National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
November 14, 2011
We'd like to welcome the media out to this teleconference call for the Full Throttle NHRA Drag Racing Series World Champions. Joining us today will be Top Fuel world champion Del Worsham, Funny Car world champion, Matt Hagan, and Pro Stock world champion, Eddie Krawiec.
We'll start with a brief introduction of each driver, then open it up to questions from the media. We'll begin our call with Eddie Krawiec. After finishing second and third in the point standings in 2009 and 2010, Eddie came out in 2011 and won the season opening Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. From there he went on to win an additional three races, two runner-up finishes, and racked up three No. 1 qualifiers.
Throughout the 2011 season, Eddie and his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson never dropped out of the top three point standings all season long, and entered the countdown to the championship with the points lead. With his second round win over GT Tonglet Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA finals, Eddie clinched his second Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship.
Eddie, now that you've had the night to reflect on it, how gratifying is it to win your second world championship and to do it in a season when you and Andrew both seem to dominate the class?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: It obviously means everything to our Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson team. We set a goal at the beginning of the year as does everybody else, and our goal was to win the championship. Our main focus is obviously keeping our motorcycles competitive throughout the season.
It's a very competitive category. Throughout the last two or three years, this class has grown leaps and bounds in that area of anybody can win, and on race day, any given qualifying position has a shot.
So by no means is it a cake walk or easy to do. We just try to be consistent, stay on top of our game and move forward. To set goals and to achieve them is something that when you look back on the season it puts a smile on your face and keeps you more excited and ready to move into next season.
But when you look at it as how competitive the class is, all the classes are like that. That is the great thing about NHRA Drag Racing is I feel right now at any given category, when you sit down in the stands and you watch it and you really don't know who is going to win when they're lined up next to each other, makes it that much more exciting.
For a driver to turn around and say they've won or won the championship or had the opportunity to win that race in a situation like that where they don't dominate, we may have had great motorcycles all year long, but by no means were they dominating the season or the class.
Because of the fact that if you just take the statistics and look at it, yes, I had three No. 1 qualifiers. I was the sixth finals, four wins and didn't fall less than third out of my point bracket in the category. But the end result is there are a lot of little pieces to that puzzle to get it to that point.
So it's something that our team is just proud of, and we're excited to be part of and being able to call ourselves world champions again.
THE MODERATOR: Eddie also won the world championship in 2008. Thanks, Eddie our next driver on the call is Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan. After losing the 2010 world championship to John Force at the final race of the season, Hagan came out in 2011 with a purpose, and raced back-to-back final round appearances in Pomona and Gainesville.
After finishing the regular season fifth in the point standings, Hagan raced to his first win of the season at the countdown opening O'Reilly Auto Parts, NHRA Nationals in Charlotte, took the No. 1 qualifier at the event, and made NHRA history by becoming the first Funny Car driver ever to break the 3 second mark with his national record setting run of 3.995.
Hagan entered the season with the points lead, and after a semifinal round win over countdown competitor Cruz Pedregon, clinched his first world championship. He also went on to win the event.
Matt, after such a heartbreaking end to the season last year, what did it mean to you to not only win your first world championship, but to do it at the same event that had such a big impact on you in 2010?
MATT HAGAN: First of all, it's just tremendous to be a world champ. But I don't think it's set in yet. It's kind of like this year I've gotten to throw out two first pitches at the baseball games, and I kind of pride myself on being athletic a little bit and want to throw a strike in there. I bounced my first one in.
That is kind of what that world championship last year felt like, like I bounced the ball. So I got a do over again this year, and I finally threw a strike.
It all worked out. I just can't say enough for my guys and for Tommy DeLago. What a phenomenal crew chief. He's a bad ass when it comes down to it. He's the guy you want to put yourself around and you're going to have a long career and a great career.
My guys have worked so hard. I'm just a small piece in this puzzle. Without them, this could have never happened.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now move to our final driver on the call, Top Fuel champion Del Worsham. After competing 20 years in the Funny Car class, Del began his first full season in Top Fuel competition by racing to the win at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, and also the points lead. From that point on, Del never looked back.
In total, Del raced to an impressive eight race wins of the most in the category this season, three final round appearances, and seven No. 1 qualifiers. He entered the countdown with the points lead, but lost it after second round back-to-back losses in Charlotte and Dallas.
But with a runner-up finish in Redding and a win in Las Vegas, Del clinched his first world championship with a semifinal round win over Spencer Massey at the Auto Club NHRA finals. Del went on to win the event that evening.
Del, after so many years of competing in Funny Car, did you ever imagine you'd win a world championship in Top Fuel?
DEL WORSHAM: I definitely didn't imagine it a couple years ago when I signed on with Al-Anabi. I signed on to a Funny Car contract. And then halfway through the 2010 season, Sheikh Khalid, the owner of the Al-Anabi Race Team made the decision to switch both cars over to Top Fuel for the 2011 season.
I knew when he made that call that I'd definitely be in position to possibly win it, but there is no telling what's going to go down or how you're going to drive, or how the teams have come together. So, no, I never really did ever imagine it up until about a year ago.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now open it up for questions.
Q. Question for Del and Matt, how long did you guys expect the thrill of winning a championship to linger?
DEL WORSHAM: It's going to really -- it actually hasn't even set in at this point. I still feel like we're still in race mode. I said it last night I'm still kind of at that level where the reality of what took place hasn't totally set in. I need to sit down and watch the coverage, and watch the emotions and see what happened.
But I'm sure it's going to last a lifetime to some degree, you know? And it's going to be with me right up until we pull the wires off for testing next season.
MATT HAGAN: As well for me. It's something that I don't think you can ever replace how hard you work to get to that situation, how much you've prepared yourself. Then when it all happens and comes true, you've got to take it in and enjoy it.
But it's something they can never take away from you is that you're world champion. There are a lot of guys out here competing, a lot of good race cars and good drivers. To be at the pinnacle of the sport here and to be able to wear that ring is something else. I don't think it will ever lose its luster.
Q. For all three guys, was there a point in the countdown where you felt like you had that championship in hand?
MATT HAGAN: No.
DEL WORSHAM: No, me either, absolutely not. It was tough.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I would personally say that the one thing that you can't do is count on having that championship or knowing you're going to get it. With the way the countdown system works, I think it's up for grabs. It's anybody. Somebody can get hot at the right time and snatch it out from under you.
I had the opportunity as well as Del did to have the points lead for a good amount of the regular season. But, man, when you get to the countdown, sometimes things can change and change really fast. So you never get too cocky. You sort of just go out there and try to do the best you can.
Q. Eddie, you said yesterday that this championship validates the one you won in '08 when you didn't win any races. I'm wondering, has that been something that's been eating at you silently for three years?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: To answer your question, yes. Yes, it has. I caught a lot of grief from a lot of people on being a champion and never winning a race. It's just something -- it was a bittersweet win for me. It was my second year racing. Obviously having the opportunity to win a championship is something that everybody wants to do. At the end, I had this big prize.
Building up to that big prize, I never had the opportunity to win one of those little prizes. I was fortunate that season to win the shootout for us, which was a bonus race, a $25,000 shootout. But it still wasn't a national event win.
The following year I went out and went to a total of, it was ten finals, eight of them straight in a row, and I lost the championship by two points.
At the end, it was sort of a punch in the gut to me, because that was my championship season. I defended my title. I won races, but I didn't win a championship.
So this year I finally can say I won races and I won a championship. So this is just something that really puts a smile on my face, and makes me proud.
Q. As a follow-up to that, they showed a couple of reports from the starting line yesterday. I'm wondering what kind of pressure that put on you in the fact that the V-Rod is his baby, and here he was at the finals?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Yeah, Willie G. is a huge drag racing finals. A lot of people may not understand that or realize it, but he follows us all the time. If I do well at a race, it's not uncommon to get a phone call or a text from Willie or Billy or some of the Davidsons. It's a passion for them. They love it. Harley-Davidson's heritage is racing starting from the early 1900s, 1902, 1905 with board track stuff.
Racing to them is part of their heritage. Obviously, having Willie there makes it that much sweeter. Last year I was able to win the race set the national record at Pomona, and had Willie on the start line to see it. So any time he's at a race and we win, it's extra special, and it definitely goes a long way for us.
Q. I have a question for all three drivers. How well do you guys sleep on Saturday night knowing that the world title championship was one day away on Sunday?
MATT HAGAN: I slept like a baby on Saturday night. Last night I didn't sleep but an hour. I don't know what the deal was. I was on go last night, sitting in the room and I couldn't go to sleep. My wife was snoring like a baby. And I was like, what is going on? I don't know. For me I'm a little backwards, I guess.
DEL WORSHAM: I was up at 4:30 Sunday morning. I was wide awake and fully aware of what was getting ready to take place and the task we had in front of us. Yeah, it was tough. I fell asleep no problem, but when I woke up, it was time to go racing at that point.
I'm with Matt. I barely slept last night. I'm just so excited from the championship and the day that I only got a few hours of sleep.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I'm sort of on the same page as Del. I went to sleep okay Saturday night, but, man, I woke up awful early ready to go. You sort of just ponder and think about things and really just want to go out there and perform and do the best you can.
You know you think about it, obviously, you think of possible scenarios. But the best thing to do is as a driver go out and use your natural abilities and do your job. When you do that, hopefully win lights turn on in your lane and at the end of the day you'll be standing there with a trophy. For me, I was ready to go.
Q. Do you think that the pressure actually starts right now because you have -- now you are the defending champions? How do you consider racing this 2011 compared to what it will be in 2012?
MATT HAGAN: I don't think there is a whole lot of pressure coming in. You know, it's a new start, new slate. That's the way I look at it anyway. We have a new opportunity to go win another one. I don't look at it as somebody can take something away from you as much as we can go out there and win another one.
Not much pressure. The pressure was yesterday, and it's said and done, so you put that behind you and you move forward and get focused on trying to win another championship.
DEL WORSHAM: I'm with Matt. All the pressure from yesterday is relieved now. I think starting off fresh where everybody has equal points again, I don't think being champion makes any extra pressure at that point. You just want to go out and perform good again, and see how it's all going to fold out.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Likewise on all that. The pressure's off now. It's the start of a new season, getting ready to go and just get ready for your first race, for those guys it's Pomona. For me, it's Gainesville. I'm looking forward to it. Pretty excited. As they say, there is nothing to lose. Just go out there, do the best you can, and hopefully we're in the same position next year at this race?
Q. Del, now with a year down the line and with a championship in hand, can you talk a little about the decision to go from Top Fuel or from Funny Car to Top Fuel? Are you more comfortable with it? Do you view the decision any differently?
DEL WORSHAM: All right, well, I mean it really wasn't my decision. It was made by the owner Sheikh Khalid. It was his decision to make the move to Top Fuel. When he called and asked me, would I want to drive the dragster when he made this decision, and I was like sure. It sounds like a great opportunity.
Larry won championships, and Al won championships; and the team was really built and the team performed well in the Top Fuel categories. So it was pretty easy decision as a driver for myself to jump on board.
As far as being comfortable, I'm way more comfortable than I was back in January, but still probably not nearly as comfortable as I am in a Funny Car. I wouldn't trade it for anything though. At this point, Sheikh Khalid and his decision was pretty genius.
Q. Do you feel like a full-fledged Top Fueler now?
DEL WORSHAM: No, I do not feel like a fuel-fledged Top Fueler or Top Fuel driver. I'm a little wider and heavier than most Top Fuel drivers, but I have a great crew chief and he's able to work around that.
Q. Matt, I'm wondering what it's like to put an end to the John Force reign? They've been dominant in this decade and Don Schumacher Racing has finally put an end to that?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, it's huge. John Force, that whole JFR camp over there, they win team championships. It's not so much individual championships, you know, so they do a really good job with that. For to us come out as an individual team, you can call it what you want, but everything over here is 110% straight up. I've got my teammates beating up on me left and right.
It's one of those deals where those guys make you dig deeper, because they're going to do everything and anything they can to win, and so you know the odds sometimes are stacked against you. You've got to give those guys credit. They do a great job with it. It makes you dig deeper as a driver. Makes you want it more.
I know last year when I had that bad taste in my mouth, I told myself I don't ever want this again. I'll do everything in my power to keep from that. Sometimes it's out of your control and you just have to live with it. But if I have anything to do with it, that's the way I want it to come out.
Yesterday things fell in our favor. We had some really great racing, and we were able to be on the side of the ladder to take out the guys we needed to win the championship.
Q. For all three drivers. We've seen a lot of safety innovations this year. Do you see more on the horizon? Is there more safety items that you'd like to see implemented?
DEL WORSHAM: I feel pretty comfortable right now with the rules and the safety we have. You're always making improvements and helping yourself out a little bit, better padding and better head gear going to FIA 8860 helmets, and things like that. But personally I feel pretty good right now.
MATT HAGAN: I'm kind of in the same boat as Del. I think there is room for improvement on everything. But right now I think these cars are pretty safe. I think I'd much rather run to the thousand feet as fast as we're running now versus slowing these cars down and running to a quarter mile or feeling like they're not as safe at a thousand feet for some reason.
Like he said, the helmets, maybe some head and neck stuff there can be done. But most of these guys are up to date with technology. And the NHRA is on top of their game with that stuff. I think everybody's doing a pretty good job with it.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Obviously on a motorcycle I've got a lot less protection around me than the other two guys. But I do feel that obviously safety is the first thing. If we weren't feeling safe, we wouldn't get on the motorcycle. I think NHRA does a great job to do the best they can.
Obviously for us, we have leathers on, and a helmet and some gloves. That's about our safety barrier. But I do feel comfortable. I do feel it's a safe zone. There is always room for improvement, as everybody says. But it's tough to improve upon things when there aren't any problems.
Q. This is a question about social media for all three guys. Eddie got to share his championship with some of his Facebook friends. But just a question to all three of you, what do you think of the social media? Do you use it? What do you think of the future of Facebook and Twitter?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Obviously, I think it's a great way to promote. I think it is something that obviously a lot of NHRA drivers should embrace and move forward with themselves. The one thing I really looked at, me personally, I try to make myself a brand also as well as my partners Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines and everybody else that is associated with our team.
I feel if you do the good media, that all that good stuff coverage-wise that everybody can see and follow you, you'll gain fans. You'll gain friends. And just in general, it will get your name out there personally. So for me, I do it for my sponsors and my partners as well as myself.
Q. Matt or Del?
MATT HAGAN: I think it's a great tool if it's used the correct way. There is a lot to grow your brand and your image as well. But I think there has to be a fine line there. A separation point where it becomes personal into you've got to have that space where it's great that they know everything about you, but also they can't know everything about you. You have to have some personal space as well.
I think as far as a business tool in that sense, it's a great thing for NHRA, for the drivers, for everybody. But there comes a fine line when you have to have your personal space.
DEL WORSHAM: I'm with Matt. Facebook and Twitter is a good tool. It gets out a lot of information to your friends, and people can keep up with you, but there is a little personal space. There is so much already on TV and exposed. It's nice to have a little bit of privacy.
My wife loves Facebook. Our team, we use it. We use Twitter and it works out well and I support it. But there is a fine line. I'm with Matt.
Q. Del, have you ever been involved in a more intense round than your match-up against Spencer Massey?
DEL WORSHAM: Oh, the second most tense round I've ever had was the final round against Spencer Massey in Las Vegas last weekend or two weekends ago to get in position. To be put in position to race them again here in Pomona at the finals.
So, no, no, I don't believe so. I've had some pretty tense situations over the years. The final round at Indianapolis in 2005 to win the showdown and the U.S. Nationals was definitely high up there. It was ranked pretty high.
But yesterday the semifinals went from being the most tense run of my career, to the final round probably being the most carefree round of my career, those two runs. Once a championship was won, we got to go into the final round and just where their points were on the line. Going on the line for the win. I felt decompressed, and I felt like it was a lot of fun. It was a great race.
Q. To follow-up, you're a California kid, and it started out as a family racer with your dad and everything. What does this mean to your family to be a world champion? I guess your dad and your mom were standing there. It's just been a long road for you to get to this point.
DEL WORSHAM: It has been. I haven't spoken too much to my father about the win and the championship, but I'm sure I know for myself it's a great feeling of accomplishment. It's something that I set out to do years and decades ago. It's finally been accomplished. I'm sure my dad even though he wasn't working on the team, he's taught me everything I know. We've raced together and we've made a lot of these decisions together in what direction I was going to head. So I'm sure he's feeling very gratified also.
Q. To follow up on John's question. Matt and Eddie, you had some pretty intense racing yesterday as well. Matt, talk a little about that round against Cruz, and Eddie, if you could talk about that second round against GT Tonglet when you clinched?
MATT HAGAN: I guess when we raced Beckman in the second round was big. We were one and two in points. If we didn't get around that, we probably weren't going to win the championship. I knew that Tonglet has a very consistent crew chief. He has a smart crew chief that's going to go down the racetrack.
It really came down to just us going down the racetrack and we happened to do that. It played into our favor to set us up for another huge match-up against Cruz to win the championship.
I don't know. I tried to stay calm, cool and collected and go up there and focus and make sure that we give our opportunity, our team the opportunity to win this thing and not do anything stupid or mess up or try to make something happen. Sometimes when you chase after it, you try to make something happen and you step on your toes.
So for me, it was just kind of to breathe, focus, and when the light turns on go. But it just was one of those things where you have to simplify it as a driver, and you have to just take that pressure and turn it into something small and just do your job and simplify your job. That was big for me. For me being able to do that took all the pressure away.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: To be the champion, I had to beat the champion that round. Racing LE Tonglet, the 2010 Pro Stock motorcycle champion, he's a tough competitor. He's a great racer. Obviously, he's a past champion. To beat him to get the official lock-in for the championship, felt really good. He's, as I said, he's a great competitor. But you also can't take anybody lightly in the category.
I knew I could have shot myself in the foot there if I took something for granted or just went out there and slacked off. The one thing I was trying to do is be consistent all day. For me, it's just you need to stay calm and relaxed and not hype yourself up, because if you do that, that's when you're going to get yourself into those bad situations and maybe prematurely jump the tree or get a red light or do something weird.
The most important thing for me was being consistent and just staying, as Matt said, cool, calm and collected. Just stay there and be consistent.
Q. Rick Stewart is basically retired now. I'd like to get your thoughts on having a different face out there on the starting line in future years?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I'll speak on that. Obviously, it's something that Rick felt he needed to move on and do something different. I think it's a great opportunity for NHRA to open up and bring somebody new aboard. There is obviously, in past years there are a lot of famous starters. Obviously, Buster is the one guy that everybody has known and loved in the NHRA. He was the front face.
I wish Rick the best, and obviously he's still going to be a big fan and supporter. I spoke with him last night about it. He was pretty happy, but pretty sad to be leaving. But it gives somebody else an opportunity. Hopefully NHRA brings somebody in. We get a great personality out on the starting line.
DEL WORSHAM: I started off racing when Buster was a starter. Then when he left we went under Rick, and Rick did a great job following up for Buster. I'm sure whoever is going to take Rick's spot will do the same thing. He's a familiar face up there. You get into routines and things you're used to seeing is Rick.
I'm sure when we pull into the Winter Nationals and we're all getting up there to go race and he's not going to be there, it's going to take a little time to get used to. We race mostly on our auto start system nowadays where the starter doesn't really so much control the tree as much as he used to. He just controls things -- he tries to control things from going bad.
The reaction times and the tree really shouldn't change much, but having a different face up there is going to be different. I also wish Rick nothing but the best.
MATT HAGAN: I wish Rick nothing but the best as well. I can't really comment on it. I ain't been out here long enough to really get to know the guy. This is my third season down here. I probably owe him apology. I probably almost ran over him in a pro-mod backing up one day. Other than that, good luck to him in the future.
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