National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
July 10, 2013
SCOTT SMITH: Next up we have Tony Schumacher. Thank you for joining us.
Tony has raced into six final-round appearances this year and won three of them. Tony also has swept the Western Swing in 2008.
Tony, this year we've seen the Top Fuel points lead swap hands back and forth, including last weekend in Norwalk. How tough has that Top Fuel category been so far this year?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, it's been tough the last couple years. There's just a number of good cars. Lately there's five or six really good cars, whereas maybe the beginning of the year or even last year, there were eight or nine.
It's not that they're not all good cars, it's just there's five that have been finding a way to win. The tune-ups, we've had a little more time with them. Like I said at every press conference, the silly season hasn't happened in the last couple years. The teams have stayed together with the drivers and crew chiefs, even the sponsors. We just had more time to get closer, and the racing has been great.
If I was a fan, and I am, if I was paying money to see a race, I would want to come to an NHRA race right now. Anybody can go out and do a great job. I got beat by someone I grew up with, the first guy I ever had a T-shirt from, the Golden Greek. He ran out and ran a 95. I got beat. Qualified phenomenal, got my butt handed to me.
You don't wake up in the morning on Sunday, no matter who you're racing, and feel confident.
Man, there's some great cars out there.
SCOTT SMITH: Was that a surreal moment when that happened in that somebody you've looked up to all those years, a legend in the sport, does that make you shake your head a little bit?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's definitely racing. I was very caught off guard by it because the conditions were good, cars were running in the 70s. We have a car that runs in the 70s. We struggle when it's hot out. We ran our second qualifying where we ended up in the second spot, was from those perfect conditions, the night run. We had conditions very similar.
When that thing went out there and smoked the tires, I thought, We're going to win anyway. When I saw him go bye, Oh, my God, are you kidding me? This was not the right time. We went out and won Chicago. We had a nice points lead. Let's maintain it, win two in a row. But I got it handed to me.
What a great guy. There was nothing I could do other than walk over and shake his hand, I would love to see you go out and win this race. Is he going to do that three more times? Probably not. It's been great to see it.
The man has been doing it for a long, long time. I can remember the drawer when I was three or four years old that I opened had the T-shirt, the Golden Greek, my dad's shirt, his shirt. Just awesome.
Again, I bet he was more upset than I was because he doesn't have the big money, hard to get back for that second round. In reality, to beat our car is something that's exciting. You watch guys go out and beat the Army car. They jump up and down like they won a championship.
I said it in the morning, I said, Man, I wish I was running a Kalitta car because you know how to rise to that occasion, get pumped up, get ready, do all your stuff. You don't exactly know how to run the Greek.
Apparently I do. You go out, race him, then you put your car on the trailer and go home. He gave us a whooping, man.
SCOTT SMITH: We'll open it up for questions for Tony.
Q. Tony, speaking of the Army sponsorship, could you talk a little bit about what the hospitality means? Also, if you have a comment on our troops that are deployed.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Sure. We've been deployed for a long time in a lot of different places. It's such a special partnership. As much as I do love Matco Tools, all the other sponsors on the sides of the cars, it's the U.S. Army, a phenomenal deal. We do so many events over almost 14 years, on Fridays we invite kids from all the high schools, colleges, vocational schools to the racetrack. We give them a free ticket in, we give them a little speech. I'm not saying, You got to join the Army. I'm a racecar driver. I do say, Be part of a team. Figure out what you want to do, find people that are similar that want to do that job and get yourself around the right group the people.
I kind of say it sarcastically, but you're as good as the people you surround yourself with. If you're around five guys that aren't pulling their weight, you're going to pull yourself down.
The Army is so good about the man or woman next to them, it makes it easy for me to speak because I've been blessed to be around them, a strength like no others. Saturdays, we do centers of influence, the mayors, fire chefs, principals, invite them into the trailer because they are influencing our kids. We talk about teamwork, leadership.
It's our job to build the building blocks to help these kids grow. They're going to be the strength of our nation and we need them to be strong, team players. More than themselves, they need to be out for helping our country. That's what our country is based off of, great kids growing up and doing great things, building a great nation.
For all the soldiers, I drive the Army car, but every branch is necessary and incredible. I've met guys and gals from every branch of our military, spent time with them. I know for families at home, it's harder for you guys. When you're out there deployed, you know what you're doing, you know what's happening, but for the people at home it's difficult at home.
Similar to racecar drivers, my wife waits for a phone call when there's a crash, and it's unfortunate sometimes they get it quicker on Facebook.
We're proud of them. I don't think there's a person in America that's not proud of what they do. For those of you listening overseas, stay strong and do your job. We love you, guys.
Q. With the speed you go, the safety factor, all that, could you comment on that compared to speed on the highway, what your comments would be to young people about speeding, safety.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I say a prayer. I put on a fire suit, I get in a roll cage. I do all those things in preparation for what I'm going to do. I'm very aware I'm in a dangerous job.
People on the highway get lackadaisical. Driving down the road, changing radio stations. Hopefully not texting. I'm a Harley guy. I don't like to pull up to somebody where they're texting, drifting all over the place.
As a professional racecar driver, it's our job to be prepared. I wish everyone on the highway would understand the implications if you go out and make a mistake, there are lives at stakes.
I think Wally Parks founded NHRA to get people off the streets and get them on a racetrack where it's safe. If we get in a dangerous situation, we put ourselves there. On a highway, you're jeopardizing other people. You just have to stay off the street when you're doing that stuff. It's not necessary. There's places you can go out and race. NHRA makes it available for anyone that wants to go fast, put on a helmet, go down a racetrack.
Q. Tony, veteran drivers never say they've learned everything. They always say they're learning something new year after year after year. What's the biggest thing you've learned this year that has helped you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, that's a really good question. I learned that losing by a couple thousandths of a second the last race of the season does not make me smile. I've learned that you need to dig.
I can joke and say that, but if I had to do that run last year against Bernstein 100 times, I wouldn't have done it any better. I had nothing left to give.
It makes you dig. Each year I find that being around great people, and I use it in my speeches, but I love driving a Top Fuel dragster because of the nine people that work on my car. Many of you heard my speech. It is a great car, scary car, goes very fast. But what makes it great is when they say, Here we go, we're going to start the car, I can look at those nine guys and know they're capable of that moment.
If I had to start my car with my five high school friends working on it, it would be terrifying. I learned this in a speech. I've eliminated 'we have a problem,' and I've changed to 'a situation.' If you don't have a parachute on, that's a problem. If you run a racecar, 300 miles an hour, with my five friends from high school working on it, I have a problem.
When I show up at a race, there are obstacles and adversity we have to get to. But because of those nine guys, it's just a situation, something we have to figure out and accomplish. It's a very different situation.
I tell the kids and I tell people, almost never, I've used the word, I've got a problem, but in three days, it's gone. It's fixed because the people I put myself around are capable of fixing it. It's like that in any job. If you're a boss of any company anywhere, it's good advice. If you hire the wrong people, possibly you're going to have some problems. If you put the people in place that are good at producing the results, which it's your job as a boss to hire the right people, put yourself in a situation, not a problem.
I see something coming, Wow, this is something we have to get through. I know we have people that can do it. It's calmed me down a lot this year.
Q. Tony, you've been pretty much the leaders when it comes to safety with the canopy, a lot of other different ideas. Are you working on anything in the future? Is there another area you're looking at or you're pretty happy with the package you have?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Never happy. I love it. I would never drive any other car. We're always working on something. We're putting more like a Formula One insert into my car to keep me away from the reverser. I'm just waiting to see what the guys I race about say about it. It's inside, in my cockpit, but somehow they're going to say it's aerodynamic, makes my feet faster or something. It's just ridiculous.
We're 100% going to add weight to my car because we're putting weight in there to protect my legs. All we're doing is trying to make these things safer. I'm overly surprised we haven't had other cars get in a canopy. We're not making money off it. Antron proved that thing worked phenomenal. You hate to use Antron, but he was the one that used it first.
I don't remember which one of our cars, one of them hit a bird two races ago I think in Chicago, it was a pretty messy thing. But you hit parts and pieces without a canopy and you're going to get hurt.
The inserts are going to be beautiful. I'm not sure when we'll have them on. But to protect your legs, to protect your hips, the rest of your body in a crash, to keep it from banging against each other, that's the next stuff.
Q. Do you think we're going to stay at a thousand feet for you guys?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I believe we will. Until we figure out how to add land to tracks that are owned by NHRA. NHRA, in my opinion, I don't think they can come and say, We're going to go to a quarter mile, our track we're going to keep, because Pomona is short, we can't add lanes. They can't have it going two ways. The situation for us is a thousand feet. I don't think we can separate some tracks at a quarter mile which we own the land, can make them longer, and some tracks that have no capability of that.
The fans, they're seeing great racing. We all wish it was longer. We all do. I mean, I haven't talked to any driver that doesn't hope or wish we could go back to quarter mile, but we understand that the situation is just not there. We can't. There's no land at some big tracks to do that. We need a shutdown area. Our cars are going extremely fast.
We were always racing to a thousand feet. After a thousand feet, our stuff was blowing up anyway. What you're seeing now is better, closer races. It's safer. I'm going to knock on wood here, but we haven't had a catastrophe in a while. Safe racing is great. We have accidents and things happen, but to have that shutdown area where it's not absolutely disastrous like some of the ones we've seen in the past is very important.
Q. I'm a Vietnam vet. How often have you been able to get over to see the guys in Afghanistan and what are your thoughts when you get to see the guys?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I haven't been over there nearly enough. Mostly at the bases. Seattle, we go to Fort Lewis. They're leaving and coming back. I can see more people. When you get off to Afghanistan, Iraq, there's other countries that we've got a lot of troops in, you don't really get to see that many of them. It's nice, but they're off doing their job.
It's nice when they come home, it's a welcome home. It's fantastic.
At the last race, it was beautiful. I had a Vietnam vet, had a purple heart and a silver star. Actually now that I think about it, I got beat on that run, but at least I got to carry them. Felt bad giving them back, didn't go 330 miles an hour. The guy was cool, walked up, was a Vietnam vet.
It's so nice to give back to people. Nowadays, our soldiers come back, they're heroes. At that time it was difficult. To be able to carry a medal, something that that man earned was a blessing.
If you stand in my ropes, you look out at the pits, you see the Vietnam war, the Korean, that's the Army car, home base for those guys. It's phenomenal to have them out there. I invite them in. Come on in, get some water, sit down, watch my guys. If there's anybody in the world that deserves to come into our pits, it's any veteran of any war. They have served our country. You all know me. I don't fake this stuff. This is just good old reality and the American way.
When I flew over there, I got to go to Afghanistan, right before we were at war in Iraq. I flew with General Keen. Our drivers go off to Germany, different places. Most people don't have the opportunity, I want to fly to Iraq, see what is going on. It is a big trip, something you plan for a while. You're stuck in small places. You're in some areas. It's pretty intense and pretty unique.
SCOTT SMITH: Thank you very much, Tony. We will let you get back to your afternoon. We will see you at the start of the West Coast Swing next week.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Sounds great. Look forward to getting there guys.
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