National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
September 7, 2011
ZAK ELCOCK: I'd like to welcome the media to this teleconference for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. I'm Zak Elcock with NHRA media relations.
This call is to preview the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. The drivers that will be participating on this call today are some that have been riding a wave of success into the countdown.
On the call today will be Top Fuel pilot and Mac Tools U.S. Nationals winner Antron Brown, Funny Car drivers Tasca and Ron Capps, and Pro Stock driver Jason Line. We'll have a brief introduction of each driver, then open it up for questions from the media.
We'll begin our call with Jason Line. To say that the KB Racing team of Jason Line and Greg Anderson are peaking at the perfect time would be an underestimate. In the past six races, the two drivers have combined to collect a total of four number one qualifiers, seven final round appearances with two of those being both cars in the final and five wins. This past weekend at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Jason took the number one qualifier from teammate Anderson in the final qualifying session, then went on to face his teammate in the final on Monday where Anderson collected the win. In total Line has four wins and five final round appearances for this season and has never fallen below the second place spot in the points standings. He now enters the Countdown to the Championship in second place just behind his teammate.
Jason, did you ever imagine at the first of the season that the KB Racing team would be 1-2 entering into the countdown?
JASON LINE: I imagined it. Saying it is one thing and doing it is another. I couldn't be more excited because we're peaking at the right time. We have a great team. We're pretty excited about the Countdown.
ZAK ELCOCK: Thanks, Jason.
Next driver we'll move to is Funny Car driver Ron Capps. Ron and the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger team have been consistently moving up in the points standings over the latter half of the regular season. Since the addition of tuners Tim and Kim Richards, Ron has seen a slew of success that included a win at the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway. In fact, in the past seven races Ron has posted three final round appearances. His semifinal round appearance at the Mac U.S. Nationals boosted him from sixth to fifth in the points standings heading into the Countdown.
Ron, your team has seen a lot of changes this season but seems to be hitting its stride just in time for the Countdown. How important is it for this team to be firing on all cylinders next week?
RON CAPPS: Any driver you're going to talk to is going to tell you the same thing: you have to try to peak at the right time. We've seen a lot of guys and girls run really well the first part of the season. I've been in that scenario where you want to put away your parts when you're running good and then look down the road and concentrate on the Countdown. It's going to be interesting to see if guys can bounce back and get back in the race mode.
We didn't in the past and we finished second to the championship three times. That's probably the biggest reason why. So to say we're peaking at the right time, it feels like it. But I think every year this Countdown has gotten stronger in every category. It's amazing now. There's a handful of teams in each category that are trying to make the Countdown. That's been the biggest goal.
Some awfully big names in all four categories that aren't going to be part of the Countdown. So it's important.
ZAK ELCOCK: Thanks, Ron.
We'll now move to our next driver, Funny Car driver Bob Tasca. Heading into the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals this past week, Bob and his Motorcraft Ford Mustang were in the 10th and final position in the points standings with 11th place driver Johnny Gray just knocking at the door. Bob needed to secure his spot in the Countdown and had to do it at the last race of the regular season. He did that and a little bit more. After Gray lost in the first round, clinching Bob's spot in the Countdown, Tasca went on to beat John Force, Melanie Troxel and Ron Capps en route to a runner-up finish in the most prestigious race in drag racing. His final round appearance moved Bob from tenth to eighth in the points standing.
Bob, your team did exactly what they needed to do to get you into the Countdown, now what do you need to do to win your first world championship?
BOB TASCA: It was a grueling weekend. I'm glad it's over. We went through a lot of parts. Friday and Saturday night we weren't even qualified heading into Sunday with rain in the forecast.
For our team, we struggled through a better part of the season. We ran very well, had some great signs in Seattle, ran very well in Brainerd. Obviously we had some ups and downs this past weekend. We're getting real close. The guys have a much better handle on the car. We had some crazy part failures in Indy that unfortunately none of us can control when those things go wrong. But we feel very confident.
We went to the finals in Charlotte at the beginning of the season in the four-wide event. It's a place we've done very well at. It's a great place for us to kick off the Countdown.
ZAK ELCOCK: Thanks, Bob.
We'll now turn to our final driver on the call, Antron Brown. Antron raced to arguably the most exciting win of his career Monday when he held off Top Fuel points leader Del Worsham and became the first driver in NHRA history to win the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. But it has been Antron's performance leading up to that moment that has put the driver securely in the second spot in the standings heading into the Countdown.
Antron has posted three wins in the past six races and catapulted his Matco Tools dragster from fourth to second into the points standings. Entering the first race of the Countdown, Antron is riding a hot streak that may move past Worsham and into the points lead.
Antron, your team couldn't be peaking at a better time right now. Are we witnessing the coming together of a championship-caliber team?
ANTRON BROWN: Well, that's been the game plan since day one, is to get stronger and stronger as the year goes on. We started off, our car was strong in testing in West Palm, and we were growing and growing, but we had to get used to our combination, just everything we did this year that we changed on the car. We went through our bumps and bruises.
We just lost some close drags races at the beginning of the season. Right now our car has been running consistent and the races have been falling our way. We've been winning some close, close, close drag races. Could go either way. We're just riding that wave right now.
We just want to keep on doing the same thing that we're doing and hopefully if we can do the right things, we just want to be there at the end, the last race the year, we just want to be there and have a chance to win the championship. We don't want to go in 60 or 80 points out. We want to be right there, if not having the points lead, but being in striking distance to actually win a championship. That's all we can ask for right now.
ZAK ELCOCK: Thanks, Antron.
We'll now open it up to questions from the media.
Q. Antron and Ron that have the experience of the Countdown, has your mindset for the Countdown changed with the experience over time?
ANTRON BROWN: Yeah, I think that we learned a valuable lesson in '09. 2009 was definitely a year we came in the Countdown with over 200 points lead then it got wiped away. We went there and we were racing, but I think our mindset was that we put so much pressure on ourselves where we qualified, to start at Charlotte, we qualified second and lost first round because we had to change the injector at the last minute. We went to another race that we baffled. We raced the other four races that went good. We just messed ourselves up.
In the Countdown, you have to go there and be poised, be in that zone, medium zone, not too high, not too low, treat it like every other race we have this year where we have nothing to lose.
In '09 we did it. It took us out of contention.
RON CAPPS: Yeah, I agree with Antron. The experience I've gone through, the first year of the Countdown we were leading by I think almost 200 points going into the first Countdown. Might have been my first chance of winning a championship. But we learned the next few years that you got to approach it just like NFL approaches playoffs or baseball or anything else. You got to get in it first to win it, and then you got to, like Antron says, approach it as 'now is the time'.
You could probably still have a bad race, maybe even a couple not-so-good races, but realistically now with the competition, you have one bad race and you're probably not going to be fighting for the championship. You got to have a car that's capable of going up and conditions on both sides. When it's warm, you got to be able to be one of the guys that's going to scoop up those small qualifying points. But when it cools off, like Redding, like Tommy did last year, you got to be able to step up in cool conditions and set a national record when the conditions are there, gain the extra 20 points.
One thing we forget, and one thing that's been critical the last couple years, is it oil down policy. You get the credits, you lose the credits, you start losing points, and the guys that have been hurting stuff, oiling down the track that are, if they do it now, it's going to start costing points. I lost the championship one year by eight points to Scelzi. That's a couple good rounds of qualifying, that's what eight points will get you.
So it's going to come down to having a little bit of luck on your side. Let me tell you, three weeks, we have a weekend off, three weeks, three races in a row, everybody is going to take a breath and look around, and the points are going to be shuffled big-time. You have to hope you have three big races.
Q. Did your experience match what you expected?
ANTRON BROWN: Like the experience is what we expected. I would say it was actually what we expected it to be, but the problem is that when the Countdown comes, you get all these nerves, all this stuff just comes up even to another level. Then what happens is when something bad happens, you have to have the mindset to regroup.
What happened with us was in '09, I think that it hurt us. It hurt us to a point where it's like you went in there on this big full of steam, you win all these races, you're expecting to do good. You're expecting to win first round, especially when you qualify number two. NHRA drag racing, when the playoffs happen, anything can happen.
When we lost that first round, it was detrimental to us where it knocked the wind out of our sails. Then we went back, We got to work hard. The thing about it is you got to work smart and you have to be wise to it where you got to settle down. You got to say, You know what, we're here, we got to settle down and take it one step at a time and we got to put our best effort forward.
The thing about it is, when you put all that pressure on yourself, you do things that you tend not to do. I think knowing that now is that we're going to approach this Countdown like we did last year different. We're going to go in it and we're going to be in the offensive mode, not the defensive mode. I think the last two years, we've been in the defensive mode because we've been up there saying, We need to do this. Now we're in that mode, the last three races, we're going to look at the track and attack the track for whatever it can handle. That's what has got us successful so far this year. We're going to continue that on and attack it that way and see where the chips fall.
RON CAPPS: I agree with everything Antron says.
One thing I have to make a note on my side, having Tim Richards come onboard, with the experience the guy has had, being a kid, watching the race on the last day of the season, the last round, pressure situations like that, that's what Tim Richards brings. He's already brought that and helped me as a driver.
To answer your question, to learn from it in the past, yeah. I watched Tim Wilkerson red light down in Pomona when he should have had the championship won. I felt like I was in his shoes in the morning because I had already been through that. I would like to get Tasca to give some advice but I'm not going to help him out (laughter).
Q. Antron, there's been a lot of good competition in Top Fuel this year. Can you talk a little bit about the competition level in Top Fuel and how that's going to play out in the Countdown.
ANTRON BROWN: Yes, yes, because I'll be the first one to admit it. The class that everybody loved watching was Funny Car because they had some really serious, serious competition, like the top 10 cars were incredible. Now you're seeing that in Top Fuel with Del Worsham coming over, Spencer Massey coming back in the game on our race team. You see Brandon Bernstein stepping up. Bernstein and Kalitta cars, both of them are in the top 10 also. When you look at the group of people that are in our class right now, you see the five cars right now with Dixon, Worsham, our three DSR cars, those five cars right now have been on fire. I mean, one race, you have one good race, you could go from fifth to second.
Del has come over in Dixon's car from last year, has been putting on a clinic lately. He has a 130-point lead, 110 over the last race over me in second. We've been nipping away at him slowly. He had almost a 300-point lead on us at one time.
With that being said, you go into the semifinals, you go into the second round like this last race, first round, I raced Shawn Langdon first round, he could have beat 70% of the other drivers first round, he was the 17th qualifier, we snuck by him. Second round, matchup with Kalitta. We snuck by him, beat by 9/1000ths of a second. Dixon, got by him. We race his teammate Del Worsham in the final.
Competition right now in Top Fuel has really heated up. I think this has been the most competition in Top Fuel in its history for sure looking back from all the days till now. This has definitely been the most competition Top Fuel has ever seen.
Q. Keeps you on your toes, I imagine.
ANTRON BROWN: Oh, without a doubt. When you go up there, you have to race each round as a final round. It's a nail-biter round every round. When you get to the final round, you look back, How did I get here? It's crazy because it can go either way. In Top Fuel and Funny Car has been like a double-edged sword. You can have a great race and lose a round by 5/1000ths of a second. You go in there as a favorite, have lane choice, doesn't make a difference.
You have to go up there, squeeze tight, just got to give it all you got and hopefully your win light comes on.
Q. Ron, since the addition of Tim Richards to the team, the consistency of the racecar has been very consistent and the performance has improved. I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but your performance as a driver seems to be far more consistent and has improved. Is there anything that you've changed as a driver with the addition of Tim Richards?
RON CAPPS: It's just made me work a little harder in the gym. I just have more confidence.
Mechanically it's a deceiving thing, our reaction times, when you see it posted in either National Dragster Magazine or on TV. A lot depends on the car, how the clutch is set up. Sometimes it looks like maybe you don't cut as good a light or something, really your livelihood depends on whether you cut reaction times by the way some owners look at it.
The cool thing about Tim Richards is, he's much like Kalitta and Ed, those kind of guys, he loves making power. That power brings reaction. When I step on the pedal, I have more confidence going up there the more time I go down the track, all that cliché stuff you hear a driver talk about. There's nothing you can substitute for the confidence.
When you know the car, early in the season I was focused more really on cutting a light, but more on what's going to happen after that. I got to be ready to pedal this thing, might smoke the tires, I have to try to save the run. Now I don't really have to think about that. I just have to worry about having to cut the light, when to pull the parachutes. That makes a big difference.
Q. With that confidence, where you are in the season, the consistency of the car, do you feel this is your best shot of winning a championship so far?
RON CAPPS: Yeah. I've said that before.
Q. You said that before, but you were riding the top of the points when you said that. Now the car and you seem to be tied together and improving every pass. Does that build confidence this is the year?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, I guess you're right. When we lost to Bob Monday there in Indy - I've been upset about losing at Indy when I thought I had a pretty good car - I had to fight myself from throwing up. It hurt so bad, I wanted to walk over in the corner and throw up my lunch. You forget how much your blood, sweat and tears, everything that goes into what we do, especially a big race like that.
I find myself telling my family member and friends how proud I want to make Tim even before I think about the run. I want to go out and make him proud to do the best thing I can do in the car.
Yeah, I guess looking at it from your perspective, it helps us all click better as a team. I guess the more I look at it, it probably has been my best chance.
Q. Bob, a couple years ago you moved your team to the Charlotte/Concord area. A lot of teams in drag racing talked about how Indy, with the shops being there, really feels like a hometown event, they feel they have added confidence knowing that's in the place where their team is located. How much confidence does that give you going into zMAX Dragway next week knowing your team is in the heart of NASCAR country?
BOB TASCA: That gives you confidence. Guys get to sleep in their own beds at night. As simple as that maybe, it's a little bit of an advantage.
At the end of the day, it's another drag race. I agree with everything that Ron and Antron have said. You can't try harder than we already try. We go to every race to win. As Ron said, blood, sweat and tears from the driver down to the bottom-end guy we put into these racecars to put ourselves in position to win a race. Clearly zMAX is a tremendous facility. A lot of runs on it, twice a year, we test there. I think all the teams have a pretty good handle on that track. It will be a good ol' drag race and a great place to start the Chase.
Q. Bob, the four-wide, you did very well there this year. It's such a bizarre format, such a bizarre race. Does it mean anything in two weeks?
BOB TASCA: Well, I mean, it all depends what the conditions are going to be. I don't remember off the top of my head what track temperatures were. Clearly if you got similar conditions, yeah, it means a lot. You got some data to look at.
The truth be told, it was a long time ago, the four-wide event. These tune-ups, these racecars evolve. It's not the same car. You don't end with the same car you start with.
I think the crew chiefs will look at data probably from a few races back that get us to similar conditions as what we'll see the weekend coming up in zMAX. But when you race at a place like zMAX, I mean, the facility is incredible, but the racing surface is unbelievable. That's what makes the difference with these racecars.
If it's bumpy, if it doesn't have good contact area, if one lane is a lot better than another, as a team you hate to see lane choice dictate who will win the race. You won't find that in zMAX, at least we hope not. It will be a great place to race.
Q. Shoe on the other foot. Ron, you had a one-and-out there. Can you look at that result and say, That was just a four-wide, emotionally tell yourself that was so far out of the normal that it won't affect what you're going to do in two weeks?
RON CAPPS: No, you can't say that. Other than the fact there was a rumor floating around that we were going to do qualifying for this next race as four-wide, the race on Sunday normal, a lot of the crew chiefs were kind of tripping out because it doesn't give you two runs in each lane. Spread it out one run in each lane. Here we are Sunday in two lanes.
I think the biggest thing, like Bob says, superchargers are different. So many things have changed since then, you can't compare it. That's one of the places I haven't won yet. So, yeah, it's a little inspiration I guess for me personally to try to win there.
Other than that, the four-wide, I don't know about the other drivers, for me I kind of approach it the same, like any other race. Other than the fact that you got two other cars you got to pedal it if you're losing on Sunday, other than that, man, you go up there and try to do the same thing every time. I hate to be boring with my answer, but it doesn't really change much.
Q. Jason, both you and Greg are located out in North Carolina. You always talked about the two Las Vegas races, how much that means for KB Racing. Did the two races at zMAX Dragway, did they mean a little bit more for both of you guys?
JASON LINE: I'm not really sure about that. Both Greg and I obviously live here. Our shop is not that far from Bob's. It's a big deal whenever you're racing in front of friends and family.
Vegas I think is probably a bigger deal for us because Ken Black, our owner, that's where he lives. So we always want to try to do good in front of him. Of course, the spring race is a summit race also. It's a big deal for us.
But every race is a big deal for us, especially right now, because you can't give up the 'big mo'. You got to have momentum. Obviously we have that.
Going into Charlotte, we feel like anything less than a win is going to be unsatisfactory. It is a big deal. Is it a bigger deal than the other ones? I don't know that. Going into the Countdown, maybe it is.
Q. Jason, there's been a lot of hay made over Greg losing the car, trailer, all the equipment, spare parts on the way back from the World Finals. With as closely as you two work together on each other's cars, did you expect to see the two of you at this point in the season going into the Countdown 1-2 with all of the adversity you faced during the off-season?
JASON LINE: We expected to. But it's a really hard thing. You just don't know. Pro Stock is somewhat different than Top Fuel, Funny Car and maybe bike. The engine development never really stops for us. The engine is sort of king in our class. So we never stopped working on that part of it. You always hope you're going to find enough power before the end of the year, that you're going to peak at the right time.
You just don't know what's other teams are doing. Right now there's a lot of really good teams all located here in the Charlotte area primarily probably because of NASCAR. As far as naturally aspirated engines here, you probably have the cream of the crop.
We did expect to. But saying it is one thing, doing it is another. The easy part is to talk about it. We've managed to do that this year and feel very good about going into the Countdown. Hopefully we don't have any more fires to set us back again for next year.
ZAK ELCOCK: We'd like to thank our drivers for joining us on this conference call as well as media from around the country. Hope to see two O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals next week at zMAX Dragway.
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