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National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Drag Racing Topics:  NHRA

National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

Tony Schumacher
August 22, 2013

THE MODERATOR: Tony, are you still with us?
THE MODERATOR: Next up Tony Schumacher. He and his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster team are also testing here at Lucas Oil Raceway, and we thank him for his time. Schumacher is a seven‑time world champion that's again poised to make another run to a Top Fuel Championship. His three wins, three runner‑up finishes and he has one Number 1 qualifying position. He's led the points during the course of the season and is currently in third behind one of his teammates, Spencer Massey.
Tony, coming into the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, you're currently third in points. You've got the second seed and top seed still out there. Is there a big difference between the third and second seed going into the Countdown to the championship, do you think?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, when it comes down to the end of the season, we've seen over the last couple of years because of the Countdown that every point matters. Obviously, we'd rather go into the Countdown in second or first is a long way out there. We really have no feasible way to get there at this point. Rather be in second. It's Indy. It's a great race for us. It's one of the races where we've always made up points. We've got to make up 50 points.
We have to start out qualifying strong, and get as many points as we can and go out and win the race.
THE MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much, Tony.

Q. Tony, a lot of times I've processed and I've done this for years, processing points. Just every time I'm doing NHRA and every time I'm running through there I go, well, Tony is maybe a little bit out, and, boom, Tony comes right back. This is just like it seems like you're never out of the‑‑ you can never be counted out, and you almost always come back in. Could you talk about being able to be in that position over so many times, years and years?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think I really enjoy racing cars. I smiled when I heard Capps talking about that too. We're a small percent that gets to do what we do. But I think our teams, Capps is a great leader, and I want to make sure my guys understand how much I enjoy it. More importantly, enjoy the big moments, because the end of the season, the six Countdown races, and let's face it, Indy, you don't get any bigger than that, they're high pressure races and we're very, very good at those.
If everyone had equal cars, our team's going to come out ahead because we have such a good positive attitude when the pressure's on. That comes from everyone from my dad, my crew chiefs, the drivers and everyone on the team. We get it. We understand that championships are won by getting through the pressure races and by getting through the big, monster moments because we're all going to have them.
All those guys on the Countdown now are going to be put under those big pressure moments. Some of them aren't very good at it. Some of them are very good at it. It's kind of what puts you there in the fight at the end of the year. So most of us understand the rules. I've said this for years. I've said it before there was a Countdown, and then the year in '07 when they came out with it, you have to read the rule book. The rules say you're allowed to go into the Countdown. Afterwards, there are ten people that can win a championship.
So like most teams, you go into the middle part of the season and try new things. You go out and try to get new tune‑ups to work. But you put away that great tune‑up that goes out and wins races, and I wait to use that in the big moments. If you don't, you're foolish.
The rules are there in black and white. They're written out and we understand how to use them. Why do we come back at the end of the year? Well, we never went away. We were just trying things. We went out and tested. We know we can win. We saw Robert Hight go into the tenth spot. That Countdown was six races long, lots of points are there. If you can come on strong in the end, you can win this championship.

Q. As far as the stability, it happens in NASCAR and NHRA too, especially when it gets around to the silly season. But even the top champions, they have to move on to other teams for various reasons and adapt completely. You've got the stability of being with Don Schumacher Racing. Could you talk a little bit about that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yeah, it's not just being with my dad, but our team as a whole. The 100‑plus people; it's a pretty secure team. Very few people leave. It's a very small silly season. Our guys don't change as much as most people, and because we've been together for longer periods, we just get stronger and stronger. We can rely on each other. Mike Green and Neil, they don't have to ask me what I'm going to do on the next run. I don't have to ask them what they're going to do. I think they're going to give me their best and I'm going to do the same thing.
Over the years you grow to understand that, and our team gets stronger and stronger, and we get it. We understand each other. That's such an important part of the game that lasts three and a half seconds, being able to put the faith in the driver, put the faith in the crew chiefs. So when the car starts, we know those guys are that good, and we don't have to start second guessing and wondering what happened.

Q. This year the NHRA dropped their ban on testing. Has this helped to make the competition better and even tougher because of the ban on testing?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a really good question. I haven't heard of that many people testing outside the four days we had before. I really haven't. I think without knowing the correct answer to that question, racing is as good as it's ever been. It's simply incredible. The races are close and they're good. A few more people need to go out and win.
You know Clay Millican's going to win a race soon. He's beating on that door. He's a world champ in IHRA. There are other guys out there that are going to do it. Like I've said in every press conference all year, I feel if I was a fan paying money to watch a race, this year and last year have been some of the best years that NHRA has ever had with Top Fuel and Funny Car. The racing has been incredible.
Top Fuel in the class and Funny Car is so darn equal. There are a lot of crew chiefs, lot of good drivers, and the races are second to none. You watch these races, and they're won by inches. Cars making 10,000 horsepower, and running a thousand feet and you can win or lose by inches. It's simply what every fan would want on any given day.
If you're going to spend money on any sporting event, you want it to come down to the end with two great teams and that's what you're seeing.

Q. Do you feel now, in hearing you say you haven't seen that many teams testing, do you think that will change when it gets down to the crunch in the Countdown?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I'd like to know when we're going to test. We have four races in a row and two weeks off, and Vegas and Pomona. We'll test after Vegas. Are we going to test on the two weeks off? Hard to say. If we're fighting for a spot out there or if we're not learning enough during the qualifying.
I think with that ban for so many years, we kind of adapted to learning a lot more and paying a little more attention on qualifying runs than in trying different parts and pieces throughout and understanding when to do that and using it to our advantage.
But I'm sure, if need be, the teams that can afford to go out and test, they're going to always have that advantage. There is no doubt about that. And lifting that ban, I think it will prove that the better teams or the teams that have the most money go out and win another championship.
But let's look back. There was a ban the last several years, and it's still the high‑dollar teams that go out and win without the testing or not. So if the fans start writing, well, the lower‑dollar teams couldn't afford to test, we've still got to keep our senses about us. The teams are still winning. It's the same teams with or without the testing. I just think the level will get a little quicker if we go out and test some more.
But we're sitting here at Indy right now trying to figure out what we're going to test in the next couple runs anyways. We have a good handle on it. We know what the car is going to do. We're making good calls. I think going out and just making runs to spend money is nonsense. If you have a new part, a new piece, a new combination, a new clutch disk, a new fuel system, you have to go out and test it. But just to make runs on a racetrack, nobody ever shows up and spends extra money to do that.

Q. This year I think at one stretch we had seven out of eight weekends on the road, and with the Countdown, I believe it's like four race weekends in a row. And you just mentioned, when are we going to test. Does having this many races in a row, does it hurt the quality of the product for NHRA?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, I can't imagine it hurting anything. I've looked up this the stands in Denver and Sonoma and seen packed houses. Just an amazing following for a time in our country where there are not that many marketing dollars out there and not that many extra or that much extra money to go out and spend. I mean, people are kind of hurting right now and they're still showing up for our drag racing.
So I don't see anything being hurt outside of it. You might see it that way, but they're still showing up, and our races are as good as they've ever been.
I don't know. I wish I was smart enough to give you the answer correctly. But our sports, you know what I really wish, I wish 30,000 or 40,000 more people would show up for a race, because I think we have the best sport in the world. I don't understand, really, how the stands haven't tripled. Because I think we have the coolest sport in the world. We have the coolest cars in the world. It's strange.
People go, oh, you're just going straight, and they seem to give us‑‑ people give us the step‑child effect in Motorsports. But the ones that come out, and, Bobby, you've been there forever, when have you ever heard a fan say this wasn't the best days of their lives? They love it.
We just need to get that media out there. Get the people to show up for the first time, and they come back over and over again. It's the greatest sport that's ever been put out there. I've been to all kinds of sports. I've stood in lines at games and waited for a ballplayer to come out and give my sons an autograph. They don't do it. Out here you get to come out and be part of it, and it really lends to something great.
Can we make the sport better? Probably. I don't know how. I've thought about it many times. How do we make the sport better? How do we make it more entertaining? It's got to be out there, but I don't have the answer for it. I think what we offer people for the money is the best day of their life. They're going to come out and have a phenomenal time with their families.

Q. I think more of what I was trying to ask for that question was does it hurt the teams, not necessarily the‑‑ I mean the quality of the product that the teams are able to put out because they're on the road so many times, so many weekends in a row and can't go back home and service their stuff and so on.
TONY SCHUMACHER: It makes it harder. It makes it harder for the teams that don't run all the races and have the full‑time staff and guys back in the office, I'm sure it makes it more difficult. You may not get 24‑‑ we've got 24 or 26 cars at Indy. What is going to happen in the middle of those four races when we get to St. Louis? Is everyone going to show up. They are probably going to be home building parts that they burned up and broke up. The money goes to the next race.
So there is a possibility that we'll lose a little bit of the effectiveness of all of those teams showing up, and thereby making the sport a little less. If there are only 16 cars that show up, it changes the sport rather than 24.
So, maybe spreading it out, but where are we going to spread it out? We did 7 out of 8 weeks. God forbid there was a rain out. That was gone. Now we've got four in the fall when you're including St. Louis and Redding, and you get a rain out anywhere else, and those two weeks in the middle are gone. There is nowhere to put anymore, man. We're pretty much jam packed.
It's going to be hard. Even on a team like us. We have 100‑plus employees. It's going to be difficult to keep the guys upbeat and ready to go and ready to race with that much work to do and that short of time, and with the weight of the world sitting on them. It's all or nothing at that point. There is no easy one. There is no break. It's a pretty intense sport.
Isn't that what people show up for? To watch who can get through? Beginning of this year we were talking about running short turnarounds, making it a show, making it interesting the whole time. But this pressure, this amount of race in this short of period puts the pressure on, thereby making it a championship for teams who know how to suck up the pressure and know how to get through adversity.
Army Car is great at getting through adversity. There are some teams that fail year after year. This is one of the teams that goes out and proves time in and timeout that we can get through those kind of crunch times. Four races in a row, that's crunch time.

Q. The U.S. Nationals, that racetrack for some reason or another, has been something that seems to sit in your pocket. It's like it takes less effort to win I know that saying that is wrong. What does it take for you to win, and what does another win at U.S. Nationals mean to you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, man. To have the chance right now, we're sitting on an opportunity to win ten U.S. Nationals. No one has ever done that before, and I think that plays into our benefit. We're better with the pressure on. That's what our team has been great at. Every year, the last several has been high pressure. No one has done this before. Can you pull this off? Can you tie Big Daddy?
You know, the records a few years ago in '08, we had run so many races in a row, Allen Johnson announced he was leaving. The pressure was on there. Then to come back the year after, we've got a new team. We're great at those moments.
I think once again the reason we win this race is because we are great at high pressure, big moments. This is the highest pressure, biggest moment.
You look at the races we've won, the Pomonas, Vegas, why is that? The pressure is on. It's the end. You have to absolutely be great. There can be no dropped balls or no failures at any given time. That's what makes this team good.
Indy starts it for us. Indy is my first race ever in Top Fuel at U.S. Nationals, and we went to the finals there. To go out and have so much success for the race, I'm truly blessed that it's Indy.
There are guys that win Seattle or this race, that race. I have the U.S. Nationals that we're extremely good at and productive at. We have nine championship trophies from the U.S. Nationals sitting on my shelves. That's an incredible amount. And there is a space next to it at number 10. I'm a week away from having that opportunity. That's a gift.
It's a gift for any man to wake up in the morning and have that one shot at it. It's an incredible moment. Last year we had the gift of tieing the winningest ever, and we pulled it off. It was a great race. When that win light came on, it was simply incredible. We had the opportunity.
I got this beautiful little poster this kid made me because I mentioned something I saw it on a commercial, it said, "Before every moment, there is a moment." I love that. This week, testing right now, this is the moment before that moment. To go out and win that race requires this, the effort, the preparation, dedication, all the stuff that leads up to this race now.
We're running extremely well testing and we're prepared for this. We understand coming into this that there's not going to be that many more chances at this. We've got to go out and do it. We've got to win this thing because we have a team capable of it right now. Right now we have a team capable of winning the U.S. Nationals and doing it for a tenth time.

Q. To get back on the topic that you were also reaching out to, and that is reaching out to fans and such, how much of your life do you spend away from the racetrack reaching out to people saying, hey, come and look. Come and see what we're doing.
TONY SCHUMACHER: It almost makes you crazy because‑‑ and I'm sure all sports we feel the same. We feel like we're in the best sport in the world. That's why we chose it. So I feel like we build fans one at a time. Chicago had ten teachers from my kid's school that have never been to a race before. Invited them out, so we're always doing it. You think ten people. It's not just ten people. It's ten people that just had the time of their lives, and they went home and told everyone they know. They're going to have the same problem that I had, because it took me years to get them out there. They picture a drag race and still picture James Dean, a pack of smokes rolled up in a white T‑shirt and cool she have he very well. They don't picture these Monday ter Top Fuel cars with 10,000 horsepower. They come out and see it, and the kid's smiles from ear to ear. They're hooked.
It's a great sport and a blessed day for every one of those kids. But it takes a long time to get them out there.
How do you go on TV? ESPN does a great job. How do you make 10,000 horsepower come across a TV screen? It's very difficult. How do you make it exciting on TV? It's a tremendous amount of pressure that those guys have when it's a live sport. You have to be there. You have to witness it live. You have to feel it in your bones the first time. So I can spend as much time as I want across the country, going to every school, telling everyone they need to come out, and you'll still only get a handful of people that show up. Even with free tickets, they just don't know until they get out there. They get out there and see it once, they're coming back the next year.

Q. A little while ago Ron Capps was talking about how he'd like to see a wildcard provision in the Countdown. What are your thoughts on that? Is that something you'd like to see?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's our same as our track, the Shootout. You bring in some of them that didn't earn the spot, so to speak, and give them a chance to go out and win it. There are ten guys out there that have earned a right to go out and win a championship. But there are other people out there that it's not the worst situation.
I find it a little difficult that there are only ten. All the rest of the guys just have to come spend money racing. Yeah, they can win a trophy, but they don't have a chance for it. It would be cool to have a couple of spots open to allow, whether it's a fan vote or past champion or something, I liked his idea of adding more points to it too.
I think if you win a race, you deserve more than 20 points for just winning a round. I think it's always been that way. I felt like forever you go out and win a race, you earned something. You haven't gotten some rounds, you've gotten past all the rounds and you deserve a little more so. That's my opinion.
When they added the qualifying points, it definitely added to the sport. A lot of people were back and forth on that, but over time it's proven to be pretty interesting.
What I definitely am a fan of, is the fact that the losing points on oil downs goes away. I've lost 20 points, and okay, great, puts me in a different position. But once the Countdown starts, the last thing you want to see, and we had the opportunity last year to go out and win that final round and be the world champ. Had I oiled the track down, we would have lost it. Now who as a fan wants to see that? So NHRA was smart enough and recognized that and said you know what? We can't have that. We couldn't even explain how he won the race or the track down and lost the championship.
We don't make the tracks. We do everything possible, everything, our engineers design the best buckets, the best containment systems. The last thing we want to do is oil it down. So to lose championships through that, I'm happy NHRA did that. Like to see some more points added in for some bonuses along the way. They need to be written in the rule books and textbooks. Not opinions that we'll give some points for this or that.
It has to be a good, hard survey on how to get those points into the system and make it a little more exciting. Exciting, but not confusing. I had a hard time explaining my friend's reactions times. I think some of that stuff needs to be simplified so fans can understand it. We have a lot of numbers in our sport. It's a difficult sport. Then we throw four classes in there. We have Pro Stock by Pro Stock, Top Fuel, Funny Car, the sport is awful confusing, which is part of NHRA and ESPN's issue when's they're trying to get across a big show with that many cars and that many explanations in a few minutes on TV.

Q. The U.S. Nationals being the U.S. Nationals, would you like to see that weighted more a little bit toward the Countdown? Giving more weight to a victory there?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think we should run all seven of the Countdown races at Indy, trust me. Because I won Indy, and I'm sure there are a whole lot of guys out there that would. How is it a big goal if there are more points. We need more emphasis on it. We need a bigger goal. We need something like it used to be. It used to be more points. It pays a little better, but it should be a miraculous thing. It's Indianapolis. It's an historic race. More people show up to race. More people spend their hard‑earned dollars to go out and do this, and the fans show up in big numbers. Let's make it bigger. Let's make it a huge sport like it used to be.

Q. You kind of mentioned it earlier, but going after that 10th win, for some people they don't think about it or mention it, but it's clearly at the head of your motivation, isn't it?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, for sure, absolutely. Some people are like the pressure is big. Do you not think about it? No, I do every minute. Again, we're a high‑pressured team. If you look back at the races we get beat at, it's once in a low pressure. We drop the ball a little bit, relax, get complacent, but these big races we are good at it and we do it time and time again. We do think about it. We do prepare for it, and we understand it's a big moment.
It kind of reminds me in '06 when we had to set the world record. My team and I walked out on Sunday morning before we ran the race, and we stood out there and looked at the mountains. I said, this is a beautiful day. Those are gorgeous mountains, but when we come back in seven or eight hours, they're going to be better. We have a gift of a moment, and we have to do what is perfect, textbook. The world has to revolve and everything has to change for this to be perfect.
We came back later that day and looked at the mountains and they were gorgeous. We won the championship by setting the world record on the greatest run in the history of the sport. But before the race, we recognized the history of that race, and it prepared us for it.
It was a big race, a huge chance for us, and we have to be 100% prepared. The last thing you want to do is have a chance in the end and drop the ball because you weren't prepared for it. That would be the worst story ever. You come in to this thing with the gift of the moment and you don't show up prepared with the right people to do it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for your time as always, and we'll see you next Friday for your first qualifying session at roughly 7:00.

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