sonoma. If not, it will be later sometime this year. We really look forward to that.
He's gaining every day on it. Not only are things better on the home front back here, but out in Las Vegas things are going forward. Things are just looking up all around for us here.
Q. Tony, with Rob Fuller rejoining the NHRA tour for the next four races, racing under Don Schumacher Racing, do you plan at having any fun at his expense now that he's moved to the dark side?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I have tried for 14 years in Top Fuel to not say squat and just do what I do. This is really the first opportunity where I'm going to be able to poke a little. We'll see.
You know, I'm usually quiet. But there's certain times people say stuff where they just make it too easy and you got to throw one out there. We'll see how it holds up. It will be cool to have him over there. It's like I got the whole team we used to race again, Antron over there with me, too. We'll battle on, see what happens.
One thing people tell me all the time is, of all the people that throw out stuff at you, you never give 'em squat. I'll never give 'em any ammo. When you start to give them a little bit, I know that they play off it, all that. But all it does is let them have access to a weakness of yours. I just don't like to do it. I don't let it bother me at all. It's the same when they're talking about, I'm going to stay second. I'm going to screw you up there. I don't care what you say, you're not going to affect my life. By throwing that out there, you know, is it going to make the world a better place if I pick on Hot Rod? I don't know. Will it make it more fun? Probably. I have a bag of things I can throw at him that I've been saving up for a bunch of years, so might get some good ammo for the next couple weeks.
Q. Tony, the way Larry Dixon is running this year, seven wins already or so this year, to keep your championship going, is this your biggest challenge yet?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know what, '06 was pretty tough, man. We were 336 points back. There will never be anything that equals that challenge, ever. It was very difficult to pull it off. It was what a career is made from, you know. You grow up dreaming about bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count, you're up. We had that.
Am I enjoying the fact he's ahead? We're having a blast. It's a battle. He's 170 ahead. Maybe by the end of Sonoma he's 500 ahead. I don't care. He's only 30 ahead when we get to Indy. Makes no difference. I'm more interested in keeping the people from behind me passing me so it's only 30.
He's doing a helluva job. I'm not going to take that away from them. They're doing a great job. They beat me by a hundredth of a second two or three times, a hundredth. Very good, outstanding races. I don't feel like they have the edge that's going to end my career. I think they have a good car, like we do, like Antron, like Cory. We all have great cars. Come the end of the year when we battle, it's up for grabs. There's a lot of good cars out there that could change my streak.
But I've been telling people for years, if I don't win a championship, I'm not gonna throw my helmet and kick people. It ain't how it is. It's racing. I look forward to the day when we race. I look forward to the race. And if I lose, I will walk over and shake whoever beats me's hand and congratulate them. If they beat us, they did a helluva job. This is a sport. We go out and do our best, leave nothing on the table, and it's been a helluva challenge.
If you ask me right now is Larry going to win the championship? No, I don't think so. I don't know that I will. But I don't know that he will either. There's a lot of great cars. And it's not the old days where you could run away with it at the beginning. They're going to take all them points away. Having those good races where you win by a hundredth, that's all cyclical, man. At the end of the year he could lose by a hundredth four straight and be done. All we can do is show up, give it our best, work as hard as we can work, be a machine.
Someone asked earlier Greg, when Mike Edwards got beat, it did change things because he got beat on a hole shot. The next time he shows up with two-hundredths advantage, he can't be an average leaver or he's going to be sent home. Believe me, that's in his head right now. Larry and me know we can't make mistakes. If anyone does, things change, and they change in a day. We can make up 80 points in a weekend no problem at all. Ask Kalitta, 170 points isn't squat. He had 336 and we took it back.
Just a battle, man. Just a good old-fashioned race. The day you start putting pressure on yourself is when you start choking. That's not going to happen. We're going to go out and fight till the end.
Q. You were raving about Sonoma, the state of that facility. On the other hand, the improvements at Pacific Raceway on and off the track has been intermittent and methodical. Are the signs promising that this will ever become a world-class track in your mind?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Go ahead, Greg.
GREG ANDERSON: That's a good question. We've been hearing a lot of years they're going to do this, reverse the direction of that track, lengthen it out, put more concrete down. Been hearing a lot of things for a lot of years. Honestly don't know what the holdup has been. We look forward to the changes. Every year when come, did they do something? Seems like we show up and not a whole lot has been done.
It's a great question. We honestly don't know the answer to it. I really honestly wish they would do a few things to it. It's got the makings to be a fantastic racetrack, fantastic facility. Maybe in a lot of ways it is. You have all those trees. You can park underneath a tree, which kind of brings back the old times, reminds you of the old days of races. It's not a great big monster facility, nothing but an asphalt parking lot. Maybe it should stay like it is. It's definitely different than mostly what he have on the circuit. Reminds you of how racing used to be in the old days. You get there first, park under a tree, get the shade.
Maybe it's kind of a neat deal. We should be careful for what we wish for. We always hope for better race facilities, ones that are more fan friendly. You need modern conveniences for today's fan. Everybody in the world these days has a lot of things in their everyday life that spoil them. They have access to so many conveniences that when you kind of go back in time and go to a sporting event, you really don't have any flush toilets, you have to go in an outdoor satellite, it kind of weeds out some of the not-so-tough customers out there, fans out there. You got to be careful of that.
That's why you have to change with the times. Those are things we wish they would do at Pacific Raceway, just make it a little more fan friendly because I guarantee, people get soft in their old age. They're so used to all the modern conveniences in the world. Some of those fans may just not come anymore. It's like what you see with your major football and baseball stadiums. You go into one of those stadiums, why do they have to have a list up there. You're coming to watch a baseball game. That's not the way it is anymore. You have so many different activities for the kids. Maybe some of the people that aren't diehard fans, they can do other things during the game. They're surrounded by tons of amenities that they can do. Drag racing has to pay attention to that and be careful we don't get left behind. We hope every year they make some improvements, but don't really know what the timetable is on it.
Q. Greg, they changed the direction of the Western Swing, normally starting in Denver. Did your transporters make it up to Seattle yet?
GREG ANDERSON: I don't know (laughter). I'm telling you, that's the scariest part of the whole deal, the damn trucks end up in the right racetrack. They're used to going to Denver first. We had a sit down with them first. You realize you're going to Seattle first? You know how to get to Seattle? They said they had it under control. I haven't heard from them. I hope they're not sitting at Vander Meer waiting for the race to start.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank both Tony Schumacher and Greg Anderson for joining us on this conference call as well as media members from across the country. Thanks to our drivers and we hope you have a good day.
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