An Interview With:
THE MODERATOR: I would like to welcome everyone today to the teleconference for the NHRA Western Swing. As many of you know, the Western Swing is a demanding part of the NHRA Full Throttle Series schedule that features three races in three weeks. It's a very tough test for a lot of the teams with some very different racing conditions. It starts off July 20th to the 22nd at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, then rolls on west to Sonoma, California, July 27 through 29 and then finishes at Pacific Raceways in Seattle August 3 through 5.
Only seven drivers have ever swept the Western Swing and the last to accomplish that feat was Antron Brown in 2009 at Top Fuel. The three race swing will be critical for teams who are trying to qualify for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship NHRA six race playoff. There's several teams outside the top 10 who will need to have a great string of performances during the Western Swing to break into the top 10 before the final Countdown fields are set at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.
The three drivers who are joining us on the call today have been exceptional during the NHRA regular season, and they include NHRA Pro Stock driver Erica Enders, NHRA Funny car driver Ron Capps, and NHRA Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence.
Our first driver that we have with us is Erica Enders. She recently made NHRA history in Chicago by becoming the first female to win a Pro Stock race. She's one of only six women who have ever raced in the 200 mile an hour factory hot rod category. Enders has been to six final rounds before breaking through with her first victory. With the win she becomes the 12th female to ever win a race in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, and Pro Stock was the only pro category without a female winner until she won, and she's only the 55th different winner in Pro Stock, which started in 1970.
And Erica, you've had a little more than a week to think about what you accomplished in Chicago. Has it all really sunk in yet?
ERICA ENDERS: A little bit. Up until Norwalk I was still floating on cloud nine and just really excited about the accomplishment that we were finally able to get and couldn't be more proud of my team. Just excited to finally get it done.
Q: With so many finals that you had leading up to that victory, you had six finals, were you starting to kind of think, man, am I ever going to get this done?
ERICA ENDERS: Yes, a little bit. I was kind of wondering if it was ever going to happen. But you know, at the same time, Pro Stock is such a competitive class, and you've got to perform pretty much perfectly on Sunday to be able to get to a final round. I figured one of these days the odds are going to fall in our favor.
Q: How confident are you now with the win? Do you feel like getting a second win is going to be easier?
ERICA ENDERS: That's what everybody tells me, but I haven't changed my mindset or how I prepare or go into a race. It's just one of those deals where you've just got to do everything perfect, like I said, on Sunday. We've got a great car right now, and that's something that the guys back at the engine shop have been really working at. We had a couple R & D projects in the works and some of them didn't work, and the others we've tested on hot racetracks like in Rockingham, North Carolina, with over 100 degree air temperature. My crew chiefs Dave Connolly and Tommy Utt are really awesome at their hot track setups. I'm looking forward to the summer and really optimistic about the future and getting more wins for our team.
Q. It's a pretty tight bunch at the top of the Pro Stock standings, and coming into the Western Swing it's grueling for everyone. Are you good specifically at any of these three tracks in the Swing, either in Denver or Sonoma or up at Pacific Raceways? Have they been kind to you in the past?
ERICA ENDERS: Denver kind of. Denver is so different for us because being a naturally aspirated race car, the altitude really impacts our horsepower up there. Our ETs are down significantly and so are our mile an hours. We've tested there, and after last year at Denver I feel more confident going in this year than I did the previous year because I hadn't raced there in a couple years prior due to lack of sponsorship. Sonoma and Seattle have both been good to us in past years. I think both tracks we had a semifinal finish, I'm pretty sure anyway. The Swing is pretty tough and gruesome, especially on the Pro Stock cars with parts and whatnot. We usually carry three motors, one in the car and two under the bench, and I have two teammates that we share an engine program with, as well. We just have to be really careful and race smart, otherwise we'll be shipping motors all the way back to Charlotte overnight and trying to get them fixed and send them back out west. I am looking forward to the swing and hopeful that we can score another win out west.
Q. Your Cobalt is a very cool looking race car, and I'm wondering, the choice to run the Cobalt, is that yours, or is that just the team's, and is there any plan to go to the Camaro, or what are your plans along that line?
ERICA ENDERS: I'm sure you're asking about our choice to run the Cobalt over the Camaro. We've run this car the last couple years. It takes a lot of time to break in a car and get the data on the new chassis. We do plan on switching over to the Camaro, and it is the decision of my team, not mine, and GM's, as well. We do plan on switching over, but if I had to bet, I would say that we wouldn't bring it out until the 2013 season just due to testing and figuring out the car.
Q. I'm wondering how much of an influence and how much of a help has Dave Connolly been since he's been crew chiefing for you?
ERICA ENDERS: Dave is awesome. He's one of my best friends, and I really trust him in the crew chief position. He's obviously a tremendous driver, and he's proven that with the 26 wins he's got in Pro Stock. To have somebody of a driving caliber like him in my corner helping me, understanding what I'm going through, most crew chiefs out there haven't ever driven, and it makes a big difference for him to understand what I'm going through and offer advice if I need it. He's really awesome to be teammates with, and I'm glad that he's in my corner, like I said.
Q. Are you going to keep that stealth paint job on the Camaro?
ERICA ENDERS: That's the plan. I've got a really cool sponsor who loves the flat black and the black wheels and whatnot. He asked me last year at the end of the season if I won the lottery and got to have whatever car I wanted what would I paint it like, and I told him flat black with black wheels. I just think it looks really mean, and our plan is to carry that through, and I'm sure we'll run it next year, as well. It will probably look even meaner on a Camaro.
Q: When you think about the Western Swing, what immediately comes to your mind? Do you enjoy the Western Swing?
ERICA ENDERS: Yeah. I mean, it's awesome to travel as much as we do. I guess the hardest part would be living out of a suitcase for three weeks; being a girl and trying to have to pack everything you're going to need for three weeks sucks. But I do look forward to going out west. I love Sonoma. That's probably one of my favorite racetracks on the circuit. I'm going to stay the week after and spend a little time there, as well. But Denver is tough. We have to have a completely different setup, like I said from the previous question, but probably like between $30,000 and $40,000 of extra parts, like rear gears and transmission ratios that we never run anywhere else in the entire country that we just have to carry for that weekend. It takes a lot of testing and figuring things out. And then there's Seattle, which I enjoy going up there, too. It's a beautiful part of the country.
Q. When you go into Denver and early in the day it's hot, the track is greasy, later in the afternoon it's known for some cloud cover and cooling the track off, what does that present to you as a driver, and what do you have to change in the way you approach the starting line?
ERICA ENDERS: Well, the crew chiefs do all the track reading, and we have a meeting before every round what we're going to have our setup to be. We monitor the track in weather conditions on a graph in our race trailer, computer room or whatever, so we're able to predict at what time we'll run and what the conditions will be and the track temperature will be, so we're able to have the best setup that we can have. As a driver, just knowing how they're setting up the car I think enables me to be a better driver, do a better job. At Denver it's so different from tracks without altitude because like just even the clutch setup, like what I'm feeling in the car, and when the gear changes come, it's so different than anywhere else. Normally we have to put the clutch pedal takes between 600 and 800 pounds of pressure. In Denver it feels like a streetcar, just the easiest clutch pedal in the world, and going from something that's so hard to something that's so easy actually makes it a little bit more challenging to drive not challenging, but a lot different, and then the gear changes some at such different times. It's still done off of rpm, but they come differently time wise into the run, so you can throw everything you know about driving out the window when you go to Denver and you just have to really focus on doing the best job you can with all the crazy crap that's going on around you.
Q. Do you know when you run in low altitude and the engine revs real quick and then you go to Denver, does it seem like it takes forever to get to the shift point?
ERICA ENDERS: Yes. It's a lot different. A lot of drivers will go up and I'm included in this, and just, because there's such a routine and time and sound and feel to when you're normally supposed to shift, and then it doesn't come, and you're like, what the heck is going on, and you've just really got to focus on the shift light and the feeling in your butt for what the race car is doing. But yeah, the first run, I guarantee you, nine out of 10 drivers out there will pull it out of low pretty early.
Q. I mentioned your name to Danica Patrick because I mentioned your wonderful win over here in NHRA, and I wondered if she had prepared herself for a win. In relation to your expectations she really didn't know what to expect, other than belated, of course. Did you have any expectations with really getting that first win, and beyond that, do you expect increased fans or an increased impact going forward?
ERICA ENDERS: Yes and yes. I expected the win I mean, it's hard to predict in our sport what can happen because there are so many great teams and so many tremendous drivers out there, just being able to get a win is a feat in itself. But honestly, we expected as a team to win a couple times last year and just like looking at the sheets and the numbers, there's no reason why we shouldn't have had three, four, five wins last year with the way our car was running and the way that I was driving. We just had some unlucky breaks. You know, this year, the season started off a little bit on the wrong foot, and we're trying to reel things back in here. I believe we're sixth in points right now, which is where we finished last year. So our goals are high, and we do expect a lot. I look forward to the rest of the season with my team. They're amazing, and we do have a good race car right now. We didn't really show that in Norwalk coming off of our win in Chicago, but that's all right, we'll regroup and head out west. I'm excited for the Swing. And then as far as accumulating more fans, just on social media stuff since the win in Chicago and all the media attention it got with being the first female NHRA Pro Stock winner, it was a huge, huge increase on number of likes on our fan page on Facebook, and Twitter, we were like in the top 10 Twitter trending deals behind Jamie Foxx and BET's awards. Quite an honor and good publicity not just for us but for our sport of NHRA drag racing. I was really excited about that.
Q. What would be your advice to Danica upon her first win?
ERICA ENDERS: I know nothing about turning left, so I don't think I can offer her any advice. But I have done a couple of media events with her, and she's just as passionate and driven about what she does as I am about what I do. I wish her all the luck in the world, and I think that when she finally does win one in NASCAR that it'll be great for the sport and great for all the younger females who look up to her and I as positive role models.
THE MODERATOR: The next driver joining us on the call is Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Ron has had an amazing turnaround this season in Funny Car. After DQing in Las Vegas in April, his team owner, Don Schumacher, shook up his Funny Car teams and did some shuffling with crew members. Ron's NAPA Auto Parts team was paired together with veteran tuner Rahn Tobler, and the duo took off like they're been racing together for years. The team immediately raced to six consecutive final rounds, winning twice, and have moved from eighth to second in the points standings and appears to be one of the teams to beat for the World Championship this season.
Ron, let me ask you the first thing, in your racing career have you ever had a crew chief change like that made such an immediate and positive impact?
RON CAPPS: No. Well, you know, when I started driving for Don (The Snake) Prudhomme back when we had the Copenhagen car, they brought Roland Leong in, and it was a pretty big difference when we started that team, and Roland kind of hit the ground rolling our first race, and we continued to do pretty well and won a lot of races. But nothing like what's happened with Rahn Tobler and our NAPA team. It's pretty crazy because I know that reading press clippings, watching Wind Tunnel and TV shows and just a lot of the press stuff, reading about what we had done with the six finals, I told somebody not too recently here that it didn't seem like it was me in the car. It felt like I was reading about somebody else. It was an amazing thing to do, and the amount of runs that we made in a row without tire smoke, just a lot of those things just didn't seem like I was part of it. Only in the sense that it was something really cool to read. You get so focused on that thing that when you're right in the middle of something that good, you don't want to lift your head up and look around. You want to keep your head down and keep going.
Q: As a driver, how much fun was that for you to be in that position, when you consider you're in a very small and elite group now of NHRA Funny Car racers who have gone to six straight final rounds.
RON CAPPS: It is cool. You know, I've been in this position before where I've led the points at a certain point in the season, and you just try to keep everybody on the team even keel, and you don't want to get too excited about it. You know, Snake used to say you don't want to start drinking your own bath water, and that's what you don't want to do is start reading your own press clippings and getting excited about what's going on because now we have a Countdown, it's completely different, and we're chasing Robert Hight's team for first place for the regular season, trying to gain those 20 points going into the Countdown. Just a lot of little things going on. It's neat to come November when we're off and I'm in Hawaii after the season is over and you can relax and reflect on the season and what we've done, then that'll be cool, and hopefully we're wearing a championship ring at the time. Right now I've been here. I don't want to get too excited about what's going on right now because you can be humiliated pretty quick. It's part of our sport, but you definitely don't want to start looking around and puffing your chest out.
Q. At the end of last year, did you really think about doing some soul searching and saying, wow, this has been a tough year, am I going to continue, how am I going to turn this around? What did you do to motivate yourself, and did you give some thought to stepping out of the car?
RON CAPPS: No. Are you kidding me? We've been close, but I'll be honest with you: My career could end right now, and I'm content with what I've done in the sport. I mean, I get to drive a great race car, Don Schumacher and all the people he puts together, I got to drive for the Snake, all the stuff I've done, all the races I've won, if it's at the end, I'm okay with it. I'd love to win a championship. But one thing I learned, and I've probably told you this before, is that you become as a driver in this sport, you become part cheerleader, because if you don't have a good horse to ride, there's no way John Force could win those championships with an 11th place car. You have to understand that a driver's job in a Nitro Funny Car is to not mess up. That car is given to you to do the best you can. So to answer your question, no, I never thought about getting out of the car. Over half of my job is what I do off the track for NAPA. The fun part and getting to do the stuff on the racetrack, I knew it would be turned around. Don Schumacher can't let it go that long where we were struggling, and I had a great crew chief in Tim Richards. All you do is you keep patting them on the butt and saying, man, keep it up, I'm here for you, and you've got to do your job more so when the car is struggling than when it's running good. When it's running good, you can actually let it get out of the groove a little bit, you can do little things here and there and get away with it. But when it's crucial and you're struggling, you've got to do the best you can as a driver. So no, I never thought about getting out of the car. I knew things would eventually get better, and believe me, it's a product of the Countdown. You can be okay right now, like my teammate Matt Hagan, they're struggling, but they're going to get in, and you've just got to peak at the right time.
Q. Sonoma has been really good to you. I'm sure you're looking forward to going to that track. You've participated in their go kart charity thing, and you have won back to back in 2010 and 2011. Are you looking for maybe 2012 making it three in a row in the Funny Car final?
RON CAPPS: See, until you just said that I kind of forgot it was back to back. I remember winning last year and going to Disneyland with my kids the day after on our way home, and I forgot actually we won the year before. The place is like home to me. But so is the whole Swing. I've gotten to win at Denver, I won Seattle my rookie year in Top Fuel and a couple times in Funny Car. We've never done it all together, which would be cool, and I got the race car now with Tobler and John Collins and all the guys. But Sonoma is always a place that's got a big gold circle around it. Every season, we're gearing up right now, I'm packing the motor home up right now, and tonight we're driving up to where I grew up in San Luis Obispo to go to a lake for a week, and we do it every year with the family, and it's my time to do that, and then I go to Sonoma, and everybody that I went to high school with, I grew up with, my family, everybody is there, we stay in the motor home up on the hill, and it's just a big homecoming for me. It's good karma. I love that place.
Q. In following your career, you always seem to be really excited and anticipate getting in the car and going down track. Has there ever been a time in your career where you've kind of had it in the back of your mind you've always got to have it in the back of your mind what can happen, but has it been more prevalent, and how easy is it to get in the car with the way it's performing now?
RON CAPPS: Well, it's a lot better. I'll tell you, since Vegas it's a lot more fun to show up at the racetrack than it was sometimes at the end of last year. The biggest difference is I went back to booking my flights on Monday mornings instead of Sunday nights. You know, it is a lot of fun right now. I'm really enjoying myself with everybody at Schumacher, with everybody on my crew. It's funny because this was the Valvoline team at one time, and I had my guys that are now the Valvoline guys that were with me for, gosh, seven or eight years, and I'm closer to them than my family. I see them more than I do my own family. I never really got to know these guys on the Valvoline crew, and it's funny how you just see people walking through pit area way to getting some food, in hospitality or something, and all of a sudden now I get to work with these guys. So it's just a whole new group of guys I get to call friends and they gave me a great race car. And Tobler is unbelievable. I've always wanted to work with him. I thought it was going to happen a couple years ago that Don was going to put him on my car, and it didn't. You've got to look at what he's done in the past. If you can give me a second, I want to remind people, this guy won not only the three championships with Shirley (Muldowney), but he went over to crew his first time on a Funny Car and won a championship a few years ago, first time out, and almost won it with Doug Kalitta the year that my teammate Tony Schumacher made 'The Run.' So he's very, very...I don't want to say underrated. I think he is underrated, but he shouldn't be underrated. He's done so much. Pretty talented guy, and I'm happy as heck right now to show up on Friday mornings.
Q. How much fun do you have making those NAPA commercials?
RON CAPPS: (Laughing) they were funner with (Michael) Waltrip. I'm a little bummed that this year's didn't get to air. It may still air. It was deemed a little edgy. Hopefully it does get to come out because they did some pretty cool stuff with animation, and we got to do some pretty neat things. I'm hoping NAPA can put them out. But yeah, they're a blast. That's the best thing about the sponsorship. When we heard that they were coming on board and NHRA had the big press conference to announce NAPA had come on board was knowing what they've done in the past with Earnhardt, Jr., and Michael and (Dale) Earnhardt, Sr., and Dale Jarrett, everybody that's been in the commercials I always thought they were the best, so it's cool to be in them now.
Q: Ron, you mentioned the success you've had on the Western Swing and you've won each of the three races. As a veteran driver what would you say is the key to maintaining your focus and composure during those three races?
RON CAPPS: Oh, gosh, that's a good question. Pacing yourself for sure. NHRA really made it a challenge, putting Denver at the beginning of that West Coast Swing because it's not an easy place for parts, and I'm sure if you looked at the UPS bill on most teams getting parts sent out so you can get them back before Sonoma, it's pretty high, and I'm sure there's a lot of stuff going out UPS from Colorado after that race. So it's difficult. Then you go right down to sea level as you can get in Sonoma, so you talk about conversely as far apart as you can get as far as tune ups. So it's really hard on the crew chiefs. As a driver you've just got to pace yourself and try to be in the best shape you can because Denver will test every bit of what you've got. And then of course Seattle is just some of the best air. With all the trees around, people forget oxygen, and it's close to sea level and it can have records set there. I think probably one thing if I had to answer would be pace yourself.
Q. You kind of mentioned your attitude toward getting good results this year and looking forward to it and not expecting too much. Basically you're talking about being grounded. In previous years you've come so close to getting a championship. Can you compare your experience with what you're looking at now and how being grounded can help you?
RON CAPPS: Well, I mean, I learned pretty much from the guys that I've been around, the owners, the crew chiefs, I've gotten to work with all legendary guys, all guys that really wear everything on their sleeve. And I've always dug that about being able to work with a crew chief or an owner like that. And they expect the best out of me, and they don't have to ask if I'm going to be at my best when I get in the race car. So that's always kept me grounded. I've got enough people around me to tell me to shut my mouth if I was to open my mouth, and there's too many guys I think that come into the sport nowadays that start flopping their gums, they win one race or they win a pole or they go a couple rounds early in their career and they get kind of flappy, and I've always been able to have guys around me that taught me the right way to go about it. So I know that any win that I get, there could never be another win coming. That's how competitive our sport is. You just don't know. I got to Jimmie Johnson is a good friend, I got to talk to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., at Fontana this year, and that's before his win, and you talk about a guy that's gone a long time, and I really loved hearing what he had to say. You've just got to keep at it. It could be worse. I could have to get up and go to a real job in the morning, instead of getting strapped into a 9,000 horsepower Funny Car sponsored by one of the best auto parts companies in the world. It could be worse. So I get what keeps me grounded is knowing that I still have the best job in the world, but I want to be able to add to any team that I've been able to be driving for.
Q: Since Atlanta you've been able to beat the Force cars at some critical times, including points leader Robert Hight a couple times; In fact Robert said recently you're kind of nipping at his heels and he feels like he has to stop you. Do you feel like you're inside their heads a little bit?
RON CAPPS: I don't know, I thought Robert was a little smarter when he said that, and maybe it got blown out of proportion but he said we were like a little dog nipping at his heels. I think it's cool. Really I got mad and I tweeted about Robert when they were on a streak earlier in the season. I think it was SPEED Channel has a pretty eclectic group of racers that vote on the driver of the year, and that quarter they gave it to the IndyCar guy. And I thought Robert should have won that, and I was real upset. Even though I've got to compete against him, I thought it was an amazing thing they were doing for those races.To beat them that one round of the semis in Houston and stop that streak, I was getting tired of reading about them and when are we going to stop the Force barrage of wins, so that was cool to do that. And then to be able to beat them again in Atlanta. Besides my teammates, Jimmie Prock, I think the world of. I think he's the most talented guy that's out there besides my crew chief, and I really get up to race those guys. I know Rahn Tobler does. To me it's a final round every time I race Robert. He's going to be good on the tree, and I would like to think he's worried about a little dog chirping at his heels, but that little dog might just be letting him know that the door is opening up and there's a big dog coming through hopefully. It's just fun to battle those guys. You don't want to get too excited about it, but I don't know if the fans can feel it, I think they can, but when we go to stage the car, whether it's first round or qualifying, I definitely feel like I'm in a final round every time we race them.
Q: The Traxxas Shootout is coming up and you're qualified for that bonus event, and you used to really dominate those special races when it was the Skoal Showdown and the Budweiser Shootout back in the day. Do you feel like having a chance to go back to that shootout format is really going to fit right into your game plan in terms of getting back there and winning some extra money?
RON CAPPS: I'm so pumped up about a special race in Indy again. I'm looking up at my Budweiser Shootout, they used to give these little guns, I've got them mounted on the wall, and to win three of those things, that was the beginning of my Funny Car career. That was when you qualified for that thing, and you knew it was the eight best guys in the world in the Funny Car, and it was mano a mano. It was the middle of qualifying, it was hot, there was something about it, to be able to win those was cool. I haven't won Indy yet; we've come close. But I'm so pumped that we actually got an all star race back there again, and I think it's going to bring Indy back to the elevation that it has been all these years as the U.S. Nationals. Yeah, I'm super pumped up. I'm glad we got (teammate Jack) Beckman in, as well, and Johnny Gray. It's going to be fun. You know, it's going to be what it used to be, one of the best races within a race, and I think we're going to see that again with the Traxxas Shootout.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and move on to Steve Torrence, who has emerged this season as a championship contender in Top Fuel. The Texas native who won the 2005 national championship in Top Alcohol Dragster raced to two victories in four final rounds this season and now sits in fourth place in the Top Fuel standings. Torrence and crew chief Richard Hogan have had his Capco Contractors dragster running consistently quick as he's claimed two No. 1 qualifying positions.
Steve, I guess this is your breakout season so far. Were you expecting this type of performance during the offseason?
STEVE TORRENCE: You know, when we started this team, we set out to just have a good, family run team and to be competitive and go out and just see what we could do. We had every hope and dream of being able to go out and run with the big guys. I think that the way that this is all panned out and the success we've had in such a short period of time, I don't think anyone would have predicted that, including myself. It's been a little surreal up to this point.
But Richard Hogan has been out here for a long time and has quite a bit of experience, and I've just got a really good group of guys working on the race car. I've got a great support from everyone at Capco Contractors. It's been just unbelievable the way that everything has taken place.
Q: Antron Brown has been saying the Top Fuel class is getting to be almost like a mini Pro Stock class with so many close finishes. You raced in Top Alcohol Dragster; you won the championship; you won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Top Alcohol Dragster. That's a really competitive class in the Lucas Oil Series. What's your assessment of the competition level in Top Fuel?
STEVE TORRENCE: You know, my honest opinion, I talked to Antron about it numerous times, the class is at an all time high for competitiveness. All the drivers out there are on the tree. All the cars are so closely matched. You go through the top eight cars and they will be within 1/100 or 2/100 during qualifying, and that's where it's at. Alan Johnson and those guys have had a little trouble this year, and the Schumacher cars, they're running strong. But I don't know if everything just hasn't stepped the level of competitiveness up across the board, and it's more difficult this year than in years past, and definitely the drivers are way ahead of the game. I mean, look at last year's average reaction time compared to last year, I think you'll see a significant difference.
Q. What led you to Richard Hogan as your crew chief? Were there ties there? I know there were a lot of crew chiefs out there in the offseason looking for work, and obviously the move has paid extreme dividends for you. What led you to Richard and how is the relationship working out from your standpoint?
STEVE TORRENCE: Everything is great there. I chose Richard. Richard and I go back quite a few years just as friends. I got to know him and Jim Head pretty well, and I have a lot of respect for Richard. I know back in '07 he was the crew chief with Melanie Troxel at Schumacher Racing. Richard has been out here quite a while. He's worked with Big Daddy (Don Garlits) and just a lot of different race teams. He was my top choice, and I had spoken to him actually a couple years ago about it, if I ever wanted to do my own deal or coming over and helping with Dexter, and we brought him out a couple races while I was driving Dexter Tuttle's car and got some consulting through him. When we decided we were going to set out, build our own race team, Richard Hogan was my first choice across the board, and I didn't look any further.
Q. With the closeness of the competition in the class, does this make qualifying more critical? Is it more important than it has ever been?
STEVE TORRENCE: Yes, actually I think you're correct on that, because look at Norwalk; we were No. 1 qualifier there. We were just one of the few cars that was actually able to make a great run Friday night. The middle of the day Friday was a difficult run, and then both of the runs on Saturday, the conditions were so hot and just not conducive to any type of good ETs. So qualifying is definitely crucial. You get some cars that don't run that great in qualifying but are really top tier teams. You've got Morgan (Lucas) and Brandon (Bernstein) that were the 15 and 16 qualifiers that I really didn't want to race Brandon first round. That car stepped up quite a bit and can really run a good number. Qualifying is pretty key in the spectrum of things, and like you said, I think it is more important now than ever.
Q. Does this put more of an emphasis on cutting a good light, and are we going to start seeing some red lights in Top Fuel like you do in Pro Stock Motorcycle?
STEVE TORRENCE: You know, I really think it does. I go home, I practice all the time. I've got a driver cockpit at home and a full sized LED tree, and I led right into the final there in Chicago, and it wasn't because I anticipated the light. I had been 40 and 50 all day going shallow, and I knew Antron's car was just a touch quicker than ours for the final, so I thought if I rolled it in just a little bit I could go maybe 30, maybe 20, and the light came on, I saw yellow, I stepped on the gas, and as I go by, I see the red light. And the red light on that thing, they're only three inch LED lights, but as I passed, it looked like it was a 36 inch LED light and I'm driving by seeing red. I do think the competition is definitely stepping up on the reaction times. You've got Shawn Langdon, you've got Antron, you've got Spencer (Massey). All those guys go up there, and if you're not on your game, you're going to go home on a hole shot loss just like Sunday at Norwalk. Spencer got me there in the final, and I was tired. I mean, the heat of Friday and Saturday and just I've been on the road for a month, I think I just was wore out and I was off my game completely. Reaction times are we're living and dying by the reaction times at these races.
Q. How cool was it to race Spencer (Massey) in a final as a pro? He mentioned that you guys had competed against each other for many years in the sportsman classes.
STEVE TORRENCE: Yeah, that was pretty neat. I've known Spencer for forever. He's from Dalls (Fort Worth) and I'm from about an hour and a half east of there, Kilgore, and we've grown up racing in Division 4 all our lives. We raced Super Comp together, we moved up into Top Alcohol relatively the same time. It was pretty neat. We've raced quite a bit in the Sportsman Class, and to be able to go out and race him in a final, bragging rights are on the line there. We had a friendly wager there, and I got the better of him on that time, but he got the better of me in the final when it really counted. It's fun, it's a good rivalry there, just a friendly rivalry, and I enjoy racing him. He's always on his game. He makes you step up the bar a little bit when you go into the final or go into any race against him. And the guy is always on the tree. And Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara, they have that car on a string and it's really going well. It's pretty neat to be able to go up there and do that.
Q. How proud are you of the fact that here you are with your family team running against the Don Schumacher juggernaut and Prestone and all the money they bring in? You've got to feel real proud of what you've accomplished in a short period of time.
STEVE TORRENCE: I'm very proud. I'm proud of every one of the guys that have had any part to do with it. The team that I have right now has performed flawlessly. Richard Hogan has a very good tune up for the hot weather setup, and it shows. We were low of every session this weekend on a racetrack that's 140 degrees. It's very gratifying to be able to go out and I call Schumacher Racing, that's the racing factory. They produce top notch drivers, top notch crew chiefs, top notch crew guys. Everything over there is built about being the best. To be able to come out and race with those guys and being fourth in the points right behind all three of those cars, that's huge. I couldn't be more proud of my guys and what we've put together here.
Q: Steve, you've had to overcome a lot to get to this point. You built a team from scratch. You've dealt with a major health issue, with cancer. Do you feel like going through all that has really made you more mentally resilient and ready for this opportunity?
STEVE TORRENCE: Yeah, it is fun. You know, this is there's too much work involved into putting every bit of this together for it not to be fun and enjoy what we do. You could have to get up and go to work and do something you don't enjoy and go every day, and to be able to go out, to go drag racing 23, 24 weekends a year and enjoy it with friends and family and people that have the same love and passion for the sport, it doesn't get any better than that. I have been through a lot of adversity. I went through cancer when I was 17. It changed my mindset on a lot of things and the way that I view life every day. I'm more appreciative. I'm more of the guy that sits back and just enjoys everything, takes it in, and I realize that the success we've had is a testament to the hard work and time that these guys have put in. But you don't always run that well and things don't always go as perfect as they have been. So we're going to take it and be appreciative of it as it's going right now and work hard to continue that success and maintain the level we're at right now.
Q: How is your team preparing for the Western Swing?
STEVE TORRENCE: We've been preparing for quite a while. That's the triathlon of drag racing. You get so many different variables there, you go to Denver and it's hot and dry and high altitude. You leave and go to Sonoma and Seattle, and it's totally different. Seattle has got tons of oxygen in the air. There's a lot of trees there. It's a true test of your race team, of your parts, just the inventory of things you have, and you've got to pace yourself and be able to enjoy those three weeks because they're back to back and you don't get to go home, you don't get to see your family, and it's just...that's a trying time right there, and we've been preparing, we've been loading the trailer full of things, packing everything we possibly can and staying under weight, to go out there, that way anything that happens you've got it there and you're not having to ship things back and forth and red label overnight. It's just a triathlon. You've got to be prepared for it.
Q. Could you kind of describe, are you different emotionally, internally now with the recent success? Does winning change you?
STEVE TORRENCE: No, the winning doesn't change you. We still go out every day with the intention of going one lap at a time, doing the best we can, and consistency is the key here. You know, the car has been running great. It's going down the track consistent, and my driving has gotten better, and I attribute a lot of that to just the consistency of the race car and the confidence that I have that every time I go to the line that Richard Hogan and those guys have given me the best race car possible, and I don't have to worry about what it's going to do. I'm going to cut a good reaction time, I'm going to drive the car the best I can, keep it in the groove, and make the right decisions. And confidence is huge when you're getting in one of these things and you know that your car is on point. I don't think the win has changed me. I think it's made me hungry for me. We got two wins right away. We won the first final we went to against Tony, and that was huge for me. I look up to Tony as a driver a lot. I mean, that guy is a seven time champion, and you don't get there without being good and being a machine. It's driven me more, and we're more hungry every time for more success and just trying to build the Torrence Racing brand and build ourselves and establish ourselves as a contender to go out there and win races and possibly be a contender for the championship.
Q. I know you make your PR guy's job a lot easier when you win, but how about the rest of your team, the attitude? How does this kind of winning do something that nothing else does?
STEVE TORRENCE: You know, that right there is the biggest morale booster for anything, that success. You get to see it there. Those guys get to see all the hard work and time, the late hours that they put in. It all comes to fruition when we get to go up there, take pictures and hold that Wally (NHRA trophy) in the air and every one of those guys know that they had an integral part in doing it. I drive the car, I get to talk on TV, I get to talk to you guys and take the glory for it, but without those guys, without every single one of them and Richard Hogan, that car doesn't go down the racetrack. So when we win, we go up there and we get to do all the celebration, there's nothing better than that. That's what we're here for. We're here to get that little gold man, to get that Wally. My job is to drive the car and support that team, and that's what I try to do.
Q. With all the success you've had so far, have you readjusted your goals for the season?
STEVE TORRENCE: Well, you know, we've pretty much surpassed our goals already. We just wanted to go out and run well and not make a fool of ourselves, and we've won a couple races. We've made four finals. Right now anything that we do is above and beyond. We're trying to maintain our consistency and hope that we haven't peaked too soon and just carry this momentum into the Countdown and for the rest of the year. We've got a really good car, and we're going to try to keep it that way. We're making preparations for the Countdown now. We're trying to get the inventory, clutch disks, and get our tune ups relatively close to what they're going to be there and keep going and carry the momentum. I mean, that's huge right now. We're distancing ourselves a little bit from the cars behind us, but you know, after Indy, it all starts over and we're all close again. We're racing as hard as we can to get that extra 20 points.
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