National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
November 8, 2010
ZAK ELCOCK: I'd like to welcome the media out to this teleconference conference call for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. I'm Zak Elcock with NHRA with media relations.
This call is to preview the 46th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA finals this weekend at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the final stop on the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship.
Going into this weekend less than 150 points separate the first and second place drivers in all four categories in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. 85 points in Top Fuel, 37 points in Funny Car, 115 points in Pro Stock, and 34 points in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Joining us on the call today will be our first and second place drivers in the Top Fuel category, Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher; and our first and second place drivers in Funny Car, Matt Hagan and John Force. We'll have a brief introduction of each driver, then open it up to questions from the media.
Let's begin with second place driver in the Top Fuel points standings, Tony Schumacher. Tony has had an impressive year all season, posting six race wins in eight final round appearances and has kept his U.S. Army dragster in the top three points standings since his win in Topeka, Kansas in May.
After his win and number one qualifier in Las Vegas two weeks ago, Tony moved past teammate Cory McClenathan to take the second spot in the points standings, just 85 points behind leader Larry Dixon.
Tony is a seven-time world champion with two of those championships being clinched on the final pass of the season in Southern California.
Tony, you stated that this type of thing has become your specialty. What do you need to do to win your eighth world championship?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, I think, like a couple of times before, everything just has to go right. There's nothing easy about it. It's not even a joking matter. It's just very serious stuff, man. We got to show up. Not only does everything have to go right for us, but I think, like I said, we have to go out, win the race, qualify real well, and possibly set a world record. But also the points leader has to falter. That's hard to imagine because they're such a good team.
Like I've been telling kind of everyone in the media, there's still a chance. That's more than I can say they gave me in '06. We came in and they had written us off.
It's not going to be an easy task, to say the least. But it's still out there. We still have a chance. There's a reason to show up at Pomona. There's a reason to race for it. We have an amazing car right now. We found some stuff in Vegas that was just outstanding. I'm looking forward to going there.
Guys, if I don't win the championship, I will be the first guy to walk over and shake Larry's hand. He's had an amazing season. I may be the only guy who knows how he's feeling. I've won that many races. They're doing an outstanding job and deserve a championship. Let's battle on and see what happens in beautiful California.
We'll now turn to our Top Fuel points leader Larry Dixon. Larry has had an impressive season thus far with a perfect final round record of 12 wins in 12 final round appearances, which includes three of the five races in the Countdown to the Championship.
He took over the points lead after his win in Las Vegas in April and has held is ever since. Larry has five wins in eight final round appearances at Auto Club raceway at Pomona, including his February win at the 50th annual NHRA Winter Nationals.
Larry, both you, your crew chief Jason McCulloch and team manager Alan Johnson have had great success at Auto Club Raceway. Does that, along with your 12 wins, and having the points lead, boost your confidence going into this race?
LARRY DIXON: Well, I like the fact that we have four round wins, 80 some points lead on second place. So, I mean, that's comforting, but it's not a guarantee. We just got to go out there, race hard like we have been all season.
We do what we've been doing, then everything is fine. If we leave the door open for not just Tony but for Cory Mack, as well, because he obviously still has a shot at this, too, yeah, then they can. But we need to go some rounds. I'd like to win the race, to be honest with you.
ZAK ELCOCK: Thanks, Larry.
We'll now move on to our Funny Car drivers, and second place driver John Force. John has had one of the greatest comeback seasons ever seen in NHRA drag racing. After failing to win a race in 2009, the first time he's done so since 1986, Force has come back strong to post five wins in 10 final round appearances in 2010.
After losing his points lead to Matt Hagan following a first-round loss in Redding and falling to 64 points back from the lead, he came out with guns blazing at the recently completed NHRA Las Vegas Nationals and drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang past Hagan in the final round to pick up the win and pull within 37 points of the leader.
John has an impressive 12 wins at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the most of any driver in Funny Car.
John, you did what you needed to do in Las Vegas to keep your championship hopes alive. What do you need to do in Pomona to clinch that 15th World Championship?
JOHN FORCE: Seems like we had this conversation a few weeks back before going into Vegas. We held the lead all year. We made a mistake very critical at Redding that opened the door for Hagan and he took advantage of it. It put us in the No. 2 spot.
Right now I've got to come in with an attitude that there can be no err, there can be no mistakes. We have to gobble up every point that we can. We didn't get every point at Vegas. But my daughter outran me and had a shot at the record there.
We can't wait for Hagan, like I said before, to fail. Too good of a race team. Good money with Schumacher. You have a driver that knows how to win a championship. He's in this game. He's very focused. So we can't wait for him to err. That means we have to do everything we can. We have to stay ahead of him in those qualifying points just during the four sessions that we get before the race because if he picks up a couple more points there, then that's another round that I've got to gain on him.
Like I say, I may be pushed to setting the record and having to win the race might be my only shot at getting him. So it's a shot, like Schumacher said. But right now what we're focusing on is weather. We're watching that to see if there is a potential of how we can race him. But he knows how to run in the cool air, too.
Otherwise, I'm in the gym every day making sure I don't get any injuries, watching getting colds or flus, can't afford to get sick. You have to have everything you can to throw at them because they're going to throw everything at us.
ZAK ELCOCK: Thanks, John.
We'll now move to our Funny Car points leader and final driver Matt Hagan. Matt's third season in a Funny Car has been more than just a Cinderella story. He raced to his first career win in Funny Car this season in Houston and followed it up with wins in Chicago and Dallas. After setting a national record for time at NHRA Nationals in Redding, a feat that secures a driver 20 bonus points, and powering his DieHard Batteries Dodge Charger to the final round, Matt moved from second to first in the Funny Car points standings. But a final round loss to John Force at the recently completed NHRA Las Vegas Nationals narrowed Matt's points lead from 64 to 37 heading into the final race of the season.
Matt, you still have the points lead. What do you need to do to keep it at the end of this weekend?
MATT HAGAN: I think John said it right there. You know, we have to go out there and qualify well. It's going to come down to qualifying, I think, a lot of it. If we can pick up four points, that's three out of four for him to win the deal. It's big to us, important to us that we come out with our mouthpiece in and bearing down as hard as we can to get every point we can here.
John's got a great car. He proved that last weekend when he beat us in the finals. But it's great to go round for round with him. We got a great car also. I can't wait to get back in that hotrod and make some more laps because it's just so cool to drive it all the time.
You know, we just have to go out there and have a solid race and match him round for round and hopefully win the race.
ZAK ELCOCK: Thanks, Matt.
We'll now open it up for questions from the media.
Q. Tony, did anything that you guys discovered that helped you get the speed record in Vegas, can any of that translate into an ET record?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, absolutely. Like John said, you have to watch weather. If it's 95 degrees, no. If the conditions are good, we're more than likely to set them out there in Pomona than we were in Vegas.
You know, we're definitely going to have to try for it. It's crazy. It's so similar, even though the point spread is more to the '06 season, all I can do is try to be the number one qualifier, win the race and set the world record. More than likely I won't see Larry until the semis or the finals, and that might be too late. It's out of our hands really.
I think the key, the difference, is nowadays, compared to the old times, we get a couple extra bonus points. Now we're 85. If we perform well enough, we can move into 79, which would be a huge accomplishment for us to be able to go into race day another round closer.
The car we have is great. I wouldn't trade it for Larry's car right now, and I know how great those guys are. We have an amazing car. The right timing. We may be a race too late. But so be it. We'll just play the game.
Again, if we go out and beat them, they've won 12 races this year, that would be a hard one for them to swallow. They've done everything a championship team can do. The Countdown plays into this kind of a deal. It would be a rough one for them to take. The fact is, we're going to give it everything, they're going to give it everything. It's two great teams. And Cory, let's face it, he's only 20 some behind me. There's three great teams battling it out, just like NHRA wants, Full Throttle wants. The fans want to see a great race come down to the wire.
Q. Larry, such a phenomenal season with the 12 wins. Do you go into Pomona any less aggressive or do you take any different approach that you did to any of the other events this year?
LARRY DIXON: I would hope not. I mean, you know, we've been swinging the bat well. So why not keep doing the same thing? As Tony said, he wouldn't trade teams. I wouldn't give mine up anyway, so...
TONY SCHUMACHER: I'll trade points.
LARRY DIXON: With Alan Johnson and Jason McCulloch in my corner, that would be a fun bet.
You know, we just got to go out and keep doing the same thing. That's what got us the wins and the points lead in the first place, so why would you change up now?
Q. John, has this season been one in your eyes of almost of destiny the way you've come back from having some tough times, how everything seems to be falling into place? And did you get a chance to watch the Breeders' Cup over the weekend? Were you disheartened in seeing the result of that?
JOHN FORCE: That old horse, after winning all those straight, I think it was 20 wins or something in a row, to lose his final race when he's retiring. The only difference is I'm not retiring. I'm going to sign with Castrol for five more years. I've been 25 years with them. Another record I'm going after. Bernstein's record with Budweiser. I always set my goals at that.
I believe you got to make your own destiny, you know what I mean? I watched yesterday part of the NASCAR race, trying to follow them. I think it was Hamlin that won and Jimmie Johnson was struggling all day, on the phone yelling back and forth at his crew over mistakes being made. I heard they put Gordon's whole team -- Robert was there at that race in Texas. They put Gordon's whole team over.
Well, I take my team in early in the week. We'll have meetings like we have since the Countdown started. We'll have meetings that will hold this thing together as a group. If we fail, we fail as a group.
But we can't afford any mistakes, none. That's a hard push. Can't count on a national record like Schumacher pulled off a couple years ago because, boy, that's a tough one to get away with. Then there's the conditions we got to watch. We watch weather. It was supposed to be cold. Now the rain came late. Now it's supposed to start warming up again. Cards can play into Hagan's hands.
NHRA threw in a curve ball because they had so many oil downs last week. I sat on a conference call with the team owners. Schumacher and everybody was there. I don't know exactly, I haven't read it yet, I'm the kind of guy I play whatever they give me is the same they give everybody else. But in this situation, when you have to push for the record, you have to push your motor to a point. That could mean breakage. You could lose points, pay fines. I don't know exactly how they've set it up. A little different during qualifying than it is on race day. They're trying to be fair to the people in the Countdown.
I don't just look at Hagan. I look at the other kids that are out there, the Pedregon brothers, everybody else shooting for the fight out here.
I have a chance in my career to come back where sponsors at my age and injury should have let me go. They want a kid that's strong like Hagan. I have to work every day just to be able to play the game with him.
At the end of the day, this isn't just John Force trying to win 15 championships, this is John Force trying to stay in the business. I've always said, when I can't cut it as a driver, I'll step out of the seat. I'm trying to get this win. I can keep my job. If the fans keep rooting for me, and they do, of course they root for Hagan, too, at the end of the day if I can deliver a win, I guarantee you I will go down swinging, as will Hagan, or anybody else out there.
We're going to need a lot of everything to be right, and that's what it's going to take. It's going to be tough.
Don't know if I answered your questions.
Q. Hope you get to keep your job.
JOHN FORCE: That's all I want to do.
Q. John, you've been talking in the past couple weeks about keeping the weight down because of Hagan being larger than you. Are you still following that regimen going into this final?
JOHN FORCE: You know what is funny, we made a lot of changes. We left Ashley's car alone. We changed mine around and my hotrod, and it got faster in the 60 foot, where we could run like Hagan early. Robert's car wouldn't go down the racetrack. We changed Robert's car back and he ran a 10, an 06 at Vegas on Monday in the Auto Club Mustang.
At the end of the day, there's a lot of reasons because of safety that we took on weight. But I can't change that. And the other guys, they have weight on their cars where they can move it and hang it.
I don't know how Hagan's car works. We're still trying to figure out the body, as big as the kid is. Big as a football player, yet his old hotrod will outrun me. We made changes, maybe it will work. I need three good cars to fight these guys this weekend.
If I run good to gather points, I'm not going to run into him early if he runs good. It's really a strategy. We can't make those decisions until we get there to look at the weather. That's when we'll make our calls.
We'll have motors setting that are not even put together until we get there Thursday morning to evaluate the weather and then we'll go. The weather's a big player in this Countdown.
I like the Countdown. It changed it from the old days. It's more exciting. It's exciting for me. But even if Hagan whips me and I'm like a guy running for the deal, they ain't going to count me out till the last minute if I fail. I would even thank Hagan then because if nothing else he's driven me to win, to keep my body in shape. I was in the gym yesterday. I pushed it. I'm going to keep pushing it. If I lose, then I'm going to start pushing it for next year.
Hagan is the call right now in my head, but I got to focus on everybody. I appreciate that he offers that to me, a competitor with a great race team that will fight, because that motivates me.
Q. John brought this up about the NASCAR race yesterday in which Chad Knaus basically fired his crew. Just how important is the crew in this chase for the title considering they don't get much credit, but evidently it really is a make-or-break-it type thing?
LARRY DIXON: Well, at least on our end, yeah, I mean, with the playoff format that you have where you're only in the six races, there's only 24 rounds of competition possible. So you need to make as perfect of runs as you can. There's enough variables in the driver and the setups and the tune-ups of the car without having to add crew errors in it. I mean, you need your team to be perfect.
My guys, obviously Tony can attest, because he's had most of them at one point, they've been doing this for a long period of time. I mean, they've been gearing up for the playoffs clear back as far as June, just setting up clutch packs and things like that.
It's all about showing your best at this time of year because, I mean, you saw it with the New England Patriots that one year where they went perfect for the whole regular season and lost in the Super Bowl. That's what counts.
Q. Tony, your crew is kind of different than you've had for your first couple runs. How does this play out for you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think the fact that we had such a fantastic ending last year helps them a ton. When we met, it was literally testing last year. I didn't know many of them. I knew Mike Green and Neil a little bit. Most of the guys I had never met and they had never worked together. When they came onboard, I said, We're going after a world championship, they knew they had huge shoes to fill. The fact that they kept it together when everyone would have just said they're going to break is pretty amazing.
This year will be easier on them. They have a huge task ahead of them, of all of us. But it's going to be fun.
I'm a fairly laid-back driver. I let them enjoy the race. I don't fire people when mistakes are made. We all do that. I hate to say that because you love to say there's ice in your veins, but the fact is there isn't a guy on this phone that hasn't made a mistake, including the guy that's right. We try to do our best.
The driver, it's our job to take some of the pressure off the guys, to let them know we're in it for some fun. We have a huge task, to stay focused. Both me and Larry, both of our teams are so incredible at it that I believe the fans couldn't ask for a better matchup. In my opinion, it's just an opinion, but they're going to get the greatest show on earth. They're going to get the finals at Pomona with Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher and the two greatest teams racing for a championship. One team has an overwhelming lead. But the other team is the team, at least part of the team, that has been known for those moments.
I'm glad I'm not a spectator. But if I was, it would be well worth the money. We're looking forward to it. I guess all I can say is I'm looking forward to it. When I was 16, I couldn't wait to get in a racecar. I wasn't thinking about this particular moment. I wasn't thinking about having to set a record to beat Dixon in the finals. You have to keep remembering these are huge, weight-of-the-world moments on your shoulders.
It's going to be fun. I look forward to it. At the end of the day, we're going to be the champ or Cory, or Larry more than likely will be the champ. We're going to know we left nothing on the table and gave it our all every single run of the whole 24-race series.
Q. John, your crew has been around for a long time, plenty of experience. You said you meet every week and talk to these guys.
JOHN FORCE: Everyone has their own approach. Tony has his. I come in the gate yelling and screaming. Not in a bad way. I try to keep the energy high. I try to keep these kids going all day long. The families all show up, mom, and dad and grandpa show up for the last race of the year. But this is our boardroom. This is our workplace. You can't allow them to let their minds go outside. They've given up their families and their kids all year.
But we're down to the last race. If we win this thing, they get the money. The money goes for Christmas, new cars, new shoes, maybe a down payment on a house. I can't even allow them to get lost mentally. That's why we have the meetings weekly, to get their heads right. Any of you got any problems, girlfriend ran away, you know what I mean, or you got the flu this week, somebody has to get in there and back him up because a mistake will be made in preparation and you won't find it until a couple rounds in the race and then it's too late, you're out.
It's my approach, maybe not like Jimmie Johnson, yelling and screaming, you know, that they're failing, but to keep the energy up, to keep the process going. That's what it's going to take to beat Hagan. I keep Robert up, Ashley up, or they keep me up.
But I'm excited. When you set out there and look at those stands, Auto Club race, you have sponsors like Mack Tool, DeWalt, Stanley, people that have paid millions of dollars, they didn't come to see you fail and you better give it your all. If I got to look them in the face the day after the race and say I lost, I want to be able to say, if they ever do complain, and they've been really good standing by me, that we did everything we could, okay. That's all we can give you. If you want to take your money away, then go somewhere else. That's what I got to believe that I did. Then no matter what any sponsor says, and I've got great sponsors, but I know what we did on the playing field.
That's really what it is. We're not in Iraq like the kids in the military that fight and give their lives. They know what they're up against to protect this country that we live in, this great country.
We're in the entertainment business. Every now and then somebody gets hurt. It's a shame, but it does happen. So we have to live under that blanket also. But we still have fun with what we do. The crowds cheer. At the end of the day, I love a great competitor. If I'm going to get the sword, get whacked, I want it done by a guy that just didn't walk in and stumble and because we failed he got it. This kid's good and I want a competitor that fights. But I got to get to him first. There's a whole bunch of others I got to get to. You know what I'm saying? We'll see what happens.
Q. John, I'm curious, the title chase aside here, did you see this season coming from Hagan? Could you sense this guy was on the move before this season happened?
JOHN FORCE: I watched early in the year. We saw his car run big numbers at Charlotte. Hell, I knew his crew chief, but I never put him in the ranks of a guy that could contend. I didn't know him. You only know when they get there. It's like, Who in the hell is running the car over there? This DeLago kid, sometimes they come along and find that place. That's why I wanted Mike Neff on my team. When he took me out with Scelzi back in '01, whatever it was, it's like, Who are those guys? I wanted to know how they beat us.
Probably the best decision I made was putting Mike Neff in the Funny Car to let him learn more about what it was like to drive a Funny Car. I'm not a real mechanic. I tried to for years. I did bottom end, I did it all. Austin Coil said he could never relate to me. I'm like Tom Cruise in that movie in NASCAR. I understand the car, but I don't know how to talk the lingo. Mike Neff could really relate to me.
We won all those championships. Gore won 17 or 18. He won with Frank Hawley before I came along. Neff, merging that young group, all the kids looking at that team, This old man going to drive for us? I worked really hard because of this young team I've got that came over with Mike Neff from the No. 4 car has really pushed me every day in the gym, just to work, just to stay up with the guys.
So, yes, I knew this kid. I like his style. You know what I mean, they all have a different style. It's like right now on this conference, I'm talking way too much. You need to get in there, Hagan. This is your day, too. Hagan is respectful. I watch him. I'll be honest. That's the kind of guy that bothers me. Even though I'm saying I've won championships, I'm a big-mouthed guy. He's not. He's very quiet. You got to watch that guy that's quiet because while you're talking, he's thinking.
I'm going to shut up, Hagan. Jump in this battle with me, Hagan.
MATT HAGAN: You say it all there, buddy.
Getting back to the question with the crew and stuff. Our guys are about my age, so I like to hang out with them, just kind of keep it relaxed a little bit. We got enough pressure out here. We don't need me to come in and holler at guys. I think that goes a long way for our team. Tommy DeLago is laid back. He does a good job keeping everybody calmed down.
We have a guy with 14 championships right there beside us knocking on the door. There's a chance for us to get tense, worked up. This DieHard car is running good and our guys are doing a good job. That's what it comes down to. They've been flawless all year. I make enough mistakes for everybody. When I don't make any mistakes, it makes my job and Tommy's job easier.
They're excited. I call every one of my guys and talk to them 30, 45 minutes a day, see what's on their mind, what's going on. I'm not out there doing their job. They know they got a job to do and they do it well or they wouldn't be there.
I'm just trying to keep everybody laid back and go out there and have some fun. I think the biggest thing as a driver, you can get wrapped up in trying to win too hard. When you come back, you have to step back sometimes and just really enjoy the moment, enjoy being out here mixing it up with John Force, enjoy you've done so well in such a short time, that it might not happen again for a while again. Tony told me that a long time ago. Just enjoy it, brother, take it in. It's something special.
However it plays out here in Pomona with John and me battling this thing out, it's definitely going to be a dogfight. We're not going to leave anything on the table. Neither is he. We both got great racecars. It's going to be a great show for the NHRA fans and I'm glad to be part of it.
Q. Tony and Larry, with as competitive as Top Fuel is, as volatile as these cars are, does it surprise either one of you that there's only been four different winners this entire season?
LARRY DIXON: Absolutely it surprises me just because there's quite a few good cars that haven't won. The one that I think of right off the top is Brandon Bernstein's car, a car that is very competitive every week. And Antron Brown, another one of Tony's teammates. Two great cars haven't won.
It's been one of those years. I've seen it before in Funny Car, years ago when Snake was driving. There would be only three or four guys win for the entire season. Sometimes that just happens, I guess, so... Feel fortunate to be one of the guys that has won still.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think the same thing. I can't remember the last time I thought there was an easy round coming up, you know. So to go that many races and just have a few, it's amazing. There's a lot of great cars. Look at Logano last week. That car didn't sneak in, it ran good. Any falter, any mistake, good cars were out. Just a battle. It's incredible. Really with three cars, and Kalitta got the victory, pretty much unheard of.
Old days, it's a little different now. Back maybe in the '80s, cars would win by pretty substantial margins. We're winning by thousandths of a second now. Brutally close. If you make a mistake on the start line, it's over. I think it's made guys like myself, my team, step up better than we've ever driven just because we have to. There's no Mulligans here. There's no buy-backs. It's brutal.
It's our goal to keep it at four through the end of the year, make it hard on everybody. Quite unlikely. I don't think you'll see it again for a while.
Q. Matt, last Thursday the NHRA announced like a series of deductions and fines for any car oiling down the track at Pomona. I'm wondering if you think that's an unfair to stick in the finals, how it might impact the championship.
MATT HAGAN: I don't know how the team owners and stuff felt. As a driver, I didn't really like it. They let everybody put oil on the track all year long and now for one race you're going to try to change everything. We're trying to win championships out here. Like John said earlier, we have to push these cars to the limits. I would love to set another national record. To do three in a year would be something else. I know Tommy DeLago, if conditions come into play, he's going for it. This guy swings for the fence all the time.
Sometimes we push these motors too far and they do put oil on the track and everything else. It's just stuff that happens when you deal with this much horsepower. Most of the time when you do put oil out, you're probably not going to have the best run unless it's after the finish line.
So it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I'm sure everybody kind of feels the same way. We've been battling out this way all year long. Leave it the same is my opinion.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I agree thoroughly. One quick thing. All of the oil down is not our fault. Yeah, we blow stuff up. I think myself, Larry, none of the guys you have on the phone have had that many oil downs. But there are some tracks that are going to lend themselves for a lot more oil downs that are a little rough. I'm not saying Vegas by any means. That shouldn't have happened. There are tracks where the preparation is not as good or it's a little rougher, somewhere at 300 feet when the car starts to bounce, you hurt stuff.
We don't have the privilege of saying, Hey, if the track is rough, we'd like to fine the NHRA. It's not there. I hope to God you don't see a championship decided by penalties. Simply put, if they want the money, fine, if there's oil down. The fans don't deserve it. We don't deserve it sitting in the car for that long either. Maybe the top 10 shouldn't get it. I don't know how to word it the right way. You don't want way too much money spent, way too much energy by a lot of teams to have an oil down, bad part, bad piece, something that teams like us, we don't oil down much. You go out there, break a throttle cable, oil down, it costs you a championship, it just shouldn't be that way.
Q. Zak, am I reading the release incorrectly? I don't see where it is loss of points. It's monetary fine and loss of a run.
JOHN FORCE: That's points. If you run the national record and you oil the track, that run don't count. That means you got no points.
When I went to this meeting, when I sat in on it, this wasn't an option we could debate. I was a little upset about it myself. I don't like changing the game. I understand they had five hours of oil downs, but there was a lot of things. There was a bigger percentage of pros on tour oiling the track than there were the guys that were coming in from out of the country, guys that had never ran all year than them oiling the racetrack.
Even in Super Car, you have to run a certain amount of races to be able to run Indy or run the opening race or the final race of the season. There was a lot of drivers. Well, a lot of the hitters oiled the track. I seen a lot of them driving with frustration that they're down to their last run, beating the throttle because they're so mad about the conditions of the track that day being oiled, they know they're not going to make the show, they blow stuff up. There were a few of them that added to that number.
But NHRA had made up their mind. What bothered me is, they make the rules, it's their ballpark, nothing we can do. And I didn't say anything in the meeting. I shut up and went away. Since you asked, you didn't directly ask me, but we know we have to push these cars. I kind of feel like the football players now, they can't even throw a tackle because they know if it's at the wrong angle, they could be fined. You know what I mean? It's changing the face of football as you watch it. We don't want to see anybody get killed in a football game. But it is changing the way the players play.
I've seen it. I've heard it commentated about. It's going to change the way we have to play this game. I don't like it.
Q. Matt, when you're working the ranch or a farm, do you wear cowboy boots?
MATT HAGAN: Absolutely. I don't know, they're pretty comfortable. I don't know that I wear them just because there's cowboy boots, but they're just comfortable.
Q. Force wears designer cowboy boots. I wanted to see if you wore the real thing.
MATT HAGAN: Force has the real thing on, too. He's a real cowboy, too. If he can handle an eight thousand horsepower racecar, he can handle a steer out here, too.
Q. Matt, almost two different generations between John and yourself. You both have respect for each other. Had you followed John's career when you were coming up through the ranks?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah. The first time I ever saw John Force on TV was on CNN, dad pointing him out. After that, I followed the guy. He made drag racing kind of what it is today. He's one of those guys that everybody, I don't care Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock or sportsmen categories, they know who John Force is. That's the guy you model yourself after and you want to be like. He's a fan favorite out there.
We're just trying to get this car in the winner's circle. He's got 14 of those rings. If we can get one of those for this DieHard team, we've done something, especially to mix it up with a guy like him.
When we come out here, we're going to come out guns blazing. He's a big name and got a great car over there. So we got to step up to the plate, make no mistakes and just have a great race.
ZAK ELCOCK: I'm sure our drivers explained it very well, but reading from the release concerning the oil downs it states, 'In Pomona teams depositing oil on the racetrack surface during any qualifying or elimination rounds will result in loss of the elapsed time and miles per hour for that run. In qualifying, the time will be voided for all purposes, qualifying position, performance points, national records, low ET and top speed. On Sunday the time will be voided for the purposes of lane choice, run sequence choice, national record and low ET and top speed.'
JOHN FORCE: That's so much stuff, I can't even figure out what it all means.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I don't like the lane choice either.
JOHN FORCE: I want to be fair to NHRA. It screwed up their TV thing. They had to do something, I understand that, okay? We all have to play by the same rules. We're going to have to change our approach, you know what I'm saying? At the end of the day, I do understand they had to do something.
Just because I don't like it don't make it right, you know what I'm saying? We had a game plan how we were going after Hagan. Now we have to decide do we go with that plan or do we back pedal and hope he makes a mistake? No, we're going to drive the racecar the way we always did. I don't even want to know about what rules they put on the table. If I get thinking that, I'll never get through this race.
Q. John, you're so great at speaking out, sharing your passion, excitement with the fans. Do you think you need special skills to control your emotions during competition?
JOHN FORCE: No, no. When I get in the car, it's kind of where I really love to be. All the stuff I have to put up every day trying to keep this ship afloat in this economy, I wish I could just be a hired gun. It would make life so simple. I might even get on the golf course one day, you know what I mean? That wouldn't be pretty.
Hell, I forgot your question. I got to rambling.
Jump in here and help me, Hagan. I'm sinking. I'm starting to like this Hagan so much, I might just stay home and not go (laughter).
Q. Tony and Larry, you two probably know each other better than any other competitors. You know each other's teams. Not that anybody in drag racing would ever be involved in mind games looking for any advantage, but that's pretty much out of the question for you at this point, isn't it?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I don't think it would affect me or him. We're two good teams playing the game. You know, you can look back. I've raced for 14 years. Larry has raced for a few more. Me and him have never, ever, I doubt in the history of our careers screwed with each other in any way, shape or form. I think that's what has made it appealing to watch us battle. It's a good race. We don't screw around staging, we don't talk smack. Two great teams, two great championship drivers. Like I said, worth the money to come watch.
Mind games aren't set in there. I would like to believe Larry would be more comfortable if I was 20 points behind him than 85 because it's what we do so well, pulling off these silly miracles. The fact of the matter is it's so far back right now, it has to rotate.
I think the oil down should start with the qualifier. Since he's won so many races, he should get like 10 times the penalty because he's that good, it's not even fair (laughter).
There might be mind games out there, but it won't be from us two.
Q. Larry, considering Tony has been in the situation before and done so well, does that make you feel better that you have had a season like you've had?
LARRY DIXON: You have to have a mind to play games with first. I think I'm safe (laughter).
You go in there with what you know, do the best you can, hope it's enough. That's what we did last year, and it wasn't. This year, we worked a lot harder, came together as a team to be in better position when the playoffs started. I think we have.
You just play it out and see how it goes. I'm cool with that.
Q. Matt, when you started this season, did you say, I'm going on to win the championship, or did you realize once you were running well that your championship title options were pretty close? Have you had this mindset from the very beginning of the season?
MATT HAGAN: I think your mindset comes, for me, race to race. We want to do well every race. I don't look at the big picture till it happens. We have to just treat it like every race is important. That's kind of what I've done all year. You get to the racetrack, you look at it, you evaluate it. You try to do everything possible to win that race. You just take it one race at a time.
I don't think I ever did sit down and say, I'm going to be the Funny Car champion in 2010. You know what I mean? We came in here not even making the top 10 last year. So, I mean, that would have been a big stretch for me.
Do I have the confidence in my crew and Tommy DeLago that we can be? Absolutely from day one. But when we had this car start running well this year, I guess it got me excited to think we might have a shot at this.
As I said, you just take one race at a time. Can't get ahead of yourself. My boss won't even talk about the race coming up till we're there. I don't know if it's bad ju-ju or what, but you just take it one lap at a time, one round at a time, one race at a time. What will be will be. We got a great racecar. I'm super excited to be mixing it up with these guys. I got great teachers like Tony Schumacher and Ron Capps. They're in my corner. Tony is a champ. I can pick up the phone at any time and talk to this guy and get me in the right state of mind to go out there and try to win this championship. That's big for me.
Q. Tony, like John, you're such a great spokesperson for your sponsor, for your team. What do you like best talking to the fans about?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, I almost do 200 speeches a year. I really enjoy just chatting. I talk to the youth because we go to high schools at almost every place. I enjoy spending a lot of time talking about choosing their job. All of us on this phone have been gifted, and it is gifted to be able to choose your job, actually get to perform and do what you love to do. Unfortunately you see too many of these kids wait till they're way too old to make any decisions and it's too late.
I joke a lot and say I'm a gifted driver, but it's not in the way people think. I'm gifted in the fact I have a great team, that I get to do what I love to do, and with the great team I've been blessed with so many great moments where we've had the chance to use it. It's great to have a great team, but never if you have that moment, like we're coming up on a great moment that we're going to be able to enjoy, stop and smell the roses. We haven't won it, we haven't lost it, but we're part of the battle.
Some kids would hate this job because it's not what they chose. A lot of my speeches and what I discuss with the fans is making sure, I tell them, I ride a Harley. They say that 98% of the population say if they won the lottery, they would quit their job. I would buy another racecar. I love what I do. That tells me 98% of the population are ticked off driving to work. I want them to spend some time focusing and bring an A game. I guarantee Larry isn't just sitting at home saying, I'm bringing average to the next race. Like John, like Hagan milking cows, whatever he's doing back there, everybody does what they do. I love you, brother. Everybody has to do what they need to do to clear their mind for that moment coming up.
ZAK ELCOCK: We'd like to thank our drivers for joining us on this conference call as well as the media from around the country. Thank you once again for joining us on this call. We hope to see you in Pomona.
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