National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
April 11, 2013
SCOTT SMITH: We'll get started today with our call. First off thank you very much for taking time out of your day to join us here. 2013 season is four races into a 24-race schedule. We've had some great racing so far to date.
During the course of our call we'll be joined by three racers that have enjoyed success thus far in the season. Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher, then later Funny Car racers Courtney Force and Cruz Pedregon.
We'll start the call today with seven-time Top Fuel world champion and current points leader in Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher. Tony has powered his US Army Top Fuel dragster to to two wins this season at the events in Phoenix and Las Vegas. His two wins lead the category and it marks the 90th time he's led the points lead following an event.
Tony, thanks for joining us. Talk about your weekend in Las Vegas. You said after the event you may not have had the best car all weekend, but you were able to grind out that victory. How important is a win like that going forward to a championship hopefully?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, it's very important as a team and just in general to morale. When you're running really, really good, expecting to win on any given Sunday, it's exciting. But we came into that race, we were running good, but we weren't running amazing. We weren't hundredths of a second ahead of anybody. We qualified third.
I think what really helped, and I mentioned it before, is that first run when other cars ran 381, you kind of go, Man, 85, what's wrong with this car? But what Mike Green and Neil learned from that run helped them win the race. They could run their car all day. The data they got from that run allowed them to do that.
Conditions changed throughout the day. The changes that Mike would make would repeat. I've been kind of saying it all year long, we have this tune-up now where we can make a change, and the car's performance will reflected change. That was a perfect race to show it. Cars were going out there, you ran a 381 first round, but how do you back it down? They went out second round and smoked the tires. We went right down the racetrack because we had the car and tune-up right for that situation.
SCOTT SMITH: Have you had a car like that in the past where you can make small changes here or there and it reacts so quickly and so noticeably during the course of the event, qualifying and all the way through eliminations?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Not as good as what we have right now. I really think we have something very special. So do Mike and Neil. They come in there and they smile. It's a relaxed atmosphere because of it. It's not, Here is what I did, the turned the knobs, not exactly sure what it's going to do. They say, All right, calm, cool, it's all they have to do. I know what they put into the car, it's going to take it.
It's doesn't mean it's going to go out and run the quickest on that particular run, but it's going down the racetrack.
When you get in a car as a driver, it was tough. Every car in front of me smoked the tires. I'm thinking, Is my car going to do that when every other car did it? It went right down the racetrack. That is an incredible confidence boost.
SCOTT SMITH: We'll open it up for questions for Tony Schumacher.
Q. When you came on the call, Scott asked you how you were doing. You said, Living the dream. You didn't waste a second in saying that. What does 'living the dream' mean to you? What should it mean for others? How would others be able to get that dream also?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a fantastic question. You guys do understand that I do hundreds of speeches a year to kids, high school kids, college, vocational schools, Army soldiers, people in corporations.
I like to start and say, I'm a gifted driver. They all laugh. Sounds cocky, but it's not what you're thinking. I mean, it's a gift to drive a racecar, only because it's what I want to do. May not be a gift of someone else terrified of going fast. But it's what I wanted to do as a kid.
Living the dream, that means I chose my job and I'm very fortunate to have actually gotten to do it.
When I speak to the youth, I always say, Spend some time every day, every week, thinking of what you really want to do. If you won the lottery tomorrow, had all the money in the world, what would you do anyways? I would race a racecar. That's a gift.
That's living the dream because it's what I enjoy. It shows in the results, shows in the smile on my face all the time, and it's a very easy-to-answer question. When someone says, How you doing? Living the dream. How do you feel? I feel like a champ. It's phenomenal to be able to do what I've wanted to do since I was a young kid, to be able to do that.
Our youth, I try to steer them from waking up when they're 30 years old, looking in the help wanted ads for what jobs are left. From all those people that went out and chose their job, worked in school, got the jobs they wanted, you're going to get what's left if you don't go out there and work at it.
That's a key for us. We're what they call centers of influence, we're adults. We influence the youth. It's our job to help them, guide them. It's what we do when we bring out, the Army brings out, thousands of kids to each race. Look, you don't have to join the Army, but choose a job. NHRA has 4,000 jobs at every race, and we show them. It doesn't just take a driver. Heck, I can't even start my own car. It takes nine guys. What's the use of starting your car if there's no TV crews around to show you what you've done.
Spend some time thinking about what you want, what's going to make you smile every day. You could have a terrible job that pays all and not be happy with life.
I'm in a fortunate job that I absolutely love doing every day.
Q. How do you think your attitude transfers over to your team?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think they love it. It's not that my attitude transfers over to them. Theirs transfers to me, too. We have a very good team. We have a group of guys that understand you can't win every race, but you got to be there and give your best. If you walk away knowing you put in 100%. Great example, I talk to the kids, I say, How many of you have a test? They all put their hands up because they're in high school. How many of you studied so hard because you were going to get an A? They all laugh and put their hands down. I understand that, because I was that way, too.
We all think growing up, I'll get an A next time, I'm going to try really hard next time, really put an effort out next time. Then school ends and there's no next time.
What day are you going to change so when you get in your racecar or job, you figured out how to bring an A-plus game? Because the guy I'm racing, Antron Brown, he's not showing up with a B-plus. He's studying, working out, eating healthy, working out, he's doing whatever he can to beat me. And I understand that, because that's his job.
I can't show up with anything less than 100%, and my guys can't either. It takes all of us with that attitude to go out and win those races and championships.
Q. Tony, I had the opportunity to watch you start a new program with Oakley. I was wondering how that is going.
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's going well. It's an important program. Anyone that's ever dealt with Oakley Corporation knows they do it right. As a matter of fact, I'm wearing in the shirt and the hat right now as we speak. Just happens to be cool and I like it.
I've been driving for the Army for 13 years. I've met some of the greatest people out there. It's so nice to see a big company, not only a big company, but a big company with really awesome marketing people, the guys that work there get behind the military and a program like that. That's great.
Were you at Pomona last year, the World Finals?
Q. I was accompanied by my brother, a retired Air Force colonel. You impressed him with the things you said. I believe there was a sergeant in the Army that spoke at that, too. That was just incredible.
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's amazing. I get to drive the Army car, and I point this out, the recruiting effort is for the Army, but the best part of that U.S. Army car is the 'U.S.' before the 'Army'. It's the United States. I don't drive for the tool companies and the beer companies, it's for the United States, all the branches.
I've been blessed to go to Afghanistan, fly there in a U.S. Air Force plane. I've gotten to surround myself with all the branches. Yes, I drive for the Army, but they all understand it's all of 'em, all the branches, all the people that have served, will serve and are serving now. Amazing group. I'm living the dream.
Q. As exciting as it is to be in Top Fuel right now, and arguably it is one of the most competitive groups of Fuel cars in the history of NHRA, how do you feel about being able to compete at this time with this group of racers?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I feel old (laughter). You look around, man, I was the young guy not that long ago.
They're good. They're a great group of people. I think I said it at the last press conference. There hasn't been too many silly seasons in the last couple years. In other words, come Indy when we normally frantically are moving crew chiefs around and drivers, it's been consistent. Because of that, the racing's gotten tighter and better. The teams have stayed together, they build bonds.
The performance, now would be the ultimate time an NHRA Top Fuel, Funny Car fan, and Pro Stock has always been that way. Very, very tight. It's incredible racing. You don't know who is going to win a race when you show up. Used to be one, two, that guy has kind of a shot if that car doesn't start. It's not like that. You show up there, first round is difficult, first round. And I think that that makes our team better.
I've always said that we are a high-pressure team. We've won championships through the years under pressure. The funny thing is the seasons where I've had to start outrunning against Kalitta, first round Sunday morning at Pomona, at the Winter Nationals, I've always performed better that year because from the first push of the pedal we had to be great.
For whatever reason, our team is good, we're great at that moment. Even getting beat last year in the finals, if you had me run Bernstein 10 times, I would give you a 40 light and run low ET in the weekend and win.
He beat me. I don't remember what he had, a 20 light or something like that. Not only are you going to win, I'll go over, shake your hand, tell you you whooped me. I'm not going to give you that. I'm going to do you my best and bring you what textbook would win most of those races. Put the pressure on like that, like we have more often than not, and we're going to win races.
Q. What unique pressures do the four-wides bring and challenges as a driver?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, if you don't leave first, they're really loud. When you have a car on each side, you feel like the sky's falling on you. It's intense.
It's an incredible amount of pressure. First of all, I haven't won that race in Atlanta. Now that they've added the Epping. We won Charlotte, the first ever. Not the Four-Wide. I want to put that on the list.
Always we'll find a way to add pressure to a situation. I just think I perform better that way and I enjoy it. Who wants to show up and race an average race? No one dreams of an average football game, a blow-out baseball game. You dream that it's tied in big moments.
That's what we at NHRA have. Every time you stage a car, it's a big moment. You lose, you go home. There's no Mulligan. No, no, let's do that one again. It's not there. It's wicked pressure. Our team is very good at that. We enjoy that moment.
Last year, I'm not kidding, we were going into that final run. I had joked, while me and Antron were doing the track walk in Pomona last year, he was standing next to me. I said, We all know what's going to happen, dude, you're going to smoke the tires first round and I'm going to have to win the race.
He said, Why is that?
I said, Because it happens all the time. I've seen 'The Titanic' 500 times and, guess what, the boat always hits the iceberg. Movies are always the same.
I swear, when he smoked his tires, my guys were laughing. Are you kidding me? I was just joking, but wow. We got put in that position again to have to win round after round, and very close races, very intense. Three more rounds in front of you where you got to go out and do this job.
But my guys laughed through it, smiled, were comfortable. This is when we're the best, when we have to go out and do it. We have to go out and perform.
Again, a 40 light, low ET wins most races.
Q. Tony, a little while ago you talked about the wonderful adjustability of the car. Could you get more specific about what you've been able to adjust?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, that's a great question. It's obviously a combination between a lot of different things. I think a lot of times it's clutch discs. We know how to make a car make power and take away power. Most teams know how to do that. You end up getting a series of discs, a combination, where one's not working. You don't know if you should put a used one in. My guys just have found a good thing.
Now, that being said, the tune-up they have is phenomenal right now. The power level is outstanding, as many of them are. I would be willing to bet Alan Johnson's power is right there with us, if not more. Alan Johnson knows how to make horsepower. So we found something that is better than his. Without being able to walk over and look at theirs, all I can tell you is our adjustability is as good as it ever has been. From testing in West Palm at the beginning of the year, we were making changes.
The first thing they said is, When I make a change, the car responds to it. Whether it's good or bad, sometimes you make changes and it does nothing. That's when you go, Wow, this is not good because we don't know how to back a car down because we don't know what the car is telling us it wants.
If you asked Mike Green, he'd probably give you a different answer. I guarantee you it's a smarter answer because he understands what he's tuning. I just know what I'm hearing. The guys have an amazing clutch program, blower program, overall fuel program. It's working well. It's working well enough where we can put different pieces on the car at different times and actually try it and go, Wow, that piece worked or didn't work because we don't have to start second-guessing the tune-up.
That's probably the most difficult thing in the world, when you get a crew chief or a crew who wants to test something, but they're not sure if the change made the change or if it was a random act of them not knowing what happened. It's out there a lot. Then you got to throw a driver into that equation. The driver can't stage the car consistent, put the car where it needs to be. Very hard for them to figure out if their tune-up's working at all.
SCOTT SMITH: Tony, you talked about Charlotte. We've seen some incredible speeds there, times and speeds, both at the fall race and the spring race. What is it about that track where we're seeing such good performance numbers out of Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock?
TONY SCHUMACHER: The last race we ran 330 miles an hour, the conditions were just perfect. That's simply put. You can't run speeds like that. We haven't previous to that, we haven't since then, if I recall.
It was just an amazing air. When you have killer air, I love explaining to the youth of America, because they're starting to work on their cars for the first time. When you have air, if you picture a shoebox full of ping-pong balls, each one is a molecule of oxygen. If it's hot out, they get antsy and move around. If it's cool, they snuggle. If there's more air, you can add more fuel and make a car go fast.
Making a Top Fuel car go fast means massive air and massive fuel volume. The more you can make on it, the more horsepower you're going to make. We had the combination there with the air, the water grains were correct, the air density was correct, the atmospheric pressure was correct, we were going fast.
Then you better have a good racetrack. If you're going to try to run eight or ten thousand horsepower down the track, the material that Bruton Smith, in this case, uses on that racetrack better be good. Now you have too much power and you don't have enough track to sustain the horsepower hitting it.
We just had the right combination and we went fast and I guarantee we're going to go fast then.
SCOTT SMITH: Thank you very much, Tony. That will conclude our portion with you today. We will see you in Charlotte.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Sounds great.
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