The following is an interview with 2012 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions Antron Brown, Jack Beckman and Allen Johnson. All three begin their season at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona on Feb. 14-17.
Below are excerpts from the teleconference.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us. We'll get started with our first conference call of the 2013 season. The beginning of the season is a few short weeks away. We'll start with two back-to-back weekends of racing, starting with the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at the Auto Club Speedway at Pomona on Feb. 14-17, and then we will head to Firebird International Raceway on Feb. 22-24 with the 29th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals.
If the 2013 season is anything like 2012, it will sure to be a great season for fans across the country watching world-class racing.
In three of the four professional classes last year, we did have first-time champions with Antron Brown taking the title in Top Fuel, Jack Beckman in Funny Car, and Allen Johnson in Pro Stock.
Eddie Krawiec was the Pro Stock Motorcycle champion and he had a couple of those already under his belt. Today we're going to be joined by three of the series that will be competing at the first two events, and joined by the champions in each category.
We'll start with Top Fuel and Antron Brown, who on the strength of six wins and five runner-up finishes was able to secure his championship and in doing so became the first African-American to win a major auto racing championship in North America.
It was an emotional scene for Antron and the entire team that late Sunday night in Pomona when Brandon Bernstein defeated Tony Schumacher in the finals and Antron captured his first season championship title.
Q. Have you thought what your emotions are going to be, Antron, when you pull back into Auto Club Raceway thinking about what happened that Sunday? Secondly, also knowing that a lot of teams are going to have you in their sights as the defending champion.
ANTRON BROWN: Well, you know, definitely when we pull in there, I'm just going to remember back a little bit of last year. But last year now is pretty much done and over with. So we're back at work, just like usual. We're putting those hours in. The effort is definitely going forward. We want to contend for a championship again and we want to defend our title. We saw a bunch of other teams step up at testing, Brandon's car was running exceptionally well, our teammate Tony Schumacher and Morgan Lucas, and the Kalitta cars were running good and both Al Anabi cars were running good. You have a lot of people coming out there this year and they want to win. This is going to be another year where the competition level is going to be at an all-time high.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Antron. We'll start with questions.
Q. Antron, some fans think you guys don't do a lot during the off-season. Can you share how you prepare for this season and do you really get some time off?
ANTRON BROWN: Well, as soon as we got back, basically we had Thanksgiving, came back after Thanksgiving, we broke down our car we just got done racing. Got totally revamped, then went right into the enclosed cockpit where we started massaging it, I'm sitting in the car, getting everything adjusted for how I want it to feel. It's just been non-stop with brand-new safety equipment from Impact coming in. Our weeks have been full of development going forward, not just in performance but in safety also here. Week in, week out, also my regular routine, three days in the gym, two days playing basketball. I've been keeping up that regimen all season so I come back in tip-top shape. Let me tell you something, when you go through the racing season where I'm not in the gym as much as I am in the off-season, you can tell when you come back. It definitely took me a few weeks to get readjusted to that again.
Q. As far as getting some vacation time, is your regular season your vacation time?
ANTRON BROWN: Believe it or not, I can't even tell you what vacation is (laughter). But we're going to try. Me and the wife, we always go for vacation for a week before the season starts. We're going to be leaving this week coming up and go on a seven-day cruise. We always do it on our anniversary when we got married, which is always the beginning of February. That's what we look for on our vacation. During the year, it's planes, trains, automobiles, hotel rooms. When you get home, it never stops. If you want to compete at the level we are now at NHRA racing, you have to have an A plus game every week if you plan on just trying to win a race and also trying to compete for a championship.
Q: Talk about your other 'racing career' going on here. You’re very involved with RC Boats. Do you classify that as much of a racing season?
ANTRON BROWN: Well, that's my hand-eye coordination, something I get to do. I get to go out there. It's not just racing them, it's also building the engine, I do know. It's a lot of fun to play with that stuff. I can literally play with it, go out to a race, race it, and I never come back hurt. I might have a cut from a prop or something like that, but I come back physically okay so I can still do my normal job. I hung up my motorcross boots and dirt bikes, because those things I can get some serious injuries from. I put that to the side, do stuff that's more laid back. This upcoming year I have another hobby, my son Anson is getting into junior dragsters. Another couple weeks, got the enclosed trailer coming. I'm going to turn into a crew chief and watch him go down the racetrack and make the calls on his racecar.
THE MODERATOR: You'll have a busy summer. We'll continue with questions for Antron.
Q. A couple of tough questions to ask you here. First off, how tough is it going to be on you guys losing that third team at Don Schumacher racing and the loss of data from that?
ANTRON BROWN: It all depends. The thing about it, I know Don, everybody is saying it's a third team loss, but he's still actively trying to make it happen right now. He has a couple good insights. Might not be gone. He's still working diligently on that to make it happen. If we only have Tony and our car out there, it's just another great racecar that we can look at and another trailer. If you need something, if you mess up something, if you're still racing, another team that can come out and help you. You're definitely going to lose all that viable insight and help. That will be a tough one. But hopefully we don't have to do that.
Q. How disappointing is it for you in your championship season that the other team ended the way it did with the dismissal of Spencer Massey and everything?
ANTRON BROWN: Well, the thing about it is, it's just hard. At the end of the day, more or less dismissal is just because it's a lack of funding. Lost our deal with FRAM and Prestone. Basically it tore that team down because there was no funding to keep the team going. If FRAM and Prestone were still here today, Spencer would be driving that car at the end of the day plain, simple. It's one of those deals that we're dealing with in drag racing, all forms of motorsports, it's hard to keep all the funding going to keep these racecars going.
Q. Antron, first of all, let me get this straight. You're saying that Spencer Massey would still have a ride even after the incident last year at the NHRA banquet if he had sponsorship?
ANTRON BROWN: I'll put my bottom dollar on it. At the end of the day, like he was representing FRAM and Prestone. That was his car he was driving. That car was funded. As long as that car was funded, he would still be here driving, without a doubt.
Q. Do you plan to run the canopy all year long?
ANTRON BROWN: The canopy on my racecar is here to stay. It's on there, locked, sealed, and delivered. My racecar that I'm driving has the canopy on it and my backup car has the canopy on it. After driving with it down the racetrack several times, when you look at what you used to race, you're like, I don't want to go back there. You go from a 3/16th inch piece of Plexiglas between you and 330 miles an hour, now you go to a fully enclosed cockpit that's got ballistic windshield that's bulletproof, then you have all the struts to support and embrace your cockpit better where it gives you a lot more support and makes your area stronger where things can't even come to you. We're definitely happy we have that on our racecar now.
Q. Have you spoken with Spencer since the dismissal?
ANTRON BROWN: Yes, yes. I spoke to Spencer at the test session in West Palm Beach. Actually, I spoke to him the day after (the awards ceremony). I wasn't there, so I have no idea what was said or what was done or what happened. It's just that he basically just apologized. Things got a little out of control where alcohol was involved. At the end of the day we're professionals in front of everybody, and that's what he was apologizing about.
Q. Antron, has it been difficult to adapt to that canopy?
ANTRON BROWN: No. The thing about it was, it deadens all your senses, like your hearing. Before, a lot of people think you're in a Top Fuel car, you hear the roar from the stands, but the only thing you hear is the whine of the motor. In the cockpit, it actually deadens the noise around you now. You don't have no light come in over the top of your head, so it's dark and you can visually see going out that front windshield, where it actually makes it look like you're looking through a little magnifying glass now. You can see finer details than you used to. The only other thing about it is that the windshield doesn't go all the way back on the sides, so the peripheral vision that you're used to seeing on the side, you don't see that no more. But it does do some different stuff when you're backing up. Now, my guys had to slow me down because I couldn't tell how fast I was backing up when I was backing up in testing because I couldn't see the sidewalls like I used to. You gauge your speed out of your peripheral. That was the biggest thing. Everything else was the same, identical. It was really easy to jump in it and go after it.
Q. Do you miss that aural sensation and sound? Does that affect the way you drive? Would that help you before?
ANTRON BROWN: No, you could never hear the crowd or nothing like that in none of these racecars. The only thing about it is now, like, you're able to feel things more now because you don't hear the loud thunder of the car. You still hear the high whining pitch of the blower, you can hear the motor revving up and doing everything it always does. You can actually feel things in your seat a lot more. When I felt the tires shaking in testing, I caught that quick. You feel everything because everything else is deadened around you.
Q. It intensifies the other sensations?
ANTRON BROWN: Absolutely. It brings your other senses back into play now.
Q. If you're claustrophobic, you would have a problem.
ANTRON BROWN: I don't know if you would have a problem because you can't see on top of you anyway. The only thing that we did was we enclosed whatever it was, that 14-inch opening that you had on top of your head that you never look straight up anyway.
Q. You're sitting low in the car anyway.
ANTRON BROWN: We took the sunroof effect out (laughter).
Q. Aerodynamically is it an advantage?
ANTRON BROWN: On the same windshield and everything else we have, it's the same. All the aero package is all the same. The only thing that you gain by putting the canopy on now is you gain about 20 to 25 pounds of weight. Definitely when you put it on, you're putting it on there because you want to be in a safer racecar.
Q. Antron, Brittany Force is going to join your ranks this year. For someone like you who moved over not that along ago to Top Fuel, what are going to be the hardest challenges she will face when she has to go up against people like you?
ANTRON BROWN: Well, right now not just like me, but everybody in our category. Top Fuel pound-per-pound is a rough category. I can tell you when I first got into this class, there were like four cars that won. You know what I mean? It was Tony Schumacher winning on a consistent basis, then besides that you had David Powers’ team, the team I got on, was their competition against them. Allen Johnson was Tony Schumacher’s crew chief. Then you had the Kalitta cars. Now you literally have 14 teams that can win week in and week out. We had an array of different guys that won this last year. When Brittany comes in, she's going to be on a great team. Her dad is going to give her the best equipment. Dean Antonelli has tuned that racecar. They ran good in testing. When they come out, the car is going to be capable, she's going to be capable of driving it, but now she's going to have to line up against some of the fiercest racers in the business. She’s going to have a lot more work cut out for her than when I first started.
Q. You know the other guys have ways of getting off that line that are honed by experience. That's something a rookie has to learn I would think.
ANTRON BROWN: At the end of the day, to be honest with you, it's kind of like a track sprinter like where I came from. Being quick is not something that you learn; it's either you are or you're not. You know what I mean? Look at Shawn Langdon. He is one of the quickest leavers in the sport, period. Shawn didn't teach himself how to be a quick leaver, he was just a quick leaver, even when he was a bracket racer. You get what I mean? Either you can run a 4.3 40 (yard dash) or you can't. When she gets over there, she's going to have to get comfortable with it and attack it as hard as she can. What she's got, she’s got. The hardest part is how to dictate that car down the racetrack, how to know what to do when things happen, let off the gas pedal or stay in it, correct the racecar. Those are things that come in time. But to be a quick leaver off the tree, be consistent, that's something that is pretty natural. Then you have to be able to do the same consistent thing week in and week out, too. The consistency comes with experience. If she’s a quick leaver, that's what she can do.
Q. Antron, you worked for Don Schumacher quite a few years now. If you had a few words to describe him, how would you describe him?
ANTRON BROWN: I would describe Don Schumacher like right off the bat is competitive, very competitive. He's very, very competitive. He's got a real strong eagerness to win. That's the best way to describe Don because he does not like to lose. He gives everything he's got. You know what I mean? He rubs off on you. There's no excuse. Eagerness to win and no excuses. The 'no excuse' part is you don't make up excuses. When something doesn't go right, you go right back to work. You don't say, this is why it happened. You go back to work to fix why it happened. You get what I mean? That's what he's about. He's a man that wants results. That's the best way I can describe Don to you.
Q. Last year when you and Tony were scrapping it out, Don tried to be as fair as he could. Could you sense that or did you feel like he was just being a dad?
ANTRON BROWN: No, Don was being a dad and he treated me like a stepson. I'm just joking (laughter). I'm always just playing around. Don, he stays out of the mix of that. He lets the teams actually just like fight amongst themselves. He gives each and every team at this shop everything they need to be successful and compete for championships. The U.S. Army car gets nothing different than my Matco Tools U.S. Army car or the FRAM car did. It's up to us to do what we want to do. He supports us in each and every way. At the end of the day, if you deserve it, you're going to get it. You can't take nothing away from his son Tony because he's the seven-time world champ. He's done it because that team has earned it, not because one of his teams stepped out of the way and let them get it. That's the way we do it over here at DSR. You see a lot of racers that like to come over here and race for Don because we race that way. There's no team orders over here. We push each other to another level. I think that's what you saw between all three of our dragster teams and Funny Car teams last year, where we push each other to another level that really helped us in competing for a championship. That's why you saw us finish one, two and three in the points.
Q. Who is going to sponsor your son's (junior dragster) car?
ANTRON BROWN: Daddy, Inc. It's definitely going to be sponsored by me. It's all about having fun, no pressure. He loves it. He watches YouTube videos of junior dragsters all the time. The craziest part of it is that my son is a John Force fan. He would rather race a John Force Funny Car than a junior dragster. I said, they don't have a class for them. You have to race dragsters like daddy. He's like, ‘Oh, daddy.’
Q. Antron, getting back to the canopy. Does it have the wicker bill identical to what Tony's does?
ANTRON BROWN: Absolutely.
Q. Everything is identical?
ANTRON BROWN: Yes, it is.
Q. What is the actual material from which the canopy is made?
ANTRON BROWN: Our canopy is made of carbon and Kevlar mixed weave.
Q. When you look through it, is there any distortion? Is it clear? How is your vision?
ANTRON BROWN: My vision is clear looking through it going down the racetrack. The only thing we had to adjust for, if you look at our canopy, like the windshield, the front of the windshield is not flush with the bottom of the deck of like the car. It sits up about I'd say an inch and a half. What happens is my old seat I used to have in my car, it was sitting low in the car. It had me sitting where I'm looking over the deal, I couldn't see the front wing of the car. We ordered a new seat that raised me up about an inch and a half and brought my vision right back to where it was with the old cockpit we used to have on the racecar.
Q. Anything else you can tell me technically about it?
ANTRON BROWN: I think the other technical issue is, the windshield glass is very, very thick in the racecar. Everything else, like, I mean, is pretty much like standardized, mandatory. We can't make anything different because we don't own it anymore. Aerodyne Composites owns it, where everybody orders it. When it comes out, everything is identical from car to car. Brittany (Force) is running one also. It's identical to what's on my car. The safety guys know what to do. Another thing we have is we actually have a fire system inside our cockpit now, too, that the other cars don't have. Like when I got in that fire in Pomona, when the fire came underneath there, if I was sitting in that car there, my fire-bottle (onboard extinguisher) would have gone off, I would have had to get out of the car as quick as I can. We also have an onboard air system that goes to our helmets, too. The reason why I had to get out of the car so fast in Pomona, when the flames came up, the nitro and flames came up, it took my breath away making me gag. That's why you saw me bending over the wall because the nitro fumes got to me. We have everything like a Funny Car has except we have it in our Top Fuel cockpit now.
Q. How are your hands?
ANTRON BROWN: They're all back together. They're great. I have a couple wrinkles in my palms still. The doctor says that's just because I'm getting older (laughter).
Q. Antron, congratulations, but now the challenge is up.
ANTRON BROWN: It definitely was heartfelt. After racing in this sport for 15 years, coming so close so many times...
Q. We talked a lot about the canopy. What would you say was the next biggest safety involvement from NHRA for 2013?
ANTRON BROWN: I think the main deal of it is that NHRA has been on it. The other deal is we have a certain box underneath the seat of our cars now that monitors G’s so they can see to do different things. They talked about a new rev limit deal, where a rev limiter will come in, where it will actually slow us down so we won't get the speeds we were getting before. I don't know if that's in effect or not. I know they've been talking about that also. I think the biggest deal was they've been working close hand-in-hand with Aerodyne on this canopy project, enclosed cockpit, because I think that is going to be the next realm, where it's going to take our Top Fuel to another level, a safer level, period. They see this deal. I think the way it adds onto the cars, they're going to maybe talk about some weight stuff. If they do make it mandatory for everybody, where nobody has an advantage by being light. Like Tony and myself, we're two of the smaller drivers in the sport. Even though we put the weight on our car, we can still just about make weight with the canopy on our cars where other guys can't do that.
Q. Antron, another question about Spencer Massey. I understand that his dismissal was not only alcohol related but because he uttered a racial epithet at you sometime after the post banquet celebration. Did he apologize to you and is that correct?
ANTRON BROWN: The thing about it is, when Spencer and I had conversations back and forth to each other, he apologized to me, but he was very affirmative and apologetic, but he told me he didn't say anything towards me. That was my understanding. My deal was, like, you know, I wasn't there to hear this. We got numerous stories from all different types of stuff that was said and spread and everything else. The only thing I could do is take Spencer's words for what he said to me. Me and him had a fine relationship this whole last year as teammates, you know what I mean, and that's what I went off of. I went off of the relationship that me and him had throughout this whole year and the year prior, which was fine. After that, like, you know, the other deal, from what Don and everyone else told me, the whole dismissal deal, him leaving our team, at the end of the day it boiled down to sponsorship. There was no sponsorship here. I believe what Spencer told me. I accepted his apology just because it was like our time on the stage of winning the championship. He's a good kid at the end of the day. He's a great racer. I have a lot of respect for him as a racer. I hope to race him out there one day soon because he definitely was one of the best racers out there. He almost won the championship the last two years in a row, contended for it. That's where I stand with Spencer.
THE MODERATOR: I think we will go ahead and say thank you to Antron at this time for calling in. I know he has some other media functions to attend to. Antron, we thank you and we will see you at Pomona in a couple of weeks.
ANTRON BROWN: Sounds great. Thanks for having me on. Thanks to everybody for their questions.
THE MODERATOR: Jack, are you with us?
JACK BECKMAN: I am in Salt Lake City. Because of the delay here, I am driving to the airport to drop off my rental car. I hope the signal doesn't drop here.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for taking time out of your day to join us.
Jack, the end of your 2012 season, a close battle between you and Ron Capps. Going into Pomona, does what happened there, do you need to start worrying about points in the very first qualifying session?
JACK BECKMAN: I think so. These relatively new qualifying session bonus points basically decide championships now. Obviously you have to win rounds. But when you can get 12 points out of qualifying plus another 8 for being number one, you can get one full round's worth of points before you ever have to line up next to anybody on race day, so it makes a huge difference.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions for Jack Beckman.
Q. Growing up, what was your first fond memory about motorsports in general, about drag racing? What do you remember as a kid?
JACK BECKMAN: The very first drag race I went to was Orange County. I was seven years old. It would have been late '73 or early '74. I think what really grabbed me was everything. The cars were so bitchin' looking back then. A lot of candy apple paint jobs. The skirts over the front of some of them. A lot of the racecars had names. It wasn't such a corporate time back then. They push started the Top Fuel cars, pushed them back after the burnouts, did dry hops. It sounded cool, looked cool. Having the opportunity after watching the cars to walk through the pits and see these eight-foot tall people that got in these cars, as a seven-year-old child, it was really kind of a hero worship thing. I think that word is highly overused, so I would use the term 'icon' now. But just to get close enough to stare in the eyes of these people that got in these monsters out there.
Q. Going forward, what have you carried with you?
JACK BECKMAN: I'm on the other side of the ropes now. But I never forgot the huge impact it had on me. A lot of times, as drivers, there's some relatively small gestures that we can do that can make a huge effect on a young child and even on adults. I think it's cool. I still am a fan of the sport. It hasn't jaded me the fact I get a paycheck for it. I identify with all the fans. If somebody brings their kid there, there's time, I'll bring him under the ropes and take a picture with the car. I love when an onlooker says, I love what you did for that kid. I'll never forget that.
Q. Jack, Chrysler pulled out of NASCAR. Have you had conversations with them? Are they strong? Have they given you a commitment?
JACK BECKMAN: Interesting question and very timely. With Allen (Johnson) on the other line, he can tell you, I'm in Salt Lake now, but I just flew here from Detroit. Allen and I were out there and got a full tour of the Chrysler building. First time for me. He had been out there. It was amazing. What I really loved is they cared enough not just about Allen and I, but about the drivers who won championships in other series to have us come out, to host us, to show us everything that they're doing. Ultimately it's a business. Fiat owns them now. There's been a lot of changes. I think they're all for the better. That question is probably better directed at Allen because he's got deeper ties, so to say. The fact they're stepping up and doing multiple races on Matt Hagan's car this year tells me they are increasing their commitment.
Q. Second thing I have to ask, how is your health?
JACK BECKMAN: Fantastic. The reason I'm in Salt Lake City, I gave a speech today that was the tail end of our Chemo Myth or Facts campaign that we did at several races last year. I'm never far from speaking about or thinking about cancer, but fortunately I'm eight years clean and everything looks good for me personally. The fact that anybody knows my name and I get to drive a car that wins races is just icing on the cake.
Q. I want to hear that Fast Jack comes back again.
JACK BECKMAN: I think we're in good shape. Nobody would have bet on us to win the championship five races in last year. What we did was relatively unheard of in motorsports, to take a partially assembled team, bring in a dragster crew chief, go out and do what we were able to accomplish. Force was smart. He hired Mike Neff years ago. Ron is as tough as ever. There's four other cars out there that are absolutely lethal and capable of winning the championship. We'll see how it ends up.
Q. Jack, I know you came out of go-karting as a kid. I'm sure a lot of drivers did. Are there any skills that you could transfer into driving the Funny Car, anything you could have transferred?
JACK BECKMAN: First let me qualify your statement. You wrote the book and I wrote a forward on the book. I was not a competitive go-karter. I got to go to Pepe's Kartland when I got a good grade on my report card. I didn't race competitively against other seasoned drivers.
That being said, go-karting is the best possible car feel you could ever get. I know we're supposed to go straight. Having that seat-of-the-pants feel to go along with the visual lock on the racetrack is probably the difference between being the fifth best driver and being the best driver. I think that anything that helps develop a skill set in an automobile will help you in a drag racecar.
Q. Any other skills that you could transfer?
JACK BECKMAN: It's interesting. I like listening to the other drivers talk. Antron made a comment that you either got it or you don't got it. I taught seven thousand people in drag racing. I think there's some people that have a better skill set to begin with. But I always liken it maybe to a Major League Baseball hitter. If you're a .250 hitter, it doesn't mean you're stuck there forever. The guys that bust their butt and go to practice twice a day, they can get to .290. In driving, it is 100 percent mental. If you can work on that, it's exactly the opposite of a what a lot of people think it is. They think it's getting up for it, foaming at the mouth, getting the fangs out. Getting your best results is about being confident and calm in the racecar. That is such a contradiction of terms, or seems to be, for getting in an 8,000 horsepower car. It's that critical balance between being calm enough to perform your job right, but being able to go at a moment's notice, if that makes sense.
Q. You still want to drive Top Fuel?
JACK BECKMAN: I was always a dragster guy, from the time I was seven. Loved the Funny Cars, they were showy. But Top Fuel was the king of the sport. I was a dragster guy. Yeah, one day I would love to go back to Top Fuel. I am absolutely loving Funny Car right now. It's unpredictable, that's the challenge. Top Fuel has its own set of unique challenges, but give me four more years in Funny Cars and then let me go back and run a season or two.
Q. Jack, let me ask you a very difficult question. What did your wife allow you to hang up on your wall in the off-season?
JACK BECKMAN: Not a damn thing. It's funny. We waited till the off-season was almost over. My buddy and I started last Saturday, Saturday and Sunday, framed in the whole upper part of our living room. Now instead of having a cathedral ceiling, we will have an extended second floor. I had a month and a half to do this and waited till three weeks before the season starts. We still got to do a lot of drywall and stuff. I will promise you, I'm going to petition her to let me hang some drag race pictures up in the new room.
Q. Are you going to get that petition signed online?
JACK BECKMAN: My wife won't honor those (laughter).
Q. Have you talked to Del about coming back from the dragster to the Funny Cars?
JACK BECKMAN: No. I think that's very interesting, though. There's a guy that quit on his own terms. God, how many people have won a world championship and quit, and now he's back in his old-style car, Funny Car. He's an incredibly seasoned driver. You want to talk about somebody with car feel. He's probably right at the top of my list.
Q. Looking back, is this going to be the most competitive field ever in your class?
JACK BECKMAN: I don't know. I think 2012 in dragster was the most competitive. I think I'd have to say '07 or '08 in Funny Cars because we had 20 cars showing up for every single race. I think there was only one car that was able to qualify for every race. That to me is the definition of difficult. However, to win races, you're always going to have 15, 16 tough cars there. Getting race wins has never been tougher than it is now.
Q. You’ve got to be sizing up the competition in your championship defense. You already know what Capps brings to the table. You know Matt Hagan has the Top Fuel rocket scientists with Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara. You're losing one tough championship contender in Mike Neff, but pairing him up with that old seasoned veteran John Force, who do you become the most concerned with?
JACK BECKMAN: Whoever’s in the other lane. How is that for an answer? I think that was brilliant of Force to bring Neff back. I think they were dynamic together. John won his last championship. Matt Hagan's deal, that's the one that I think has a tremendous amount of potential. I drove for Todd Okahara and Phil Shuler. Those guys, they work together so brilliantly. They had a great test session out in West Palm. We didn't have nearly as good a test session as them. Then (Rahn) Tobler and Capps. Tobler never gets emotional about anything. I think that man is amazing. And Capps is one of those unique drivers that, though he's emotional, he seems to be able to channel it into good performance. It's not like there was ever a lack of desire or motivation for a team to win. But for those guys to get that close last year, they're going to be tough. I think we'll be right back in the mix, too. I think Courtney's car is going to be in the mix. If Tim Wilkerson figures out his clutch woes, the rest of us might be bothered by that.
THE MODERATOR: Jack, thank you very much. We'll let you get back to your busy day. We'll see you in Pomona.
JACK BECKMAN: Appreciate it.
THE MODERATOR: Our last guest joining us today is Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson. He raced his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to seven wins and four final-round appearances during the year. His team is definitely a family affair with his dad Roy heavily involved in the team. Allen, the 2012 championship, kind of a culmination of your family's hard work. What are you looking forward to and what are your expectations going into this season?
ALLEN JOHNSON: Well, first and foremost we're looking forward to just getting to Pomona. This off-season has been a lot of work, a lot of additions to our team. That would be the first thing we're looking forward to. Second thing is we have expanded our team. We brought Jeggy (Jeg Coughlin) onboard. We have three cars now to gather information from, expanded our team somewhat with some personnel that can add value. I think we've got a very professional, very well thought out, laid out team to go to combat with this year against the KB cars, Edwards, Erica, the Cagnazzi bunch.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Allen.
Q. Allen, how did the entire session with the new crew working together go? Now that you've had a couple days off of that, could we get your comments about going into the next test and Pomona.
ALLEN JOHNSON: That first test session was a lot of hard work. We had all three cars there. We were all trying to gel in our roles, our routines, make them better as we go along.
I thought it went real well for the first test session. We had some challenges. But we've got a very professional team, like I said, with all three cars. Everybody took their roles very seriously. We'll take those and hone them. Jeggy wasn't quite happy with his car. They're still down there with his. We're going to stop and test at Vegas two days before Pomona. Still some work to do, but come out of it feeling very good.
Q. Allen, now that you have won a championship, a world championship, what is your mindset going in now that you have that monkey off your back?
ALLEN JOHNSON: You know, I told somebody just recently here at home, they pinned me down on exactly how are you feeling right now. I said, I got a little bit of a scared feeling going in that I can't perform at the level we ended on. I say that to my crew and they back me up pretty quick saying, ‘We're going to go in just like we finished and we're going to be tough.’ It's been a very satisfying time off to get to do a lot of things the spotlight brings you. Like all the other champions, we all like to help in projects, needy projects, the unfortunate folks that need help. I've utilized the spotlight to do quite a bit of that in the off-season. That really makes you feel good.
Q. You're running the Dodge Avenger for 2013. Have you looked at the Challenger?
ALLEN JOHNSON: They've explored several options. The Challenger, of course, you know is a pretty big car. I'm not sure it can work. I know Chrysler and Mopar and the brands are really diligently working toward a new body style probably for a couple years down the road. They have looked at the Challenger, yes.
Q. It's pretty hard to walk away from the Avenger. Hard for them to invest a lot of money in something else. Be that as it may, every year you have to do something different to keep that type of motivation going so you can end up hopefully backing this championship up.
ALLEN JOHNSON: The Dodge folks and the Chrysler folks, they're always looking at brand value. We're trying to sell Mopar parts, Dodge, Jeep, all that stuff. They'll pick the best route that goes with every variable that goes into that. Our team's primed and ready. The engine people have really done a good job giving us some new parts. Looking forward to the new year.
Q. Other than Lady Luck, should be a good year.
ALLEN JOHNSON: Well, Lady Luck, I'd love to have her in my corner.
Q. What did you and your dad talk about during this off-season? He had to be just as proud as heck. He's been a part of this for a while. What did y'all reflect about last season?
ALLEN JOHNSON: Well, you know, my dad, he's pretty much all business. For him, there’s no time to reflect on anything; it's time to get back to work. As a family, it's been a very gratifying, humbling experience that we have savored as a family. We've taken our time to sit back and talk about it, pat each other on the back, cry together, laugh together, all kinds of things. We're back to work now. We want to be that same competitive spirit again this year.
Q. Was that off-season any different than the past ones?
ALLEN JOHNSON: Probably more… I like to use the word 'scientific.' We're trying to work smarter, not harder. In our plans, all of our calculations, planning, dad has really grown at that. To be a guy that doesn't have a college degree, an engineering degree, he's really grown into a real precise planning machine.
Q. Vincent (Nobile), you're kind of his mentor. I guess he had to learn a great deal from you for the last two years.
ALLEN JOHNSON: Well, Vincent was a young driver, and he had his dad (John Nobile), of course, who was a driver and also a mentor. It doesn't hurt to have a mix. His dad and my thinking might be a little bit different. Vince is a good kid, a good listener. He's grown into a driving machine. He actually makes me better because I think I raced him more than I did anybody last year. He made me step up in practice and be at my best, which kind of carries over to the other opponents. So he's helped me, too.
Q. Who do you see as the competitors in this class? How do you see the season unfolding?
ALLEN JOHNSON: I probably see it as the most competitive season in Pro Stock ever. You have three people on my team, you're going to have three people on the KB team, you're going to have (Mike) Edwards, Erica and Dave (Connolly) at times with Cagnazzi. There is your top 10 gone. Those eight, nine cars right there going to be pretty damn equal. It's going to come down to decision making, lane choice, and can the driver get his foot off the clutch.
Q. Let's recap last year. About Topeka time you started rattling the cage of the KB Racing team. By mid-season you had done kicked them in the gut pretty hard, never let up. I guess the saying goes, maybe it's best to let sleeping dogs lie. Not that I want to call KB Racing a bunch of dogs. What they ran in testing looks pretty rabid. I guess you're their target.
ALLEN JOHNSON: I'm sure I am. Like General or Admiral Yamamoto, I think was his name, after the deal in Pearl Harbor, he said he was afraid he had awakened a sleeping giant. That's the way we look at the KB deal. We made them mad. I guarantee you, they'll be after our title. We got to fight them with all we got, like always. We plan on the same thing: go out there and try to be offensive but be consistent. I think we got the manpower and the steam to do it.
Q. You put a whoopin' on them pretty bad last year. Down in our part of the woods, that would be fighting stuff.
ALLEN JOHNSON: We're there for the fight, too. Even though we love Greg and Jason to death, Erica, Dave, all those people, we're great friends, we're also competitors right down to the bone. We'll fight you for all it's worth. We look forward to it and it's going to be a challenge.
Q. I know you heard this question asked of Jack earlier. I wanted to ask you about the commitment of Chrysler. People want to know, they left NASCAR, but they are fully committed to the NHRA, especially your operation as the defending champion. How do you feel about Chrysler's commitment to what you're doing and to the NHRA in general?
ALLEN JOHNSON: First of all, I'd like to say I could not have a better sponsor. That company is just ripping. I'm telling you, the Chrysler Corporation has come back with a bang.
Being up there with Jack the last couple of days, seeing what Mopar and Chrysler and all the brands, Dodge, Jeep, everybody are doing to motivate sales, to motivate employees, to motivate the racing programs, it's just phenomenal. It's the best management group, best group of folks I've ever seen. Their commitment to Pro Stock and to NHRA is very real. They will do anything and everything we ask. They want another championship. They're just like us: they don't want to just stop now. Hats off to them. They're doing a great job at it.
THE MODERATOR: Looks like this will conclude the conference call for today. Thank you, Allen. Thanks to Jack and Antron also for joining us. This will conclude the conference call for today. Thanks and have a great day.
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