The following is an interview with the 2012 Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec, current Funny Car points leader Ron Capps and current Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher. Drivers discussed the start of the 2013 season and the upcoming Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, March 14-17.
Below are excerpts from the teleconference.
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us to talk about the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. The series is two races into the 2013 season. We've already seen some thrilling races and some exciting action in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock. The Pro Stock Motorcycle season will kickoff next weekend in Gainesville. During today's call we're going to be joined by 2012 Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec, as well as current Funny Car points leader Ron Capps and Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher. We'll start the call with Eddie Krawiec. Krawiec and his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team are coming off a 2012 season that was one for the record books. Eddie won his third Pro Stock Motorcycle championship on the strength of nine wins, two runner-up finishes, five No. 1 qualifying positions, and it saw him losing only seven rounds of racing the entire season. Eddie, coming off of that, you won your 2008 championship without winning a single race, you won last year with you guys dominating. Which one gave you more satisfaction?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: The one that gave me more satisfaction is actually, I say it all the time, the championship I didn't win in 2009. I went after my season of winning the championship without winning a race. I go on to win five races. I went to a total number of I think it was 10 or 11 final rounds and got the five victories throughout the season, I lose the championship by two points. You'd scratch your head and say, How could that happen? If you're winning races, going to final rounds, surely you should get the championship. Hector Arana, Sr. performed better at the final race. It came down to very precious qualifying points. You don't really look at it or think about two points being a lot, but at the end of the year two points was the deficit that I couldn't make up with my Harley and lost the championship. But that sort of validated what everybody was saying. They were like, who is this kid who comes out, second year, wins the championship? What a messed-up points system, that shouldn't be that way. It actually shows you that there's hopes for anybody. If you're in that top 10, you have a solid chance. We saw Robert Hight do it a couple years later from the number 10 spot. It shows you the way the Mello Yello points series is done, I think it opens the door for just about anybody. I look forward to it, especially going into this season. I think the points are going to be our friends.
Q. Eddie, you get a lengthy off-season. Is that easier for a champion to wait? When you do get back, do you bring butterflies?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I tell you what, we needed every bit of that off-season. Going into the engine design and development stages we are this year, I'll be honest, I wish we had another three or four weeks. For the most part it is pretty lengthy. For us as drivers, obviously with the momentum, after coming off a championship, I'm ready to go two weeks later. Let's start the schedule again, go racing. But I think as a racer, the key thing is being able to develop your overall package, refine what it is you have, then go out there and continue to race. It's a good thing. The off-season is much needed time. As much as it is bad, it's good. So I look forward to it every once in a while, having that little bit of a break. After three, three and a half months, I'm ready to go racing.
Q. As far as the butterflies, do you still get those at all in the staging lanes?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I think anybody that says they don't is probably not telling the truth. I'm sure John Force still gets those first-round butterflies. For me, I get that excitement getting ready to go. The most exciting part of it is when you get to the track. You're there, you have that No. 1 on your bike or car as a champion, you're sort of just getting ready to start the season. I think that's where it starts setting in what happened the previous year. For me, I know the target is on my back and everybody's after me. They want my No. 1 plate. The hardest thing is to maintain it. When you're in the No. 1 spot, the only place to go is backwards. From 2 on up, you can improve. From 1, only way to go is down.
Q. I hear the dyno being very busy down there. Did you go back to the previous engine configuration, did you start out with a clean sheet of paper, or are you basically reworking your previous engine?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Our engine basically started life years ago as a two-valve, then it got redesigned back in the 2008 season for a four-valve. We pretty much went through that whole phase. Obviously after the rule changes this past season, where everything has to be an eight-inch push rod, doing a two-valve engine or cylinder head, we had to go back and do pretty much a whole redesign of the top half of the motor. The bottom half, thank God we still had a base foundation we could work off of that was good and reliable. We improved upon that. The nice thing about it is, for us the development side of it and everything down the road now for our platform is going to continue to grow. It is all in the same configuration as what sort of all the other motorcycles are. We have been working a lot, running the dyno a lot. We were lucky enough to fire the engine up for the first time February 27th, had the motor running, and just recently started the R&D March 3rd where we were able to make poles and start running it on the engine dyno. It's been a long road. It's going to be a long road from here, I should say. It's going to take quite a bit of development work and effort to be competitive. There's a lot of great bikes out there. All these motorcycles have at least 10 years of development work on it and we're coming into it fresh with none. It will be interesting to see how we stack up and see how competitive we are off the hit. I suspect a slow start for us probably going to Gainesville. It's exciting just to be able to make Gainesville at this point. Back in November when the rule change came about, we were very optimistic about having the opportunity or chance to make Gainesville. But we had a lot of support from Harley Davidson and all of our vendors that stood behind us throughout the whole winter. All the employees here, it's been a total team effort. We wouldn't have a running engine if it wasn't for everybody. A lot of late hours put in. We're excited, looking forward to Gainesville. Hopefully the performance side of it will steadily increase throughout the season. I think you're going to see our stuff start coming alive about Englishtown May or June. That way we can get another three months of development.
Q. With your day job with the company, how do you feel about the Suzuki program for the coming year?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I think all the packages should get better. Vance & Hines not only competes in the category, but we build Suzuki engines for customers. The Suzuki platform is going to be an exciting one this year. Vance & Hines put a lot of effort in this last season on the weak areas of the engine and on parts that we were having. Throughout the last two years we've struggled a little bit to keep crankshafts and some other miscellaneous pieces in the engine and keep the reliability up. We really worked towards that. I think you're going to see the Suzuki platform start to shine this season and show what it's capable of. We were able to do a good, solid six months of development on our Suzuki program. I'm definitely going to say you're going to see some of our Suzuki customers stepping up their game.
Q. Yesterday was the Motorsports Day at the Indiana Legislature, which celebrated Eddie Krawiec's accomplishments and those of Don Schumacher Racing as teams, except for stock cars, that were based out of the state of Indiana. Talk about that experience yesterday, being able to meet Governor Mke Pence, and being recognized as not only a champion but motorsports is a legitimate business nationwide and in the state of Indiana.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Absolutely. It was an honor to be a part of it and be recognized by the state of Indiana. When you sort of say 'Indiana' to most people, most people think of the Indy 500, start thinking racing. It's really an amazing thing on the mentality of most of the businesses or store owners, anybody that really supports this whole community over here in the Brownsburg, Avon area. Everybody is so into racing, a hardcore community. For the state to stand behind the motorsports industry and actually recognize champions throughout not just the NHRA series but all the other series, is something that I am proud of. I'm proud to live here. It's great to be a part of it. Not to mention all the local businesses around here. This has sort of turned into the NHRA capital for drag racing. Indy is the Charlotte compared to NASCAR versus drag racing. When you put that into perspective, you drive down the road, there's pretty much all the Top Fuel teams and a good handful of other teams, whether it be Pro Stock Motorcycle, Don Schumacher, there's not really many Pro Stock car teams in this area, but it's definitely a very recognized avenue of income for the state. So for the state to look at it as a driving force to stand behind us and support motorsports I think is a win-win for everybody. One of the important things that not a lot of people realize, but when you look at all the jobs generated, I think the number is somewhere around the 12,000 jobs that are related to motorsports with an annual salary of $60,000 is pretty impressive. To live here in Indiana, be involved in drag racing, is all great for me. I'm very excited just to be a part of it.
Q. You talked about Gainesville. You have won the past three races there. What's been your key to success really coming out of the box strong?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I think a lot of it had to do with not making a whole lot of changes going to the first race during the off-season. One of the key things for us always was, we always ran well towards the end of the year so we always tried to start off where we left off. A lot of people tend to try new things or go into development stuff. You're still searching for the tune-up, you're still searching for the overall combination of your package. You see that in a lot of categories. Although the weather may not be ideal, we continually make gains throughout the season. That's because you're sort of learning what your package likes. We always used to come out of the box and run really well because we never really wanted to change much from the last part of the season. Sort of do your development as you're going throughout the season. But this year is going to be a little bit different, coming into it with a brand-new package, where we would be really young in the stages of the R&D side now, we're only into it for about six days total of R&D. Our intentions at Gainesville are right now to show up with our two Harley-Davidsons and qualify. Anything from there on would be a bonus. Then we'll continually raise our goals going to each race throughout the season. I'm excited. As I said earlier, I really love the way the points system is done this year. It's going to hopefully work to our advantage.
Q. Eddie, I'm guessing you haven't made a hit on the track yet with the new motor. Will you get a chance at Valdosta between now and next weekend?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Currently our motors have not even sat in our chassis. Our chassis had to go through a total change also. We had to refront the front half of our bikes to accommodate the motor and changes to make sure it worked correctly. As of right now we're working hard on trying to fit all the parts. We just got some of our final air box pieces today actually. They're going together. The plan is, hopefully if all goes well on the dyno, we're working hard to assemble some motors, we'll have some engines together on Sunday and be able to hit the road. No, they have not been down the track, have not been tested in any sort. Our expectations right at this point are, to be honest, to be able to do a burnout and go down the track. We have to work on the tune-up and see where we stack and fall against the rest. I don't know where we're going to test. The weather could be iffy no matter where you go. Whatever has sunshine and 70 degree air we'll be towards. We're looking forward to it. It should be exciting.
MODERATOR: Eddie, thank you very much for your time. I realize how busy you are. Thank you for taking time out of your day to talk to us.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Thanks for having me on.
MODERATOR: Ron, thank you for joining us. We have Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. A good start for Ron and his team. 2013, he raced to two consecutive final-round appearances and won the most recent event in Phoenix. With that he took over the lead from Courtney Force and holds the points lead for the first time since St. Louis in 2012. Ron, you and your team have obviously come out hot this season. Is there any unfinished business from last season from last year that you're trying to correct a little bit?
RON CAPPS: I don't know about unfinished business. We missed it just by a couple points last year for the championship. To be honest with you, I've told you this, we didn't really worry about this year. I was so excited to have (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and (assistant crew chief) John Collins on our team come back as one piece, have an off-season, a winter, that we didn't have any questions as far as sponsors on the car. It was kind of full speed ahead. I knew we were going to have a great year this year just by the way we finished last year. I don't look at it like unfinished business. It was a fun battle right down to the end. I think we're going to have another shot at it this year hopefully.
Q. Ron, speaking of points, you have good experiences being close in the points many times in the past. Is it better to get a solid start or is it better to build on a performance through the season? Is it better towards the end to get your team going?
RON CAPPS: The product of our Countdown, when they implemented it, I think it took a lot of pressure off of everybody during the regular season. You don't have that pressure to get a good start, to stay up in the points early, other than the regular motivation you would have to win each weekend, to try to make your sponsors happy by getting in the winner's circle. What happens is you can kind of float along and do pretty well until you need to make sure you're in the top 10 or place yourself in that top 10 for the Countdown, for the seeding. I think really that just changed a lot of people's outlook on how everything is approached. That's most people. Now Rahn Tobler, myself, a lot of these other racers, crew chiefs and drivers, try to go out there and steal all those little points in qualifying, try to be the quickest car in every session. That's I think what separates a lot of the racers from the guys that maybe end up in the back. For us, we brought out everything new, DSR chassis, clutch package. Last year we lost the championship by two points. If we have an accident or something goes wrong, we have to change cars, that car comes right downstairs. To answer your question, it's great to get a good start. I'll tell you what's funny. I don't know who is who in points, but if I was No. 11 right now, I would be telling you it ain't that big of a deal because you just got to kind of get in the Countdown. If you're me, it's awesome because I get calls to do these teleconferences. I get mentioned as being the points leader going into the next race. That's great for NAPA. I think it's all in who you ask.
Q. Going into the next event in Gainesville, you have two wins down there at the Gators. There are few events that one word can describe it, like the Gators or Indy. You're a historian of the sport. What does that track mean to you, having wins there in your career?
RON CAPPS: I knew it was a big race. It was always considered one of the big four that NHRA had. I never got to go there as a kid growing up in California. I went to Irwindale, Orange County, Pomona, Bakersfield. I only read about this place. I went there in Top Fuel my rookie year and got to race and really experience what Gainesville is all about. For me I started pointing at the Winternationals of the East Coast because it's where a lot of the big sponsors, suits, come out to the races if they're on the East Coast. With that being said, I went along in my career not winning it until Ace and I won it that first time. I realized what a big deal it was. Then we got to win it again. Now it's one of those trophies I look at on my mantel, it's like, man, I got to win the Gatornationals. For us to drive in Friday morning, get that feeling, everybody's there, they made it a destination, a vacation trip. It's such a huge crowd. It's one of the most prestigious races we go to. It's a demanding track. It can be humid and hot. It's one of those racetracks where if you win, at the end of the day you really feel like you accomplished something.
Q. What are you doing this weekend? The March Meet?
RON CAPPS: Growing up as a kid, one of the most popular races for me, I went with my parents, was The Fuel and Gas Championships in Bakersfield. NHRA took over the Heritage Series. It's funny because you don't see IndyCar and NASCAR where they have cars from back in the day. It would be like NASCAR having cars from David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Petty, being driven by contemporary drivers. They have a quarter-mile race track at Famoso. We race all the cars from the day: the Blue Max, the Snake, the Mongoose, Schumacher's car. I'm driving a car called the L.A. Hooker, which is famous, driven by Dave Condit, won a NHRA championship race. It's almost 40 cars trying to qualify for a 16-car field. It's like going back in time. Popular race. 55 years this race has been going on. It's a race that I look forward to doing, and it's this weekend.
Q. Ron, runner-up four times in the points standings. The way you started this year, do you think this could be your year or is it too early to think about that?
RON CAPPS: No, it's way too early I think. Heck, last year I was getting told before the St. Louis race we were going to run away with the championship. Lo and behold my teammate, Beckman and that team, came alive, won that race. We went out second round. We know what happened after that. We battled down to the end. I finished runner-up four times and been in the hunt before going into Pomona several times beyond that. I don't start getting excited till Sunday morning at Pomona. Even though it looked like we could run away with it, I know what could happen, and it did happen. Last year, when Tobler took over after the Vegas race, we went from ninth in points, Tobler took our team to first place where we got the bonus points going into the Countdown, and we took over that from Robert Hight's team with one race to go when we left Brainerd, Minnesota. That was a fun ride to go from ninth to first. We had a chance to get the 20-point bonus by leading the regular season. That's the kind of motivation we look at. But to be honest, we don't start counting any of that stuff yet.
Q. How driven are you to win the championship?
RON CAPPS: I'm driven every weekend. To be honest with you, I know I've talked to some of you guys on the phone here, this last off-season I had no problems finishing runner-up. I was bummed for a few days finishing so close. I look around at some of the drivers in the sport, Ed McCulloch, guys that have been unbelievable racers, representatives, never won a championship, don't have a championship ring. I've looked at some of the guys that do have championship rings in this sport that maybe are flash in the pans that came in, won and are gone. I don't think that's going to separate me at the end if I never do win one. But I think I've got a great shot. I got Don Schumacher, the whole team. Everything Don does gives you a chance to win. Of course, Rahn Tobler is the inspiration on our team. He has won a lot of championships as a crew chief. I think I have as good a chance as I've ever had.
MODERATOR: Ron, we will let you get back to driving. Enjoy your weekend and we will see you Friday afternoon at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
RON CAPPS: Appreciate it.
MODERATOR: Next we have seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher. Tony in his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster came one round short of winning his eighth championship in 2012. No team has been hotter this four-race stretch dating back to the second event at Las Vegas last year, Schumacher has raced to four final-round appearances and won the most recent event in Phoenix. It's propelled him to the current points lead in Top Fuel and could propel him to that next championship. Tony, a couple of drivers have talked about getting off to a hot start this year. What has been your key to success these first two races and even looking back to the last two races of last season?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think last season we had a great car at the end of the year. We had a world champ car, got beat on a hole shot with a 40 reaction time, a guy pulls one of those miracles, you get beat. It happens. No different than me pulling a miracle in my Army car pulling one against Doug Kalitta. As gracious as you are when you win them, you have to be classy enough to accept them when you lose them. It's one of those things. Our car was phenomenal, but it's better now. It's better this year. Even though we can see the four finals, they're separate. Last year we had a different car. (Crew chief) Mike Green and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh), all the guys that work on the Army car, had an extremely dedicated winter. Came up with some new stuff. Great new tune-up. At the end of the year you run out of stuff. You run out of clutch discs. You run out of parts that you make last till the end. We went out and tested. I think what we enjoy about this year, what we're seeing is that when we make changes to a car, the car's result reflects it. A lot of teams go out there and they go fantastic. But I don't know why it did that. I told it to do this. That's not what we're seeing. We're seeing educated decisions that are making the results reflect them. It's fantastic. That's exciting. That means when it gets hot out, we're going to be able to make a change in the car, we'll show that we can make it down the track quicker than anyone else. I'm excited, man. We got a great car, a great team. Looking forward to 22 more fantastic races starting at Gainesville, one of my favorite places ever to race.
MODERATOR: You won four times at the Gatornationals. What stands out to you most about that track when you pull in there on Friday?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's massive. It's early in the year. You tend to forget how big our sport is until you get to Gainesville. Pomona is a little light, Phoenix smaller market. Gainesville is so big. As the driver, we wait for an hour to get into the track on Sunday morning, that's how long the lines are. It's one of those things, man. It has the greatest list of people that have won that race. Maybe second to Indy, so many people show up there to try to win it and it makes it difficult. What really stands out the most, the four wins are great, but the last two years I've gotten beat by incredible racers. Morgan Lucas last year runs the race of his career against me. That is what the Army team makes people do. Del Worsham the year before by four-thousandths of a second or we would have had six wins in there. We've had good success. Any driver will tell you going to a racetrack where you've been successful is the greatest, it's a gift, because you look forward to going there. It's one of the ones you have an advantage. You've proven you can win there. I really, really look forward to getting there.
Q. Tony, what do you feel is different about champions, emotions, traits, communication skills, and resources? You've done this so often, you're off to another great start. Certainly you have an idea of what really makes a champion.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think the champions that I've known and been blessed with being surrounded with are very good leaders. They're very good at understanding that it's a team sport. Getting through adversity with some calm. This is an easy sport to be happy when you're winning and angry when you're losing, but you can't be. Nobody can possibly tell me that my nine guys aren't working 150% every day just because the car doesn't run one day. Getting through those big moments is how a team wins a championship, because those guys that you stick with through the adversity work so much better together knowing you're part of the team, not just some guy out there driving, taking all the credit. I think it's something that's so critical and important to a championship team.
Q. Do you save much for the Countdown? What do you take along the way?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Confidence. It's great to go into it knowing you have a great car and a confident team going into those. The fact is, we are much better under pressure. I point that out to our guys all the time. We're racing a three and a half second race where you can win and lose by inches. It's very, very intense, very intense, as much so as bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count, you're up. There are not many things that are more intense than that moment and we have to deal with it each and every run. It's something that takes a special group. When you're going out and performing well and you know you've got this tune-up capable of winning, it's so nice to be able to put that to use. I joke about this, but I'm going to say it. I like to joke and say I'm a gifted driver. People laugh because it sounds cocky. Then I clarify it. I don't mean I'm better than anybody. I mean it's a gift to be able to drive the U.S. Army racecar. It's a gift to be able to drive it. But the biggest gift of all is to have those nine guys with the Army on the side of the car, but be presented with this monster moment where you have to win. That's a gift.
Anyone that's ever heard my speech knows I don't want that moment with my five high school friends working on it because they're completely incapable of it. Those nine guys that work on my car, they're great at it. They look forward to that moment. They remember that racing itself is about the love of the game and it's about the love of the moment, getting through, getting over big humps and hurdles. It's what makes our team so darn successful.
Q. The past six years at Gainesville you've raced to five final-round appearances and have won three and lost only two. You have definitely great success there at that track. Looking at the crystal ball, what do you think we're going to see in the ultracompetitive Top Fuel category?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think you're going to see some good racing. In the last I'd say two years, you've seen the best racing in Top Fuel history. The races have gone from my one Army car and Alan Johnson dominating 15 races of 22 or 23 we had that year, to winning championships by winning a handful. It's because there's so many good teams. There are so many good cars. There are so many good drivers doing just a great job. If I was a fan and paid money, this is the year you want to do it. I know it's difficult times, but we're still seeing good crowds. I think it's because we've really given them the show that they expect. There are only four DSR cars because they're all good cars. 25% is going to win, but 75% is going to lose. Everyone is out there with phenomenal cars. We remember as we do our job, this is an entertainment sport. We are entertainers. When there's just one car out there doing it all, dominating, it kind of turns people off. When you show up at a race, there can be 10 different winners, it's pretty exciting.
Q. Did you say your team was using a brand-new complete car to start the season?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yeah, we picked out a new car. Antron has already used two in two races. He's really putting it to the test. At the end of the year you take and you cut the front of the car off, back half of the car. We had the car that was in the trailer. Understand this, DSR builds them. It's very similar to the car we ran last year. There's no changes. It's just new metal. It's reacting good. It's reacting very well to what Mike and Neal are doing. I think normally there was a time where you get in the car and you're not sure it's going to make it down the track. Right now Mike leans over, here is what we did, and he can start to call numbers. The car goes out and runs a 77. That's pretty extraordinary for a crew chief to be able to do that. He has to know his car. I think now that me and Mike and Neal have worked together for a long time, he knows how I'm going to drive the car so he doesn't have to second guess what I'm going to do staging the car. We're just going to get stronger.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Tony. We'll let you get back to your afternoon.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Thank you, guys.
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