National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
February 16, 2011
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome the media out to this NHRA conference call. This call is to preview the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle drag racing season, beginning next week at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, with Kragen-O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals. The event will kick off the celebration of the 60th Anniversary year of NHRA, with many legends of the sport participating in various activities throughout the week.
Joining us on the call today are two of those legends, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, as well as Tony Schumacher and Ron Capps. We'll have a brief introduction of each driver then open it up for questions.
We'll start with Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. It's hard to imagine NHRA drag racing without first thinking of the name Snake. In his 32 years as a driver, in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks and then 15 years as a team owner, few have seen the success that Prudhomme has, amassing a total of six NHRA World Championships and 112 national event victories.
His highly successful venture with Hot Wheels in 1970s, made his Funny Car one of the most recognizable and known vehicles. At this year's Kragen-O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winter Nationals, that car along with many others from Prudhomme's collection will be on display in a special pit area designated as The Snake's pit. Prudhomme will be on site with fans participating in various activities all centered around the 60th anniversary of NHRA.
Snake, you've seen and helped push the growth of NHRA drag racing throughout these years. What are some of the feelings you have heading into this anniversary season starting off in Pomona?
DON PRUDHOMME: Well, for it to last 60 years, it's pretty good for starters. When a lot of people in the early days didn't think it would fly, you know. It just wouldn't happen. There was no money in the sport and we were all running junkyard parts. To see where it's at today is quite amazing, you know.
So I'm just pleased to see it carry on. I'm pleased to see drivers like Ron Capps, and several of the drivers in the sport making real good money and making a living. It's something that was a hobby with junkyard parts with Garlits and I the way we started out. So it's quite amazing to me, and I'm thrilled to play a part in the 60th anniversary. It's an honor to be honored at the track, how's that?
THE MODERATOR: Sounds good. Thanks, Snake. We'll now hear from our next driver, Top Fuel legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits. As a reminder, at the end of the call, all of our drivers will be available for questions from the media.
When it comes to Top Fuel pilots, few have been as successful and had such an impact on the class as Big Daddy. Garlits was one of the pioneering drivers in the Top Fuel class, forming and molding the Top Fuel dragster into what we see today. After a horrific transmission explosion severed half his right foot and put him out of competition for a year, Garlits came out to the 1971 Winter Nationals and debuted a new rear engine dragster that paved the way for the Top Fuel dragsters we see in the sport today.
Next month when the NHRA heads to Gainesville Raceway for the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gator Nationals, Garlits will be the NHRA legend highlighted at the race, and will help kickoff the 60th celebration on the east coast for NHRA drag racing.
Big Daddy, how excited are you to be a part of this 60th anniversary for NHRA, especially the kickoff part in Gainesville?
DON GARLITS: Well, to start off with, I'm just happy to be here. I mean, we live dangerous lives, Snake can attest to that. But like The Snake said, a lot of people thought this sport would never amount to anything. It was just a bunch of hoodlums in black leather jackets. But it took Wally Parks to organize it and put it all together and put that professional touch to it which is what made it great today.
But we did have a lot of fun back then with the junkyard parts. I have to defend that just a little bit. A lot more people could race. But it was more dangerous because the parts weren't up to speed, so to speak, like the parts we've got today. We sent over a lot of stock rear ends and transmissions and stuff like that that were very dangerous.
And people like The Snake and myself and some who have passed on, paid the ultimate price like (Indiscernible) and Pete Robinson come to mind. These people all helped make it what it is today.
We profited by their mistakes. In my particular case with the rear engine car, I was lucky enough to live through it and able to make some changes.
So 2011, I never thought I'd be writing that date on anything, and I'm signing autographs with 2011 underneath it. I'm just really tickled to death to be here.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now move to Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher. Schumacher is entering his 11th season under the famed U.S. Army flag, a sponsorship and team combination that's brought six Top Fuel championships. Schumacher enters the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle drag racing season, as the winningest driver in Top Fuel history with 67 wins. With six of those coming at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, and two of them being national victories.
Tony, after almost three months of an off-season, how badly does a driver want to come out to Pomona and win that first race?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Badly. There's not one guy on this phone call that would say anything different. It's a great way to start the season. Like you've said, we've done it twice. It's an amazing race.
You come off a few months off, even though we've tested. And for us, not winning a championship last year, we just couldn't wait to get started again. So looking forward to getting out to California. 60 years man, never would have thought that. As a driver, I still feel so young, and I'm 41 years old this year. But I was there for the 50th now too. I think oh, I'm starting to be one of the older drivers, to say the least, and these new kids are coming up. So me and Ron Capps, we're getting up there. But we're enjoying it.
We are going to get out there and celebrate, and then to go to the museum, I think we're going on Thursday night, to be able to celebrate the 60th there with all the fans and some great legends sitting up on the stage with us, I truly feel blessed to be there.
THE MODERATOR: We'll move to Ron Capps. Capps enters the 2011 season coming off one of the most roller coaster years of his 16-year career. Ron raced to back-to-back final rounds in Seattle and Sonoma during the western swing in 2010. But it was the departure of long-time crew chief, Ed "Ace" McCulloch that took over the headlines for the NAPA Dodge Charger team. Ron enters this season and the Kragen-O'Reilly Auto Parts Winter Nationals with a record of two consecutive final rounds in the event, including a win in 2009.
Ron, the off-season has brought a lot of change for you and your team, but you've had a lot of success at Auto Club Raceway of Pomona. How excited are you to get back on the track?
RON CAPPS: Well obviously like Tony said, you have all off-season to think about it. Whether or not you finish strong at the end of the year in Pomona it kind of dictates your attitude. But you just kind of Pomona is such a -- if you want to win a race, I know Indy's our biggest race, but for me growing up in California it's kind of where the season starts and ends, so it's a family race for me.
But more than anything else, I got to win there a double up for Snake, with Larry Dixon and I winning there I think in '98. That was huge. Just the sun was going down, you're staging the car, there is a plane flying into Bracket Field, and it takes you right back to being a kid sitting in the grand stands watching all your heroes drive there.
You want to get off, like Tony said, on the right foot. You want to do well. But being the 60th, I'm looking at some of my trophies right now and there are a few that stand out. They're a little differently made, and I'm sure Pomona will be a trophy that you want to put up in the middle of your mantle. So it's going to be a race that every driver wants to win for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Ron. Questions for the drivers?
Q. When did you know that you made it?
DON PRUDHOMME: I think when I beat Big Daddy some place (laughing). When I made it?
DON PRUDHOMME: I don't know. I don't think you ever really think you made it. There is something about drag racing that the following week, no matter how well you've done or whatever, that someone's there to kick your butt. It brings you right back down. So you keep trying each and every week.
I don't know how to answer when I made it. I guess perhaps you could say the Hot Wheels in 1970 when the Mongoose and I got together. It was probably one of the first non-automotive sponsors in the sport, if not the first.
We had a sense of accomplishment rights then when I knew I could set the spray can down or spray gun down and wouldn't have to paint cars anymore, and this is going to be -- I could make a professional living out of the sport of NHRA and Hot Wheels and everything it brought me.
Q. Let me follow that up, Don, and having really started the era of drag racing sponsorship, how gratifying is it to know where your Hot Wheels deal has brought the sport today?
DON PRUDHOMME: Yeah, it is quite amazing. They've been talking about doing a movie about it, and we're looking at some rights on the script and so on. Yeah, it was a time and point in the sport that changed everything. Some people said it changed the sport completely. Some people agreed with it and some didn't because there was big money coming into the sport when other cars didn't have or teams didn't have it.
But I think it showed a lot of the teams that it's out there. You know, we can make a difference. We made a difference by bringing in sponsors, and once again they were able to go out and find sponsors also.
Q. And Don Garlits, can did you ever feel like you'd made it?
DON GARLITS: Yeah, I knew exactly when it was. I won that Winter Nationals in 1963. They put me on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine, and my phone was ringing off the hook for appearances. And I didn't have to change the rod bearings in the 6-cylinder Chevy anymore or paint a car. I could actually tour and make a living, and that was the start.
Then the following year in '64, I won the U.S. Nationals and that was the icing on the cake. I never had to do a regular job again. I was a professional touring drag racer.
Q. Follow-up question to that, you really are the father of the modern-day rear engine dragster. How good does it make you feel knowing how many potential lives that you've saved by that determination to make the car work?
DON GARLITS: I'll answer that just the way I told a guy just recently. He told me if you could go back to Long Beach and do something where that transmission wouldn't blow your foot off, would you do it? And I said, I'd be really afraid to do that because I don't know exactly who would still be with us today if I hadn't gotten on that project.
Sooner or later, we would have had rear-engine cars, but it wouldn't have been right then. And we were killing them right and left. And it might even have cost me my own life.
That whole scenario was probably one of the most important things that happened in drag racing. That transmission exploding when it did and what it did, in other words, not fixing me where I couldn't race anymore, but just really giving me an incentive to get out there and find out what the deal was.
I think that's probably the most important thing I ever did in drag racing and it certainly did equate to lives, possibly even my own.
Q. I was wondering how special Gainesville is, some of the memories and some of the old days, how favorite are some of your memories there?
DON PRUDHOMME: Okay, I'll go. My Funny Car days, driving the Army car and winning there back-to-back several times setting records. I just had a lot of good goes there. I don't have the stats in front of me, but I think we won there. Does anybody know?
THE MODERATOR: I can look that up for you.
DON PRUDHOMME: Yeah, more than once, I can tell you that. And it was a thrilling place because of the air down there. The air conditions are always so good, the track was good. It was a place that you could lay the numbers down, and it was in my heyday. It was in the days during the '70s there when I was really I won four championships back-to-back. So Gainesville played a big part in it.
THE MODERATOR: Snake had five Funny Car wins at Gainesville Raceway.
DON GARLITS: One of my favorite memories is Gainesville in '72, and I was running against Clayton Harris and his new dimension dragster and it was a well-funded car, and always my funds were always down a bit. It came up to the final.
And Jack McCabe was the owner, and he was a well-to-do guy. He had a really nice fancy silver dollar that he really cherished. And we flipped for lane choice in those days, and he flipped that thing up in the air and said, call it, Big. And I said, heads. And it fell down there heads. He said I don't want that silver dollar anymore. It's all yours now.
So I got my lane of choice and I won the race. That was the final for the race, and I'll never forget that day.
DON PRUDHOMME: I was thinking of the time when you had that rear engine dragster, and it was enclosed. The nose was enclosed and the cockpit, you ended up winning the race and beating Joe Amato and running how fast?
DON GARLITS: 272.56 and I didn't have a good enough run for a backup so it didn't stand as a record.
DON PRUDHOMME: That changes a lot with the aerodynamics and he's been quite the innovator through the years and always waiting to see what Garlits would do next.
DON GARLITS: Yeah, I had a good time. That's what I really liked about the sport. You could always make some new stuff and go out there and try it. It's a little more restricted now because of the high speeds and safety and everything. But back in the day, you could just about run what you'd run.
DON PRUDHOMME: That's right.
Q. Just the fact that the kickoff for the anniversary here, and one of the kickoffs will be in Gainesville, how fitting is that given all the history at this track?
DON PRUDHOMME: Gainesville? For me I'll be at Amelia Island. I don't know if you know it, but I've been retired from the sport, and off doing other things. But I'll be down in Florida and paying attention to what's going on. I think for Garlits, it's going to be a real big thing being in the backyard there. Don't you think, big?
DON GARLITS: Oh, yeah, I've got my plate full. On top of that, I'll be running my 2009 Dodge Challenger in the A Stock Automatic class. That's all my wife will let me race anymore. It only goes 135 miles an hour, so that's okay.
DON PRUDHOMME: That's good.
Q. Don, we have missed you, is there any possibility you may come back as a team owner?
DON PRUDHOMME: You know, I was with Tom Compton and Gary Darcy last night. We were having dinner and talking about that. Geez, I don't know. You know, if the right thing happened, I suspect.
Since I've retired I've kind of really started a new life for myself. I was so involved with the sport until it was everything, so you have to start a new life. I got real involved in IndyCar Racing. I've been involved with several other things, trips, appearances and so on and restoring some cars and doing things like that. So I don't know.
If the right opportunity came along. But I know what it takes to win. I can tell you that. My last driver was Spencer Massey was just -- who, with all due respect to Tony Schumacher, I'm kind of picking him to win the championship this year because he's in a terrific car. He won Rookie of the Year the year he drove for me and won two national events.
So once I broke up that team and Spencer was gone and the team I had and all the equipment and so on, it's really hard to get restarted up again. I can tell you that. I wouldn't look for it to happen.
DON GARLITS: Let me just say something there. We miss you, Snake, and we surely hope you do come back.
Q. If you were racing today, what would be the most remarkable things you feel about what drag racing is actually doing nowadays?
DON PRUDHOMME: I don't know if I get the question.
Q. With all the changes that have come since you and Don have been racing, the safety innovations, all the different changes, what is your viewpoint on what NHRA racing is like today? How much has it changed since you two raced?
DON GARLITS: All right. This will be a controversial answer because I think there are some changes that have been made that I don't agree with, but I'm old so what do I know. Some of the changes that are good are some of the safety things that have caused these drivers to be able to survive in these high speed crashes. But there are some things that they've done that I think they shouldn't have done.
What can I say, it's happened. It's modern drag racing. It's different from when I was there.
DON PRUDHOMME: And I feel somewhat the same. I think the racing is terrific now. I think the people that are doing it are fit. They're more fit. They're younger. They're professional drivers. They're not crew. Like when Garlits and I drove, and I think that was the beauty of it, what I enjoyed the most, you jumped out of the car at the other end, and you know exactly what to do at the next run.
Nowadays a driver gets out of the car, and he pretty much doesn't want to say anything because the computer's going to tell him something different when they're back at the pits. So it's all up to the computer. All those drivers drive the same down the course nowadays.
But back then it was way more involved with Garlits and myself. We would tune the cars and drive the cars. It's a completely different world, but I think it's a lot safer situation now. I think the racing is tremendous. I think the thousand feett, I'm in big favor of that. I think that did a lot to elevate the sport, to help the sport as far as safety and costs.
Q. What did it mean to be on that cool list in California recently? And is Big Daddy cool? Who else is cool these days in drag racing?
DON PRUDHOMME: Well, I think Ron Capps is pretty cool. Actually I think anybody that drives one of the Top Fuel cars is pretty cool or Funny Car. I don't know how all that happened. I picked up the paper one day and it was in there. I don't know. Maybe it's from growing up in California or something. I don't know.
It was good. When you're on a list, guys like that, Sandy Koufax, people like that, it was an honor, I would say. It's hard to comment on it. But it was fun. You want to explain to everybody what that's about or do they even know what they're talking about?
DON GARLITS: I don't even know what we're talking about.
DON PRUDHOMME: I knew you wouldn't, Garlits.
THE MODERATOR: There is a story posted in the L.A. Times of the 50 coolest athletes in Southern California. And I believe, Don --
DON GARLITS: I did see something about that, yeah, okay.
DON PRUDHOMME: Yeah, I want a retraction. I think I should have been about two or three, but nine is not bad. Oh, it was fun. It was fun. So, anyhow, yeah, that came out.
I think the sport's great. I think from here on out you're going to see a lot of things happening. I think the safety stuff, oil downs, NHRA is already cracking down on that and trying to work it out so the crowd gets a better shot at it, you know, so we don't have downtime. But that's all part of racing and things you learn along the way.
Q. Tony, what's it going to take to get you back on top this year? It sounds like you weren't too satisfied with not winning the championship last year. Sounds like you've been working hard, but if you can take about what it's going to take to get you back to number one?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, we won six races last year and had an off-season. Dixon that Al-Anabi car won 12 races and had an amazing year and they beat us. It's just you've got to go out and not only have to win the ones you're supposed to win, but you have to win half the ones you're probably not expected to win. When the car's not right, you still got to go out and have some breaks, and we just didn't have them.
This is definitely a sport of right timing, right place. We go out and run an amazing second round, and the guy next to us would run the quickest run of his career and beat us. You just can't have that.
We've tested some great stuff. All the DSR cars, every one of them has new parts and pieces on the car that are fantastic. We're ready for the season to start. We've got three great drivers.
And Snake's right, man, Spencer's a good kid. Spent a lot of time with him when we were testing in West Palm, and we're trying to replicate. All three of the cars would go out, three Top Fuel dragsters, we'd all stage the car the same. They studied the way we do stuff. We'd run within .002 of a second. Three different cars down a racetrack. It's just unheard of.
So we're getting better. The problem we probably have is I'm building my own adversaries, you know. They're great drivers. Between Antron and Spencer, they're going to be the hardest cars to beat. And Dixon's a great guy, and they're going to be an incredibly tough team. But I fear my guys more than I fear those guys.
We don't have the same sponsor. It's not like we can take a dive. It's not like we can have team orders. We've got a FRAM car and a Matco car and a U.S. Army car. Nobody's expecting anything but a good, clean race every time.
And it's difficult. It's difficult to beat guys that can come over, see your data and put a tune-up on the car to beat you when they know what you're going to do. So we just go out there and do it, go out and race.
I think what everyone has to understand, we just love racing. If somebody beats me, like I said at the beginning of last year, if somebody beats me or Dixon beats me, I'll be the first guy to walk over and shake their hand and say hell of a job. That's exactly what we did. Those guys deserve to be called the champ. We don't. We'll go out, test, practice, prepare and rye to put the number one back on the car next year.
Q. A follow-up to Don Garlits as well as Don Prudhomme. Is part of the NHRA 60th Anniversary recently they've released a list of the 60 greatest moments in NHRA history. I'm guessing you don't have that list in front of you, but could each one of you tell me what you think is the greatest moment in NHRA history?
DON GARLITS: Okay, I can name a couple. My moments, I hope they're NHRA's too. One was winning the 1967 U.S. Nationals shaving the beard on the starting line.
Then the other one would be the 1975 finals at Ontario, California. I came into the race over 400 points down, set both ends of the national record and won the race to become the first Winston World champion. Those are two great moments in my book.
For somebody else, I think we just had one. I think that John Force win in Funny Car last year was an absolutely great moment in NHRA history. Those are three of my choices out of 60.
DON PRUDHOMME: I'm the same about force. I'm a huge fan of his. To see him come back and see a guy like him succeed all these years. You're talking about a guy whose dad didn't have any money. He went out and hustled everything he's got. He started with nothing, and to still be competitive at his age and come back and win a championship was pretty remarkable.
So I'd say that is one of the most outstanding things that I've ever seen in the sport, except for Don Garlits and his rear engine car when he won the Winter Nationals with no wing on it. Pulled up to the start line and that changed the sport forever. So moments like that.
For myself, I've had a couple of pretty good runs. Actually, I've had a lot of them, so I don't know exactly which one someone would like over the other one, including myself. But those are the things I remember.
Q. I'd like to follow up with the comment that Snake made about the 1,000 foot distance, that he likes it. I'd like to ask Mr. Garlits, and Tony Schumacher and Ron Capps to comment on that. If they think that the NHRA has no plans to ever go back? And do you think that is something that the sport needs, back to the quarter mile?
DON PRUDHOMME: You know, we discussed that last night at dinner. It's funny you should ask that about going back to the quarter mile and the thousand foot. Well, for now, I say for now, I think the thousand foot is just fine. I mean, they're going faster than ever, and we knew that was going to happen once they went to 1,000 foot that they were just going to turn the wick up, find more power and run quicker to the thousand foot and they've achieved that.
So to go to 1320 foot, put another 320 feet on the cars, there is a whole lot of damage between those two points on the racetrack, so I don't look to see it happen in the near future. I think the only way you can control a car is to probably be several things tossed around.
But you'll have to have some electronics or something on it to signal when they have problems like engine damage and things like that. I think to answer your question, the thousand foot is fine, and I think they're going plenty fast enough.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I personally love 1,000 feet. I know there are some fans out there that want it back to a quarter mile. But here's the way I've always said it. When the cars started and we ran 337 in Brainerd a few years back, they put these rev limiters on them. Well, everybody's not going to hit the rev limiters, the cars that aren't going that fast.
So what I always felt was we were penalizing the fastest cars. They weren't really seeing the best race, because you're seeing a car that goes real fast, get to 1,000 foot and drop three cylinders, which is total destruction.
So when they went to 1,000 foot, I believe, and I've seen the best racing ever. Races decided by inches time and time again, even some of the less-budgeted cars going out and running extremely well and making great racing. So I don't see the issue and the problems.
Yes, drag racing started out as a quarter mile, but it's a thousand foot now. We have to enjoy it. It's been a lot safer. I don't feel the fear that I used to feel going to 1320. I just lost a lot of the fear.
I do understand part of racing is that fear, but we can't lose the drivers. We just can't do it. I lost some good friends, not like Snake and Big did. It was a different world back then. But we've all been part of it. We've all seen good people go for silly reasons and things that shouldn't happen.
So I think what NHRA has done is what they had to do. I'm sure their insurance agents really appreciate it, because we just don't need that.
The fans don't want to come and see someone get hurt. They want to see a drag race. You can look back ten years before we went to the 1,000 foot, and the racing wasn't as good. I mean, right now, it's hard to win these races. Everybody out there can get to 1,000 feet and get there quick.
It makes the drivers sit up in the seat. We have to do our jobs on the start line and be a machine. I tell you, I really enjoy it right now.
RON CAPPS: Yeah, obviously everybody makes a great point. But I think the biggest point is being missed and that is the shut down area is probably the biggest reason we're going to 1,000 feet. Because like Garlits and Prudhomme said, these crew chiefs will find a way to shorten up the fuse. When we raced the quarter mile, the fuse was a little shorter than a quarter mile most of the time. At 1,000 feet, sometimes the fuse is a little shorter than a thousand feet now.
But it's the shut down areas. The same tracks that have no area to build on the shut down area to slow us down. We don't mind running a quarter mile. It's when you run 335 miles an hour and you've got to slow down on a track that was built for a car to go 250.
Pomona's a great example. It's one of the most historic racetracks we have, and there is a golf course at the end, and that's not going to change. NASA wouldn't send the space shuttle up into space if there was no way to land it or risky to land it.
I think it's the smartest thing safety-wise to slow us down. The sport is built on a quarter mile. It's what everybody talks about. I think we're going to evolve and people are going to slowly just adapt. Tony said it best. A thousand foot is the closest race that we've had. But you've got to look at the history. We're going faster and faster and there's no way to slow us down.
Q. We've been talking about the mechanical end of things and the racing end of things. One of the biggest deals with the Winter Nationals and the finals out here as well in every drag event you go to now there are huge crowds. When you get there, are you so focused on mechanically what's happening that you don't notice the crowds or does that fire you up? For Snake and Big Daddy, when you come back to the thing, are you surprised at how big the crowds are and the response? Does that fire the four of you up having that many people responding to what's going on?
DON GARLITS: That's true. The crowds do inspire us. I don't think anybody goes out there and is so focused on what they're doing that they don't see the crowds in the stands. It really gives you a good feeling that there are that many people that like the sport that much who come out there and pay all that money to watch you, and then they crowd around the pits. It is very inspiring.
DON PRUDHOMME: Yeah, I think the crowds are huge. But I think the drivers today, it's a good thing, and I think they've had a lot to do with it. Tony Schumacher, and Ron Capps, they're really crowd friendly. They work the sponsors real well and the crowds real well.
Back in the day we didn't really, Garlits and myself, didn't really have time for that. We were working on the cars trying to get them ready for the next run.
Today's world, the drivers are such a huge part in it, their personalities. I mean they've proven that. That's what drives the crowd and makes drag racing is the access in the pits to the drivers and of course them being friendly.
RON CAPPS: Yeah, for me, anyway, personally, I've made comments on to the media before. There is nothing better than showing up for your first qualifying session whatever town we're in, whatever race we're at, and you do the burnout and it could be the afternoon qualifying session on a Friday. You just burnout and flip the hatch open and put it in reverse and start backing up, and you look out in the crowd and it's packed or close to packed on a Friday when people should be working or should be in school.
That, for me, is kind of it hits you that it reminds you of how cool our sport is. How loyal our fans are. They plan their vacations around it. They show up on Friday. They ditch work, cut school. Whatever they do, it's a big deal.
It would be like a Rock 'n' Roll band coming out and being the opening band and trying to play with the crowd a quarter full. You've got to find a way to motivate. But for us, people talk about the economy and all of that, but every racetrack we've gone to, you look up there and the crowd is still there.
In Pomona, it will be Thursday qualifying session, which is unlike most tracks, and you'll see the grand stands close to full, which I notice it. I definitely notice it every time.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I agree. It's an amazing thing. I think it should be ten times bigger. I think Top Fuel dragster Funny Cars are the coolest thing in the world. I wish to God more people knew about it.
But it's so great to see the fans packed in the place, in between the trailers when you're warming up, jumping, and seating the clutches. It's just awesome. It's like we're very gifted and lucky people to be able to do what we love.
I love racing, man. I love racing more than anything out there. So to have those fans be able to come and tell us how much they enjoy it, it's the coolest sport on earth.
They get the pit pass and come to hang out. I swear, I wish it was just bigger. It blows my mind. As cool as our sport s there are so many people that haven't been out to one. Even when I tell my friends and I meet new people and see a drag race, they picture a guy in a White T-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in their shirt like James Dean.
It's so -- when they come out for the first time, they're in awe. They go home and it tell ten of their friends and those ten people take five years to come out because it can't possibly be that cool. It's drag racing. You're only going straight. They get out there and it's mind boggling. So love it. Love the fans out there in California. It is the place.
We start out great. We go to Pomona. We go to Gainesville. We hit some of the greatest places right away, and it just makes you want to get to the next race. It's the coolest sport on earth. I don't think there is anyone on this phone that will disagree.
DON PRUDHOMME: Garlits, see how much fun they're having? Remember when we raced, they used to flick us the finger when we'd do a burnout. And a girl would run over by the side of the track and pull her top up or flash you or something just to try to distract you.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yeah, me and Capps close our eyes, Snake.
DON PRUDHOMME: Yeah, now it's all ice cream and candy out there, isn't it?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's all good people. It's totally different.
DON PRUDHOMME: Yeah, it's totally different. Schumacher, we used to like the crowd we'd race in front of. He is personally with funny cars. We'd do a burnout on the track, and they'd come over in Seattle, come over the guardrail and tap on the Hood of the car while you're backing up.
As you'd run down through there, they'd step back so you could hustle down through there with the pipes lit going down through there. Those were the days. Then they had a little Rock 'n' Roll music going on at the same time in the background and free T-shirts and halter tops.
Q. I go to the track for the whiff of nitro, I'm just saying. Snake, of all the cars that you've raced, what is your favorite car?
DON PRUDHOMME: It's up at the museum, it's the Army Vega that I won the first championship in. One year won 7 out of 8 national events, and they only had eight. I was a runner up at that one. It won the championship by huge, huge numbers.
That was probably my most favorite. And the Prudhomme Top Fuel dragster ranks right up there, and so fortunately I've had a few really great cars.
Q. The follow-up to that is who did you like to race against the most?
DON PRUDHOMME: During my career?
Q. Yeah, during your career.
DON PRUDHOMME: Oh, Garlits for sure was the guy to beat. Mongoose, I enjoyed racing him because I beat him up all the time, which was fun. But Garlits was as tough as they got. I would say all in all it was him. You can tell he's still full of piss and vinegar, I think he can still do it now, don't you guys?
Q. Tony and Ron, SMI has bought the Kentucky Speedway located between Cincinnati and Louisville. There's talk of building a drag strip there at that location. What is your feelings on expansion of the schedule?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I'm a little disappointed it's down to 22 races. St. Louis is always, we won it a bunch of times and it's a fun place. I'd like to see them expand it because back to the same story, I love racing. The more people that do it, the more fans they get involved and get to see it for the first time, it just grows our sport.
Kentucky would be a wonderful place to have a racetrack, and they've got to build them big, man. Bruton Smith has really set an awesome bar. To keep up with those places, you have to spend some money and make them stadiums because that's what the fans are starting to expect. We don't get very many places like that, so we'll see how it turns out.
RON CAPPS: I agree. I did a media tour down there a few years ago. I think Rusty Wallace is part of that track, right some the NASCAR part of it. I couldn't believe for not having a major drag strip near there how rabid the fans were. It was pretty neat.
So any time I think we're going to New Hampshire this year, possibly, and for sure the year after. It's an area we haven't been in. Anytime there is a rumor of a track being built some place that we don't go and it's possibly a new track and, again, like Tony said, even the possibility that Bruton could be part of it. Some of our favorite tracks are the ones he built.
Yeah, it would be exciting. Some guys want less races, some like 24 on our schedule. I'd love to have 26, 27 on a schedule. It would be fun.
Q. Don, if you would comment on the 1,000 foot distance. Do you think it's here to stay, Don?
DON GARLITS: It probably is for lots of reasons. I think what should happen though. I don't think it's a good idea to have two different distances at any racetrack. I sit in the stands and I watch it. You've got the scoreboards down there, and you watch all the cars go down. You get pretty much set in your mind where they're supposed to go, and that is the quarter mile.
Then you see the fuelers and the funnies and it all looks like they shut off early, which, in fact, they do. I believe that NHRA will have to move the entire distance back to the 1,000 foot if that's what they want to run, because then all cars will go to the 1,000 foot, and it will not appear to the fans who are paying the bills that the cars they came to see are shutting off early.
I think it was Ron Capps that talked about the shutoff. The shutoff is the key. Every track now has 320 feet additional shutoff. That is a whole football field. A fuel dragster or Funny Car in trouble, a football field is everything. I mean, that's so much distance that you get. It just gives the drivers so much more confidence to be able to have that distance and know it's down there if there is a problem.
When you're dealing with an 8,000 horsepower engine, there is going to be a problem occasionally. I kind of think the 1,000 foot is here to stay. They could change it t change the cars and the way they're tuned and put together. They could get them where had they'd only run say 300 in the quarter mile, but it would take drastic changes, and I don't see that happening and for what reason.
It's all working just fine. Only thing I see is you've got two different racetracks and they shouldn't have that.
Q. Ron, can you speak a bit about some safety changes mentioned in a recent release put out by your PR guy. You didn't want to talk about it. I'm just wondering are you moving towards more of a John Force type chassis now that John Medlen's over there? Whatever you can tell me about your new chassis and whatnot.
RON CAPPS: Well, without going into details, yeah. John Medlen is a visionary in the fact that he's always looking at the safety side of it besides tuning the car. Obviously losing his son Eric down in Gainesville on that Monday testing, it's been his primary goal it seems in life is to make sure our cars are safer.
We formed a driver's group here a few years back with the Funny Car and dragster guys. Not a union, just kind of a get together so we had a voice with NHRA on issues that we had. Trying to not wait for an accident like Scott Kalitta's to happen and trying to look forward to making things better.
We got the report from Scott Kalitta's accident and a lot of information from past accidents that we were able to look at and get together as drivers and go to NHRA and say, look, here's a way that might be better if this accident happens again. Because, face it, it's going to happen again. Chutes not opening, a guy on fire going down where chute's burned off. It's not if it's going to happen, it's when. We have to prepare ourselves.
As far as the chassis specifically, yeah, a lot of different safety stuff. But most of these crew chiefs you have to remember their job is to make the cars go faster and they get paid to do it. If they don't do it, they get fired. So for a crew chief to actually look at the safety part of it without really going backwards on a performance side of it is a big deal.
We were a little apprehensive when we brought the car out, but it ran better than our car previous to that. So it's a win-win situation.
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