NHRA TF-PSB TELECONFERENCE
Excerpts from the NHRA teleconference Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 with the POWERade Series championship contenders in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle, and they are:
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Antron Brown, Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey
TOP FUEL: Doug Kalitta, Brandon Bernstein, Tony Schumacher
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
MODERATOR: We'll begin with the Pro Stock Motorcycle class where Antron Brown has the POWERade point lead. Antron has 16 career wins, which is sixth best in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. He has five career top four finishes in the POWERade Series championships, but he's never won a POWERade Series championship.
We also have Andrew Hines, who won the past two POWERade Series championships. Andrew is certainly within reach of a third straight POWERade Series championship. He's won twice this season and has been to four final rounds. He is 27 points back of Antron.
In third place is three-time world champion Angelle Sampey. She is 64 points behind. She has the most wins in the category this season with three. She may need one more over the next two events to win a fourth championship.
Angelle, get us started off with some opening comments on the last two events of the season, what you think your chances are 64 points back of Antron.
SAMPEY: I'm thinking my chances are pretty good. Of course, it's going to be difficult having to race against my (U.S. Army) teammate for the championship. I know Andrew is going to be the doing the same thing as I am, trying to knock Antron down. That is going to be a tough thing because he seems to be on his game lately.
I know my team is very capable of doing this. They're capable of pulling off the championship, whether it's going to be with myself or Antron. I feel pretty confident we're going to get it. It's just going to be a matter of who is going to make the least amount of mistakes, who is going to keep their head on straight. Hopefully it's going to be a matter of who has the best luck going. I hate to say it, but that's probably what it's going to boil down to. No engine failures, no mechanical failures, stuff like that, who is going to have a lot of luck this season.
I'm hoping that we get it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. One thing going for me that I'm proud to say is that I do have three championships. I know Andrew probably feels the same way with his championships he has before. Antron doesn't have any. At least we do have those championships under our belt. If we don't get it, it's not like we're losing anything. I know Antron is trying really hard to get his first. I'm rooting for him just as much as I'm rooting for myself. Hopefully I'll get that fourth ring.
MODERATOR: Next up we have Andrew Hines. Why don't you start where Angelle left off with being a POWERade Series champion. How do you think that's going to help you over the last two events?
HINES: Well, luckily over the last couple years I've been able to sneak away with a championship right at the end of the year. It was a dogfight over the two entire seasons that I won the championship.
It's been a great road along the way. Luckily I'm in place right now to have a chance of winning my third championship. So for us to do that, it's just a great achievement for our team. Hopefully we can go out there the last couple races, turn a few heads, have a little better outcome than we had the last couple years (lost first round at the ACDelco NHRA Nationals in 2005). I'd like to get a round win and a couple race wins going into the last part of the season. It would be great for our team.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Andrew.
Antron, you are in first place. We talked to Angelle and Andrew about being champions, how that may help them. You've been in the top five quite a bit in your career but not won. Why don't you talk about these last two events and what is going through your mind trying to maintain this lead going to the end here.
BROWN: Just the last two events, going in with an open head, just a clear mind to stay relaxed. I've been in a battle before numerous times and lost it at the very last two races, actually not being in the lead and losing it by 30 points.
The only thing I want to go into the last few races is with my mind wide open. I want to go and try to win the races. That's our main focus and goal for the whole team, is for the U.S. Army Suzuki to go out there and be as strong as possible.
We found a problem in the motorcycle which was electrical. I'm feeling a lot better going to these last two races.
MODERATOR: Folks, we'll open it up to questions.
Q. Angelle, has this year turned out the way you expected or are you a little disappointed up to this point?
SAMPEY: It's definitely been an emotional rollercoaster for me. It's turned out exactly how I expected as far as the points. I knew that my team would be in the lead. I wasn't sure which bike it would be, mine or Antron's.
The things that happened that I didn't expect were the bumps in the road that came along. That was that disqualification in Brainerd for the weight. I will go to my grave saying there was no way we were light. That was just something that happened to me. I kind of feel like someone has a jinx or a curse on me right now because I keep having all this bad luck stuff happening to me. These crazy red lights I've had the last couple races. They weren't legitimate red lights. It wasn't like I was pushing the tree, just cut a negative-.004. It was just a weird situation. My bike was – me and my bike were going red really bad.
I think for myself I've definitely not done as well as I wanted to even though we have won collectively four or five races this year with my team, I'm real proud of that, but I was kind of expecting Antron and myself to be No. 1 and No. 2. We're not far off of that. We're close to that. Andrew, him and his team are just so awesome. They've been a thorn in our side for a while now. We're trying to be the best to beat the best. I'm real happy with him being No. 1. I would be even happier if I was No. 2 right behind him.
Q. Some of these incidents have been uncharacteristic. How do you deal with the red light thing? Do you become hesitant? Is this going to affect your reaction time on the line?
SAMPEY: Antron and I have been working really hard on keeping it green. We've tried everything we can from a different grip on the clutch, a different clutch setup, different bike setup, everything we can do. We just realize that there's really nothing else we can do except go when we see yellow. If it goes red, that's just what was meant to be. Hopefully some things will change for us in the future with the way the bikes react on the starting line.
But I guess what I had to come to realize is I'm not the only person with the problem. Every other motorcycle racer out there has to deal with this. You're going to lose some races because of red lights and you're going to win some races because of red lights. I think it's all going to even up at the end of the year.
Q. NHRA, it's one of those things that everybody in motorsports seems to be under the shadow of NASCAR. You have this wonderful, exciting sport. Do you ever anticipate a time when NHRA is as popular as NASCAR or threatening NASCAR or to you even see that as being a potential goal?
BROWN: Right now I think our sport is growing by leaps and bounds each year. I think NASCAR right now is on a hold. The sport has grown to like a plateau where they've kind of leveled off. Our sport has nowhere to go but up. Every ticket is a pit pass. The fans get to come out, see the drivers, see the crews working on the vehicles. We're more accessible. With the young personalities we have, especially in our class of Pro Stock Motorcycles, we have the whole Vance & Hines group, U.S. Army group, the GEICO, Karen Stoffer, Steve Johnson. We have so many multifaceted personalities in our category, which is unbelievable. We're getting attention right now with the V twins against inline 4's.
Our class is definitely getting to the point where it's getting on that level.
HINES: It would definitely be great to see NHRA grow to that big of a venue. NASCAR definitely has shown everybody the way to do it. If NHRA can follow in those footsteps, it would definitely make everybody involved in the sport feel that much better. Luckily we're in the position right now where we can stick around for a long time and hopefully see NHRA grow to that magnitude.
SAMPEY: I think NHRA definitely needs to continue showing the fans the personal side of the racers. I think when you have something that you can relate to in a racer, you become a bigger fan. I know that's how I am. I'm a huge fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championships. I get really close to a fighter and root for a fighter when I hear his story, when I've heard what he's going through or what he's going through at home. I think it's great that NHRA is starting to show the personal side of the racers more. I hope they continue to do that because I think that's how we're going to grab more fans out there.
Q. For all three of you, do you and your team handle the stress or reality of holding on to a points lead differently than getting to a points lead?
BROWN: Actually, what's so funny about it, what you have to try to do, when you're in the points lead, you’ve got to try to pretend you're not in the points lead because I think when you get in the lead, you try to go in a protective mode where you look at every round. I just got to get through this round, do this round. That's why I think I messed up in the past.
Right now, I mean, Angelle, she's been a three-time world champion who is on my team who I see all the time. She just handles every round, every race the same. She wants to go out there and dominate every race. Ever since I teamed up with her, she's given me that mental attitude. I think that's what makes you a champion, makes you win. Especially now I think this year the championship race has been tighter than what it's ever been between more drivers. Usually it's within two riders. This year we had it within five riders, now we're down to three at the last two races. You definitely have to be on your Ps and Qs to go out there, stay mentally focused, go after race wins, rounds.
MODERATOR: Andrew, you've seen both ends of that spectrum the last couple years. What are your thoughts on being behind or ahead the last two events?
HINES: Well, what I think, our team has looked at it from both sides. Right now we're second in points, looking to get back up to first. Last year we had both bikes luckily finish one and two. We've been at both ends.
It's tough either way you look at it. You need to go out there and win the rounds no matter what. To go out there and race, you have to look at it just like you do any other race, first race of the year or the last race of the year, if you're 10th in points or first in points. I think that's probably my biggest downfall, I pay attention to points way too much. My team tells me about it. It's just something that is my nature. I've always wanted to be on top of anything I've ever done. Right now I'm in a decent position to go ahead and go for my third championship. That's definitely putting a little bit of pressure because there's only been a few Pro Stock Motorcycle riders and drivers in the history of NHRA who have three-peated. Angelle is one of them, my brother (Matt Hines) is another one. If I could get up there and tie those two, that would be awesome for the Screaming Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team. That's what we're looking to do to go into these last couple races.
SAMPEY: They both pretty much covered exactly how I feel about it. Andrew is right. It's kind of hard not to count the points. I try to tell myself not to do it from the beginning of the year. I try not to focus on it too much. But you always find yourself looking at the points to see where you are, what you need to do to get back on top. I think it's difficult to get through the season without focusing on that.
Like Antron said, what I do and I've learned from losing it, I've lost it to Andrew's brother, Matt Hines. I was 14 points in the lead going into the last race of the year and lost it by eight points. The reason I did that was because all I could think about was what I shouldn't do to lose. I kind of buried myself and lost it anyway.
Now learning from that experience, I go to every race, my main goal is just to have a good time, go one round at a time and hopefully get to the finals of each race. I tell my team all the time let's just focus on winning this race and the championship will come.
Q. Angelle, you’re going to Las Vegas this weekend, where luck is paramount if you want to do well at a casino. You mentioned some of the things you had with your history this year. Are you feeling any nerves, superstition with the location?
SAMPEY: No. Actually I absolutely love Las Vegas. It's my favorite place to race. It's so much fun. I'm not a big gambler, but I just love the town.
I'm feeling really good. I've come to a decision that I am going to accept whatever happens to me for the rest of this year. If I catch up in wins, great for me. If I don't, hopefully Antron will, great for him. I just realize whatever happens happens.
But now that you mention it, I have been feeling pretty lucky lately. I can't wait to get to Vegas. I feel like I've had both good luck and bad luck this year. Last was bad luck. So it means good luck is next. I hope that's what's going to happen to us for the last two races.
MODERATOR: We'll move on to Top Fuel.
Doug Kalitta, our points leader. Doug has 29 career event wins, which ties him for the sixth winningest driver of all time in NHRA Top Fuel history. He finished in second place twice, 2003 and 2004, in the final POWERade Series championship standings. He's still searching for his first POWERade Series championship. He has five event wins this season.
Doug, with two events left in this season, you have an 83-point lead over Brandon, 89 over Tony. Share with everyone what's going through your mind, what your thoughts are going into the final two events.
KALITTA: Pretty much play it as normal. Really just try to go to these last two. The tracks are a couple of the best tracks we have on the circuit. It's going to be tough. It's going to be tight. My normal deal is just to go there with the hope you're going to get the win, let it all add up at the end of the day.
Round by round you can think about all the different things. But just really at the end, you’ve got to go up there, do the best you can. That's what it's about for me, just to go there and try to get the win, see how it all shakes out.
MODERATOR: Next up, Brandon Bernstein. Brandon is 83 points back right now. He drives the Budweiser Lucas Oil dragster. Brandon is the 2003 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner. He also like Doug is seeking his first POWERade Series World Championship. Brandon has won four races, been to seven final rounds.
Brandon, feast or famine for you. Some great events, some where you have not been so good. I'm sure you'd like to find the magic the last two events. You're certainly within reach of that first championship.
BERNSTEIN: I think we are. Like you said, it has been kind of a rollercoaster season. You start second-guessing, looking back. The three races in the beginning of the season, the three in the middle of the season, the West Coast, man, if we would have gone one round in each one of those, it would have been a lot tighter.
We're fortunate. We still have a shot at it. We definitely need some help or some other cars to maybe take out Doug earlier or match up again like we did last week and maybe have it go the other way for us to get in the points.
That's a tough team over there. Tony is a tough team also. They're right behind us. It's going to be a battle. You know, it's definitely possible.
MODERATOR: The third driver we have on the call this afternoon from Top Fuel is Tony Schumacher. Tony is three-time POWERade Series champion. He's won the last two championships. He's currently 89 points behind Doug Kalitta. He drives the U.S. Army dragster.
Tony, why don't you talk about what your thoughts are going into the final two events. You've been here before, although obviously you've been with a bigger lead coming into the last two events. What is it like this year having to track a driver down instead of having the lead?
SCHUMACHER: Well, there's definitely less of an advantage, to say the least (laughter). We're not running against two cars that are ahead of us that are not completely capable of winning a championship. Those are two great teams, two great drivers. Unfortunately we're down to eight rounds and we're behind them. It's going to be intense. We're going to have to win the races, go for world records. Totally awesome.
Also it makes it fun. I think the people have to understand we don't drive race cars for a paycheck, we drive race cars because we enjoy the race. Between the three of us, actually four of us, it's awesome right now. There's a heck of a lot of cars that are really stepping up this year, making us earn our keep. Doug is humbling us out on the tree there. All of us are doing the best to get round wins. It's tight.
You're getting a good preview of what we're going to get next year (with the Countdown to the Championship) when they even the points out with two races to go. I wish they started it this year. I think me and Brandon both would be in a much better position (laughter).
MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. Tony, your mindset as compared to the last few years, are you feeling a little bit desperate?
SCHUMACHER: You know what, no, I'm not. If Doug wins the championship or if Brandon wins the championship this year, we don't, the guys did a great job. That's really what it comes down to. This is professional racing at its best, man.
If we can't pull it out … we were 330 points back and did a heck of a job catching up. I hate to get this close and not pull it off. But in reality the reason we're not in the lead is because, man, we went 11 races the beginning of the year without winning. We struggled with the tire problem. Just to be able to do this, I'm more excited than I am nervous. If we don't pull it off, well, I mean, heck, it was tough. We had a tire problem at the beginning of the year. We had to figure it out.
If we do pull it off, this would be the greatest comeback ever. No, I'm looking forward to getting up in Vegas. I'm looking forward to the race itself. I'm looking forward to seeing what the outcome is. I hope we pull it off because we’ve got one of the greatest teams assembled in drag racing. Again, we're battling two outstanding race teams. We're making it fun. If you're a race fan and you can't enjoy this right now, you are watching the wrong channel.
Q. Brandon, you have snuck up on everybody. Lo and behold, you pass Tony. Is there enough time to get Doug?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I think there is. Like I said before, I think we need to be consistent in our race car and we need some help. Obviously something needs to happen to Doug early for Tony and I both to gain some points to get at least to Pomona when we're maybe only 20 or 40 or something a little bit closer, to get it to Pomona so we can try and win it.
I feel that our Budweiser Lucas Oil team has a chance, we really do. We need to be consistent and we do need a little bit of help along the way.
Q. Doug, being on top with two races left, do you consider the fact that you're pretty much a workaday driver, you're calm? From what you said earlier, you're taking it round to round. Is that going to be the factor that puts you in the championship circle at the end of Pomona?
KALITTA: Yeah, hopefully so. We’ve got two very good teams, strong teams, two great drivers there, all trying to get this championship. Yeah, just all I know is to do what we've been doing, just try to keep those rounds going. Like I say, I mean, these next two facilities (Las Vegas and Pomona) are as good as they come. Your car definitely is going to have to be running strong. Everybody is going to have to do their job to stay ahead.
Q. Tony, NHRA is a wonderful sport, but like all motorsports, NASCAR is the big elephant in the garage. Everybody is trying to carve its way around it. Do you foresee someday NHRA catching up with NASCAR, grabbing a share of the spotlight?
SCHUMACHER: That's a great question. I tell you, if every fan were to come to a drag race live, we'd pass them, period. This is the best, the best live sport there is. I understand NASCAR is a great sport, man. I go myself all the time. But when you come to a live sport, intense four-second brut power, there's just nothing like it in a sport. We can't ask for anything more than what we give. I can't tell you how many fans come up to tell me, ‘We're big NASCAR fans, this is our first drag race.’ Virginia was perfect this year. Being five years away from an NHRA event, these people had switched, gone to the NASCAR races. They came back. Having them at the drag race, NASCAR fans, they'd come back at the end and say, ‘That is truly the best live sport we've ever seen.’
How do you make two eight-thousand horsepower cars look great on TV? I'm not sure how you pull that off. ESPN does the best they can do. I'm just not sure. NASCAR has that advantage. But for all practical purposes, man, if you are at home right now and you're thinking to yourself NASCAR is the biggest sport in the world … I love it, it's a great race, but get to a drag race to watch live. You can walk up and meet your favorite drivers or walk up to somebody you don't know and make them your favorite driver. It's such a cool sport.
I'm telling you, are we going to pass them? Don't care. Not my job. I'm so happy to be able to drive a race car. Again, the question, normally, when it comes to something like that, if you get big like that, the payoffs are bigger, everything is bigger, that's all good. I think what keeps drag racing so real is the fact that we would do it for free if we had to. Every one of is so into what we do. We drive the baddest hotrods on the planet. Actually right now I drive the third baddest hotrod on the planet. Right, Doug? You're in the lead. Take it from there, man.
MODERATOR: If you've seen our sport on high-def, it rivals what it's like in person. I think what ESPN has done with their high-def program...
SCHUMACHER: It's awesome. I wish every one of you guys could get my view. It's so intense, so real. I think live, high-def, when you get to turn them speakers up, living like you're there, man, it's so intense. It's a two and a half on the Richter scale. It's something other sports can't give you. It's just not possible. When you get in your street car, when you're going to buy your car at home, whatever it is, those guys don't tell you to get up to 180 and turn left, they tell you to feel the power. Horsepower is a basic love for Americans. Get out there, see this thing live, you'll be hooked.
BERNSTEIN: I totally agree with what he's saying. It definitely is an adrenaline rush sport for the fans and the drivers. That's why we love doing it.
For the fans, it's awesome. You really need to get people out to our races to really experience it. Once they come, they're hooked. I think if we keep getting people out there, keep getting the attendance up, really see that explosion, I think there's a possibility we could get to where NASCAR is. I don't know that we'll ever surpass them. We definitely have the capabilities of getting there.
KALITTA: The only thing I could add to that, with POWERade and ESPN, I think Tony and Brandon covered it real well, but what they've done the last couple years to promote our sport has just been huge. Really, hats off to both those organizations for sure.
Q. Tony, not to bring up a bad memory, but all three of the top seeds in the eliminations were knocked out in the first round in Vegas on that Sunday in April (at the first of the two Las Vegas races). Do you want to qualify first this time? Do you feel there will be an advantage or are you thinking about that?
SCHUMACHER: I want Doug to qualify first (laughter). It's a killer, man. Other than (my win in) Indy (from the No. 1 qualifying position), in Top Fuel or Funny Car, I don't think a No. 1 qualifier has (won a race).
NOTE: Schumacher is the only No. 1 qualifier from Top Fuel to win a race this season; in Funny Car, Robert Hight won as a No. 1 qualifier in Dallas and Eric Medlen won from the No. 1 position at Richmond.
I hate to play along with jinxes and everything. I'm religious, I believe in God. But let me tell you something, when it goes this long, it makes me believe. I start to get a little bit nervous. I don't care where we qualify, I want to win that race.
You know, unfortunately, really for me to win a championship this year, for Brandon to pull this off, you almost need to pair ourselves up with Doug the first round. Not that we can't do that. Not that we can't go out there, that would be the hardest round we ever have to accomplish. In order to win a championship, we need to go out and win a race and we need to make him exit early. The only way to do that is to do the job ourselves. Don't really care where we qualify. Just want to see a good outcome.
Most importantly, it's great that you talk big and everything, but it's great for the fans right now. It's going to give us three a heart attack ’til the very end. But these are three great teams. It's going to come down to who can really suck it up. You got three good teams. You got three people that at any given time can win a race. You also have three good teams that at any time can smoke the tires. I proved that last weekend. Great race car, decent racetrack, we smoked the tires, went out first round. Going to be fun.
Q. Doug, Melanie Troxel had dominated pretty much the first half of the year, qualifying for the (NHRA record in Top Fuel) five straight final rounds out of the gate. How did you adjust from the first half of the year to now?
KALITTA: Yeah, just sticking with your game plan. Obviously with Rahn (Tobler) and my team, we just obviously go to each of these races hoping that we're going to get the win. What Melanie did at the beginning of the year, it was awesome. Obviously I think all of us had kind of hoped she would quit going to the final there every race. But it was quite an accomplishment. Tony has been there winning consecutive races. It just kind of moves around. Every once in a while you hope you get your turn at some kind of run like that. Really hats off to anybody that can keep a string like that going.
MODERATOR: Doug, Melanie talked a lot about the launch, what it's like going to zero to a hundred in 8/10ths of a second. You're a pilot. Can you compare the two?
KALITTA: There's really not much comparison. Top Fuel car, initially it's like coming out of a cannon. Until you get out there a little ways, the front end gets back down, you just got to make sure you have the thing lined up straight.
But the sensation I always like is cruising right at the top of the clouds, where you're going real fast, that sensation. There's some similarity. Again, then you got to get the thing stopped.
Q. With so much at stake, how do you put the magnitude of what's at stake aside and just treat it like a regular race?
KALITTA: You just don't want to get yourself too worked up about it because, I mean, you just want to try to avoid making some kind of goof ball mistake.
We kind of go up there and do our same thing each time, try to block out even kind of who you're running. Sometimes you qualify. We just try not to pay too much attention.
But obviously you're looking for that win regardless of who you're running. It will be a challenge obviously these next two races. They're real important. I'm sure we'll all be hearing things, hoping that we're all doing the best we can with our teams.
BERNSTEIN: Same thing. I mean, you just really have to focus in on round by round, not really look at the big picture. If you keep looking at the big picture, putting more pressure on yourself, you're going to make a mistake. You just really need to focus in on just trying to do the best you can do every round and every time. Whatever falls into place falls into place. Just really need to be concentrating on a round at a time, what job you have to do at that moment.
SCHUMACHER: Totally agree. It's very difficult to do, but we're all professionals, we do our job. You have to remember back to when you were a young kid and you couldn't wait to race. Nothing to do with winning a championship. I kind of try to tell myself there's nothing in 10 minutes before a run that I'm going to learn that's going to make me any better. We all do our stuff in the morning to get ready. We stretch, work out, do whatever we got to do. When we're sitting in that car, it's a difficult four seconds coming up. You’ve got to just kind of trust yourself, drive a car. We all know when to leave the start line. Usually when we hear Doug leave, we know it's a good time, right, Doug?
KALITTA: I don't know about that (laughter).
BERNSTEIN: I definitely know about it.
SCHUMACHER: Me, too (laughter).
SCHUMACHER: You get in the car to do your best every single time. It's a tough deal. There's no 500 laps to make up a mistake. You know that. You got to do your job on the starting line. But there's a lot more to it. Being able to pedal a car. Knowing that you know how to drive a car. Last year Ron Capps asked me about this same thing. I told him, you're a great driver. Understand that going in 'cause nothing you can think about in the next 10 minutes is going to make you a better driver. Face the car the same way, be a machine. I think importantly in drag racing, you better know that your guys did a great job, your crew chief and your crew, did a great job so you get in that car and feel comfortable you got a winning race car.
MODERATOR: You talked about not wanting to qualify No. 1. But that has to be something you have to look at, qualifying points. Every point you can get at this point is critical.
SCHUMACHER: It is. There's no question about it. It's not a jinx. It's not all that stuff. But when you go 21 races now and won one race for the No. 1 spot, no one else has, it doesn't look real good.
In all reality, Brandon has won four races, I’ve won three, Kalitta won five. How many times we've qualified No. 1 (an NHRA record 12 times)? Those No. 1 qualifying points, they really do add up if you take a look at how many we've had. It's helped us to be in the position we're in. We're not in the lead. We're not even in second. But we're still in striking distance if everything lines up.
Q. Doug, what has been the difference this year as opposed to the previous years (when you finished second in the final standings in 2003 and 2004)?
KALITTA: Obviously my team, (crew chief) Rahn (Tobler), he's been in the championship hunt with (three-time champion) Shirley (Muldowney) winning championships. I think it's just his technique of trying not to overdo what you're trying to do when you're going rounds, just race as smart as you can. I think he's getting real good at it. Hopefully we can just keep it up, stay ahead of these two guys here.
Q. Is there a difference in the mental approach if you're the points leader or if you are chasing the points leader?
MODERATOR: Doug, you would have the perspective of being the points leader, but you have been behind in the past.
KALITTA: You know, obviously you're just trying to get hopefully enough points to where you can go to the last race breathing a little easier. I really don't think so. You just got to stick with what we had explained about just going up, doing your normal deal up there, trying not to get too worked up about the points, the championship, just trying to be consistent with what you're doing.
That's the story I'm going to stick with on that.
BERNSTEIN: I'd much rather be in Doug's position right now, don't get me wrong. But, no, I think as a points chaser, you really have nothing to lose. You know the job at hand and you have to go after it. To win the championship, you're going to have to do the best. It's easier to try and catch somebody, I think, than to hold people back because they're always coming after you trying to knock you off. I think it's just a little bit easier if you're in the background trying to sneak up on people and trying to get something.
SCHUMACHER: Yeah, you know, the light comes on, go. I wish I could think of it differently. We can think about it right now, I could probably come up with 30 scenarios which would be great next weekend. None of that stuff matters. It makes it crazy thinking about it. We do it all the time. Doug does this first round, we can win. Brandon does this.
You know, it never lines up that way. You still got to get in the race car. When the light comes on, you do your absolute best. None of it matters.
The question really isn't about when you are in the car, is it different. It's really about what do you go into the race thinking, what happens when you're out of the car that can make you nuts. Like Brandon said, I'd much rather be in the lead right now, but that's not the way it is. I think it's important to get up in the morning and remember why we're doing it, because we love racing cars. Just let it go. It's going to be a hell of a race. It's going to be fun, it's going to be super fun for one team. Someone at the end of the year is going to have the time of their life, man. The other two just aren't going to get it done. That's kind of unfortunate. That's how racing is.
Really I'm not in the worst position I've ever been in. Last year going into this race, we had it locked up, we had it done just by staging the car. This isn't too bad. I'm enjoying myself. It's a big money loss if we don't get it done for the Army, everything they put in. But we sure did give a great try to get even in the position we're in. I got to stick with that, too. Q. Doug, as the points leader, do you get more conservative or into a defensive mode?
KALITTA: You know, the race before the last race, I don't know, I should just say the last race I said, what the hell, you got to go up there, see the light and go. I think prior to that, I was just trying -- I was thinking about it a little bit. The last race I said, hell with it, I'm going to stick with what I have. I think I got that behind me. You just go up there and just -- the way drag racing is, the round-by-round deal, I think if you start doing stuff like that, you're going to start getting beat on by people taking advantage of your mistakes. I think the best bet is to stick with your normal program.
Q. As you go into the last two races, is there a driver you see as a wildcard who can really determine who the champion is going to be?
KALITTA: Yeah, you know, with Cory (McClenathan) winning the last race, 13 is real tough. J.R. Todd comes to mind. His car is running real strong, he's driving the thing real good. Really there's just such a handful of people. Just thinking of the last person that won (Todd) and the guy that is up for maybe the Rookie-of-the-Year (Todd). I'd probably go with either one of these two.
BERNSTEIN: I agree with both of those definitely. There's so many great drivers and great teams out there right now. Especially coming to a track that's notoriously quick. If we have cool weather and everything, and also in Pomona the same thing. All these cars we've seen this year, you know, guys are running 4.50s and getting beat. It's unbelievable what the competition has gone up to. I think there's just probably six, seven, maybe even eight drivers out there that could make a difference in this championship just because those guys are great drivers and great teams that run good numbers. Hot Rod Fuller is another good one that has come on strong lately, has a consistent race car. There's a lot of guys out there that can run the numbers. You got to look out for all of them.
MODERATOR: Tony, who are you looking out for on Sunday?
SCHUMACHER: I'd say if I didn't have to run J.R. Todd, I'd be in the lead. Spanked me all the time. It's just part of the deal. You go back and forth. A couple years ago, I run Morgan, I think I beat him 17 out of 18 times. Doesn't mean they can't race against us. They just happen to be the luck they were having on us.
We beat J.R. Todd three out of the last six races, too. Just they were big ones when they beat us. They hurt us bad.
I'll pretty much try to avoid him. Nothing you can do. Light comes on, go, like we've been saying. The ladder is going to fall where it falls. You're going to run as good as you can run on qualifying. When the ladder comes out, it's going to tell us who we race. There's nothing we can do about it.
Q. Who is going to win the Funny Car title?
SCHUMACHER: I'm a Ron Capps fan because he's my teammate. I think those people didn't even see (Robert) Hight sneaking up on him at all. He's a pretty good surprise. He's driving like a machine right now.
MODERATOR: Tony, you like Robert?
SCHUMACHER: If you had to ask me, I'm going to pray to God Capps pulls it off because he's my buddy, my teammate. He is an outstanding driver. I just see the other cars coming on strong. Write it down on paper, give me Capps.
BERNSTEIN: I kind of agree with Tony on Robert kind of sneaking up and everything. I think that car's running great. He's driving excellent at the moment right now. All three of those teams are great caliber teams. Capps, he's been consistent all year long. I think it's going to be fun, exciting to see. Obviously with Force, you never know with him. He's kind of a wildcard, too, just because they've been up and down this year and everything. It's going to be interesting to see.
I kind of lean towards Robert maybe sneaking up and getting this thing.
KALITTA: When I first started driving, (Capps’s crew chief Ed) Ace (McCulloch) was my crew chief. He's been battling with his health and whatnot. The fact that I've got such a history with him, friends with all three of 'em. John Force, he's got a great team. Always manages to somehow pull it off. I'd actually like to see Capps pull it off if he can do it. Any one of the three. I shouldn't be biased of any one of the three. Long time since Ace has won that thing.
MODERATOR: I don't think Ace has ever won as a racer or crew chief. Ron has been second three times.
Q. Brandon, what has your dad taught you as far as dealing with championship pressure, being that Kenny was so good over the years?
BERNSTEIN: That's a good question. We actually discussed it before going back to the Reading rainout. He basically said, ‘I really can't give you a lot of insight. You really just have to experience it, go through it.’ He basically said, ‘I can tell you it will get harder and harder if it does end up getting closer and closer. You really just have to experience it yourself.’ He said that you just got to always say to yourself, Man, if I look in the mirror after the day is over, I did the best that I could do, that's all that's asked from you. If you can say that, then that's just a part of it.
Hey, you got beat by somebody else. Did you do the best you could? Yeah, I did. I did the best that I could do at that moment. That's all that's asked from you. He just said that it's just going to be one of those things you just have to experience yourself and go through it.
Q. He'll be there with you this weekend?
BERNSTEIN: Yeah, he'll be in Vegas and Pomona both.
Q. The added stress of the fact that you have one of the biggest races of the year coming up, the Bud Shootout, the race within a race, while still trying to compete for the points race. Is that an added stress?
BERNSTEIN: It's a fun race. I think we look at it as drivers that it's a race within a race. It's one of those races that's kind of fun. You get to kind of forget about the points, so to speak, just race for the money. It's really exciting. I think that it's definitely a plus to have that race at this point in the season because it does kind of take your mind off of, ‘Wow, this isn't 20 points there or 20 points there. This is just for money. We just got to go out there and try to win this thing for the team.’
SCHUMACHER: I can't wait, man. I love it. Been doing it a long time. It's a blast. Like Brandon said, you get in the car and there's no 20 points. It's just all racing. It's all about the money and free beer. You can't beat it. Go back to the beginning of what we did, all of us ran Super Comp, Super Street. We got in the car, just raced. It was a blast. There was no paycheck at the end of it. Even if you won, there was no paycheck at the end of it.
This is it. It brings it back to the heart of America. Good old-fashioned drag races. Last year was awesome, obviously being able to pull off the first win. We're going to a track that we're good at. Look forward to it.
This is Vegas. Here is my prediction going in because we are No. 1 qualifier. I'll saying there's 99.4 or four and a half percent chance J.R. Todd will pull the No. 8 spot with the way our luck has been going.
KALITTA: Like the guys say, it's a fun event. What Budweiser does for us with the pre-race party in Vegas on Thursday night, the money they put up, the beer they put up, it's a fun event. You just go out there and I think it's 50 cases of beer, a bunch of cash, they have a great track. Just a lot of fun. Looking forward to it.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Doug, Brandon and Tony and the three Pro Stock Motorcycle riders – Antron Brown, Andrew Hines and Angelle Sampey. Thanks for being on the call. Good luck next weekend in Las Vegas and in Pomona. We'll see you on the road to crowning the POWERade Series champion Sunday, November 12th in Pomona.