An interview with: MICHAEL RAY, GREG ANDERSON, RON CAPPS, TONY SCHUMACHER
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started today with our NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series teleconference. As you all know, the series heads to the world's largest drag race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on August 28th through September 2nd at historic Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The story lines are plenty at that event with drivers not only trying to win the most prestigious drag race in the world, but some trying to battle their way into the Countdown to the Championship, others looking to improve upon their seedings and Top Fuel, and Funny Car racers attempting to take home $100,000 in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout that will also take place during the course of the event. Joining us today to preview those topics and more will be Pro Stock motorcycle racer, Michael Ray, Pro Stock racer, Greg Anderson, Funny Car racer, Ron Capps, and Top Fuel competitor, Tony Schumacher.
We'll start our conference call today first thanking members of the media for joining us and also thanking Pro Stock Motorcylce racer, Michael Ray for joining us. Thanks a lot for being here today, Michael.
MICHAEL RAY: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Michael is on his Sovereign Star Racing Buell and is in the midst of a breakout season for this Texan rider. In 2012, if you'll remember, Michael was the only rider in the category to win an event other than Andrew Hines or Eddie Krawiec. This season he's won at Englishtown in Chicago, as well as racing to two semifinal appearances. He also recorded his first two number 1 qualifying positions of his career this season and currently sits third in points. Michael, the first question I'll start off is what has been the difference this season as opposed to last year or previous seasons for you and that team?
MICHAEL RAY: I think the biggest thing is preparation, and not to pound the rules and beat a dead horse. The rules definitely allow for racing to be a lot more competitive, not just for our team but for all the rest of the teams involved in the class. But I really think preparation from the Sovereign Star Team, with George (Bryce, team owner) and the guys, we have now had two calendar years to really build an R & D program around not just the engine side of it, but the chassis side of it. So with the time that they've had to develop all the parts and pieces, we've now had a good six months of working with myself, building that continuity between myself, George, and the rest of the team. I think all those things kind of compound together. When you put them all on paper, you mentioned it earlier, we had two number 1 qualifiers, two wins, and we're in the middle of running for that first Mello Yello Championship.
Q. A lot of people look when you start winning and all of a sudden you've got some sudden success, but we all know it's not that way. But what in your past has helped you most along the way with the winning that you're doing now?
MICHAEL RAY: I think confidence that my father instilled in me in everything that I did. Honestly believe in yourself that everybody out there is as good as you. If you put a hundred percent into it, I know it sounds cliché, but you get back what you put in, per se. So I'd say that my father, my mother, they put a lot of great work ethic into me. I would say that my job, day to day at Gruene Harley Davidson, working in sales and being in a management position with this company for the past eight years has really taught me to be focused, remain very calm, be level headed. When I go put on my helmet and I have to do my job behind the controls of that S&S powered Buell, it's nothing different than I do every day. So I know the pressure's there, and the U.S. Nationals and all the history and how prestigious that event is, but for me, I try to take it one lap at a time, one day at a time, and don't put any more pressure on myself than what already is.
Q. Would you say for any young person growing up, would you give that kind of suggestion of what they can do to be successful in anything that they try?
MICHAEL RAY: Definitely, definitely. There are resources out there to do anything you want to do, and it's all based on your mental outlook on it. If you honestly don't believe that you can go be successful in anything that you try, you're not going to do it. It's just as easy as that. So for any young individual out there, whether it be drag racing, badminton, owning their own business, being an architect or anything for that matter, if you go give it 110% and know that you've honestly put everything aside, personal, your family, you know, regardless of what anybody can say, if it drives you and you're passionate about it, go try to do it. Because you only get one shot at life, and you might as well enjoy it and do what you love.
Q. Michael, you talked a little bit about George Bryce and being a rider for his team. He's obviously a wizard when it comes to Pro Stock motorcycles. What's that relationship been like, and is that something that you really have valued this season?
MICHAEL RAY: His knowledge from back in the '80s when he and John Myers were racing Pro Stock before Racepak computer was even known. Today, for him to be able to write a book, he could train anybody on how to be a successful driver. We go to the track, and he's always, always trying to work with me not to be better than the next person in the other lane, but be as good as I can be. He and (wife) Jackie have really, really helped me a lot this year as far as always working on if I see a problem that I'm having or I may be developing a little bit of a problem as a driver, George has raced and crew chiefed on both sides of the visor. He's coached Angelle (Sampey) to a championship, and when George was racing, he was a champion. So he can really, really help you out, whether it be mentally driving the bike or the communication that a crew chief may have with a driver to say that, hey, I need to you do this. I need you to do it like that. He can really break down that communication barrier that always has been there between a driver and a crew chief. I think with me being as young a driver as I am, I don't have any bad habits. I feel that at the beginning of the year, I came in and checked my ego at the door, because last year I did have a lot of success in my rookie year. Winning my first race, naturally, my head could have been bigger than my talent. But I knew coming over with George, and Jackie, and Kim Johnson, and that entire Star Racing camp, there isn't any ego. It's one goal, one focus, and that is to win races and win a championship. I'm really, really glad that I made that decision, and I'm really blessed to have George be a part of it. I don't feel that I'd be anywhere where I'm at today pertaining to this championship without him and all his success and all his knowledge.
Q. Michael, drivers talk about every single track, and they're all the same size; they're all the same basic material and everything. But when the U.S. Nationals is mentioned, it's like they're going to the greatest place in all of drag racing history. What is it about the U.S. Nationals to you that makes it such a wonderful event?
MICHAEL RAY: Seeing all the race teams that come out for that one event. I remember going when I was a young kid when my father was racing Top Fuel and Pro Stock bike, and just seeing all the families, all the teams. I mean the Sportsman pits they're as exciting and as happening as the pro pits. Indy is where legends are made. Indy is where you go and turn the corner to win a championship. So for me, I was there in 1996 as a young guy when we tragically lost Blaine Johnson and Elmer Trett. I mean, you have great memories and you have these horrible memories, but they also can all transform into what makes our sport amazing and what makes that race so prestigious. Seeing all the different teams. The five days of just awesome action, the Cacklefest, all the really old HotRods, all the old Top Fuel cars. I mean, for me being a really, really young fan of the sport, I just turned 29, I know nothing about those old Top Fuel cars. But when I go up and I see them and just being a fan of it, it just blows me away to see where we've come. And to see the old highlights of the fuelers smoking the tires through the lights, that's what drag racing is all about, and that is exactly what the U.S. National is all about. It's every bit the history that got us to the point and present that we're at and everything moving forward. It's the biggest drag race in the world, and to see all the people that come out, the fans, the families, the racers, it's everything that any young racer, whether you're a fan or you're putting on a fire suit fixing to pull underneath the tower, the walkover there at Indy and blast down through there, it gives me chicken skin sitting here talking about it. I've got chill bumps talking about it. It's just an amazing facility.
Q. So when you go and you leave your work and you leave your home and you go to the U.S. Nationals, what do you have to do to your mind to make sure that you stay entirely focused on your goal?
MICHAEL RAY: I would say for Indy you truly have to take it one day at a time. Every day is different. I was trying to compare it to one of my customers the other day as speed week at Daytona or bump day or everything for the Indy 500. Friday, we get one shot. Okay? So really, Friday you can kind of throw that away. Saturday conditions are different for Sunday qualifying, so every day is different. Truly take it one day at a time because so much can change there, conditions can change. We can get a little bit of rain, and it goes from one of the fastest facilities that we go to, to one of the stickiest places with humidity that we can go. So don't get overwhelmed and just stay focused. Get in there on Monday morning, and then that's when you can kind of let the Indy jitters come around, because that is when we're down to the quick 16 and we're fixing to crown a champion. That's the main point. Take it one day at a time, and get yourself in position on Monday where you can go in for the kill.
Q. Since last year's greatest rivalry was anybody against the Harley team, who would you say the greatest rivalry in the new landscape of Pro Stock bike now? What is the greatest rivalry going on now?
MICHAEL RAY: I'd have to say if you discounted Matt Smith Racing and Viper Motorcycle Company, that rivalry between Matt and I, you'd be cutting us a little short. He and I have raced really hard together. He and I didn't get into any big scuffle on the top end of Sonoma. But him and I have had a few choice words on the top end with each other. He's a past champion. He's my past crew chief. So there is nobody I want to personally beat any more than him when I put on my helmet. The Lucas team, they're really focused on themselves. I would say they're trying to stay under the radar, but I would say if Matt and I get down into this championship, it's going to be pretty good. Because I am ruthless and not afraid of anybody. We all know from his last name and his history, he's got a good mouth on him and he's a great racer. He's a past champion. To be the man, you've got to beat the man, and I'm focused on taking him out.
Q. He plays this off like you guys are just good friends, kids and all. But as we've seen in the pits at Englishtown where there were fisticuffs, would it ever come close to that for you guys?
MICHAEL RAY: No, no, Matt and I are great friends. I think that our friendship off the track allows us to be more fiery competitors to each other. I talk to him probably twice a week. But him and I, we get judged up when we race each other, even last year when we were teammates. We still kind of haze each other. I don't see us coming to blows. I definitely don't want to represent myself or any of my sponsors as being a physical, altercating kind of guy. But he's got sponsors and he's got to represent himself. He definitely plays it under the radar a little bit. But he knows that there's a little bit of bad blood kind of from the way things ended last year with him and I, that he definitely, when he beat me a couple times this year, whether it be in hole shots, and when he won up in Norwalk, it was a little bit of redemption for him whether he'd come out and admit it.
Q. Is there a redline for you guys that you guys know we've taken it too far or has that yet to be determined?
MICHAEL RAY: I would say we've got a red line when it comes to really, really pushing and shoving. But I'm definitely not afraid to tell Matthew how I feel about a situation. He's definitely not afraid to tell me what he thinks. It's definitely been good because it gets us both fired up and focused. I don't think you'll ever see us punching each other, but I'm not afraid to get up in his face and let him know what's going on, and he's not afraid to get in mine and tell me where I'm supposed to be either.
THE MODERATOR: Michael, I think that ends our questions for you this afternoon. Thank you again for joining us on the call. Michael will take to the track for the first time for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at 6 p.m. Friday, August 30th. So, Michael, we'll see you then.
MICHAEL RAY: All righty, man. Look forward to seeing you guys there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for your time today, Michael. Next up, Greg Anderson.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Greg, for taking time out of your day to give us a call. Greg Anderson, the racer of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro is a six time Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals champion. His most recent coming in 2011. Greg, to kind of start it off, what does it mean coming into this event that now has Chevrolet on the title as one of the Chevrolet Pro Stock racers?
GREG ANDERSON: It's cool. It's absolutely cool. I'm glad to be one of the banner carriers for Chevrolet. It's been a while since they've been on a billboard that big. So it's good to have them back. They kind of eased back into the sport a year or so ago. This year they stepped up their involvement. It's great for us in Pro Stock, and it's great to have them on the big billboard at Indy. So going to feel very proud when I look up and see that big Chevrolet sign and look down at my race car and see the same old bowtie right there. That's going to be a cool feeling.
Q. Greg, obviously, everybody talks about the competition level in Pro Stock every year. It just seems like that is the first thing before the season starts and then they get into it and the competition level continues to be really strong. Could you talk a little about that?
GREG ANDERSON: It is. It absolutely is. It seems like more and more competitors every year figure out the game. Really learn what it takes to run at the top level, so you get more and more of them every year. Also, the class in general, the whole class goes forward each year. I think I'm a pretty good example of that. Apparently, I haven't gone forward much this year and the rest of the class has. Just like that, you're left behind. So you can't sit on what you have regardless of what you have. You can be the man one day and be a complete also-ran the next day if you don't go forward from today to tomorrow. You have to look at every day going forward, no matter how fast you are. Looks like I kind of got left behind in the off season. Apparently, some other teams did a better job of making their race cars faster, and it has taken me, what are we, into August now, so it has taken me into August to catch up. So it's been a tough season for me, but that shows you how great Pro Stock is. If you sit still on what you have and think what you have is good enough for one day or one week, you're going to get left behind.
Q. What attributes do you, being a four time champion, what really would you put a finger on as far as what gave you the desirability and everything to get to that level that is so difficult to get to?
GREG ANDERSON: I'm not sure what it is. We got this -- when I say we, I think it's pretty much everybody that's involved in the sport -- when we get it into our blood, it's just you want to do it so bad, you want to win so bad, you want to be the best so bad. We don't just come out here to compete and be one of the guys and have a chance some day of winning a race here and there. We come out to prove we're the best of the best, the baddest dog on the block every week. I'm not the only one. I certainly have that goal. Jason Line, my partner has that goal, my entire team has that goal. But now we're seeing 15 other teams in Pro Stock that have that same goal. So it just makes the sport all that much better, all that much tougher. It's an addicting sport to say the least. Once you get it in your blood. I got it in my blood when I was a teenager chasing back and forth to the racetrack with my father. Once I got it in my blood, you're not going to get it out. You're going to dig harder and harder every day to make yourself more successful and prove you can do it the best. It's a neat sport. I tell everybody that comes to a race for the first time, this is something that you've never seen before, and I will guarantee you, you will not leave here saying this is not for me. You will love it once you see it the first time. I've never had a failure yet as far as bringing a new person to a race, and they haven't liked it. So it's just a unique, absolutely crazy sport that people love. It's just sometimes hard to get them out to it. Once you get them out to it, they love it whether they're watching from the grandstand or working on the race car.
Q. Let's talk about your frustration level this year. I mean, we're used to seeing Greg Anderson with about four or five wins in the bank by about this time this year. In a non PC kind of response, describe the level of frustration you've experienced this year by not living up to the same level as the previous years?
GREG ANDERSON: It's been one heck of a challenge. I can't lie to you. My frustration level has been on red line all year, so has Jason, so has our entire team. I can make up all the excuses I want. We've got the Countdown. It really doesn't matter until the Countdown. Baloney. I never bought into it. I don't believe that. I go to every race to win a race. I haven't been capable of winning a race all year. I haven't rolled in on Sunday morning with the feeling that I had a chance to win a race until the last race we had at Brainerd. That's been the first time all year. It's been a struggle. It's been a battle. And we have worked extremely hard this year, and we certainly do it at all time, but when you get your back to the wall like we've had this year, I can guarantee you every hour that you're not working on that race car in some way, you feel, well, if I don't work that next hour, I'll never catch these guys. I am behind. Reality is I got left in the dust this year somehow, some way, performance-wise, and I'm not prepared to win the race. I don't enjoy going to the racetrack not being able to win a race. So we work very hard. The good thing about it is even though the frustration level for all of us has been at max level, there's been no in-fighting, no finger-pointing, there's been no it's his fault, it's this person's fault, the engine's fault, the car's fault, the driver's fault. There's been none of that. We win as a team, and we lose as a team, and we've stuck together very well through all the adversity. That's what I think defines your team is if you can drive through those low times. And let me tell you, this has been a low time, and to come out of it with the same group of people, and everybody wants to race with each other and hang out together. So I think we're finally turning the corner. Brainerd was definitely a season changer for us in performance. Like I said, for the first time all year we had a legitimate chance to win that race. If I hadn't made a mistake in the semifinal, we very well could have been walking out of that race with a trophy. And not because of luck, but just flat performance. So that's what KB Racing is used to, that's what we want to get back to. Looks like we're making our way back to there. That is one race, and we're not going to call ourselves back yet. But it's definitely a big step forward. We're out at zMAX right now, testing today and tomorrow and trying to make up more of that performance. So when we go to Indy, we can prove that Brainerd wasn't a fluke for us, and we can find a way to get win number (seven) possibly for me, and Jason he hasn't won that race yet at all, so it would be big for him. I couldn't even think about that a month ago or two months ago. It wasn't even a consideration in my mind. Could I get number (seven) at Indy or could Jason win his first? We weren't prepared to win a boat race, for God sakes. It's a good feeling right now, but we also know we're not where we need to be yet. We're closer, but we're not where we need to be yet. We're going to continue to work a dogged effort to get back there. The class itself has raised the bar this year. Unlike past years, a lot of those years I was the one that raised the bar and they had to catch up. This year the rest of the class has raised the bar and I have to catch up.
Q. Which frustrates you more, not winning as many races as you had hoped to or seeing Mike Edwards dominate so much?
GREG ANDERSON: I'm proud of all these guys. They're doing what they're supposed to do. That's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to try to go out, find a way to dominate and be the baddest dog out there. They've done that. I can't be mad at them for that. I appreciate that. The onus is back on us to find our way back there. So I'm definitely more frustrated with our performance. We are definitely not running the way we can and should. It's up to us to figure it out. Not for them to come back to us; it's for us to come back to them.
Q. Pro Stock this year has been a tough season for filling fields and everything. And by your own admission and for those of us who witnessed it, you work night and day and pour your life into Pro Stock. Do you ever sit down and ask yourself sometimes if the reward is worth the investment?
GREG ANDERSON: Seldom I do, but not very often. I think you get so wrapped up into it and you enjoy it so much. I think what we really like about it the most is the competition. The ridiculous amount of competition. That's what we get off on, I guess. Yeah, you want to be the best, but you don't want to be the best when you don't have much competition to be the best over. We've got a ton of competition in this class right now. It gets tougher every year, and that's what makes you drive harder and enjoy it more, and want to do it even more so than you ever did. And as sick as that sounds, that's obviously what we get off on. I doubt very much that the New England Patriots enjoy whipping up on whoever the worst team is in the league anywhere near as much as they enjoy whipping up on the best team in the league. That's the same way we are. You're glad the competition is there, and you want them to succeed. You just want to find a way to do a better job than they are.
Q. Greg, I've watched you over the years and I've watched a lot of your competition over the years. What are you searching for during the off season? Because it appears that most are searching for hundreds or thousands of a second. How overall difficult is that?
GREG ANDERSON: Well, it is difficult. It's not only difficult to find that gain, it's difficult to quantify did you make the gain or not. When you're talking about thousands of a second, it's difficult to make two runs down the racetrack that everything is the same to the thousandth. That really doesn't happen. So you have to figure in all the fudge factors. Did we gain or did we not? Same thing goes with the engine Dynamometers. We feel we've got one of the very best engine dyno operators in the country with Jason Line and the best set up with the dyno facility, and the best repeatability dyno you can get, and it still comes down to time. When you're talking about two or three horse or 1475 horsepower, whatever you're talking, it's difficult to repeat two poles on the dyno with a couple horse to really quantify did you make a gain or didn't you? That's kind of the tough part about it. As you go through the process, you're not going to get those gains by 10s or 20s. You're going to get them by ones or twos, and you have to quantify accurately, did we gain two, did we gain one? Did we lose one or two? And nothing is perfect. Every time cars go down the racetrack, the driver does something different, the clutch says something different, and it's hard to repeat it. If you didn't touch the car at all between runs, it would be difficult to repeat within thousandths. That is the tough part not getting yourself lost or not getting yourself fooled with the changes you make. What did that really do? Obviously, we make a ton of changes and you have to keep track of it. I think quite honestly, that's probably what happened to us more than anything over the last six months. Some of those gains we thought we made ended up being possible negatives and it kind of got us chasing our tails a little bit. It took us a little while to find our way back home and actually go forward.
Q. What move in your life does it take for you to finally believe, yes, we've made a positive move forward, if it's as difficult to understand as you just said?
GREG ANDERSON: You have to be at the same racetrack with all the same competition that you run with every week, you have to be with them and run yourself up against them as your scorecard. It doesn't really matter if you're at a test track somewhere and you're testing by yourself and you run fast or you run slow. It's hard to quantify because you don't know what the rest of the class would have done. Same with the Dynamometer. There are times of the year it makes bigger horsepower numbers than other times of the year because of the air itself. You have to be with your peers on the same day, same race course, same time. Then when that gap is different, you know you've made a gain or a loss. But you're not going to get ten of us to go test together at the same test facility. You're not going to get us to play together all the time. So we understand and learn from each other where we're at. It's very difficult sometimes to realize, if you did, in fact, make a gain until you get in the same room, same racetrack same day, same time.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Greg, for taking time out of your day with your test sessions. That will conclude Greg Anderson's portion of the interview. We're now joined by Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Ron is taking part at the test session here at Lucas Oil Raceway today. Ron, we appreciate your time.
RON CAPPS: Good to be here, thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Ron has won two of the past three NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events, but unfortunately, sandwiched between those two events was an uncharacteristic DNQ in Seattle. Ron, that three race stretch was quite the roller coaster for you. Is that just the nature of the Funny Car category right now?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, it is, absolutely. We talk about it every year and how tough this class gets. It seems like a broken record where you just keep saying it's tougher and tougher. Good cars keep coming in. I know a lot of the media that's on the line right now, we've all talked about the beginning of the season and the off season. Talking about looking at the list and seeing who, obviously, there are too many cars that make the Countdown, too many good teams, trying to hypothetically look at the list and say who won't be in it or who probably won't be in it. It's hard to say at the beginning of the year because you know there will be two or three really good cars, really big sponsor teams that there's no room for them. I was kind of hoping NHRA would do something like NASCAR where they open up a little bit of a wildcard or another incentive way to get another team in, because there are just too many teams to get in. So, therefore, it tells you how tough our category is.
Q. Now, we've seen the song and dance for the last couple of years of when is the right time to peak for the Countdown. But watching you guys win Sonoma and the unfortunate mishap at Seattle then coming back to win at Brainerd, is it safe to say that you guys are pulling like the Cole Trickle where you circle around and catch the pack? What I'm really trying to say is are you guys really where you want to be with the Countdown starting?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, I feel like hopefully I can look back in November and say that that Seattle DNQ it meant much more of a positive. It's a good thing it happened when it happened for a couple of reasons. One, (crew chief Rahn) Tobler knows what happened can bite him and he wasn't quite aware it could have that easily. That's why it wasn't the normal procedure as far as setting the timers. But it's good it happened when it happened because if it does in the Countdown, you can almost write your ticket out of the Countdown. Also, I think it reminded the rest of our team just how tough it is and how important it is. Because, look, we're going to have at least one, unfortunately, one race in the Countdown that's going to have weather like that where it's going to come down to the fact we have all the races in a row. We can't have a rain out. We might be limited to two qualifying runs. You're going to have to have your act together. There is going to be a big name team that might be fighting for a championship and the Countdown is going to have the same phase. I think that happened at a good time for us.
Q. Last year you came so close, and you've had a whole year to look back on last year, and I understand that you don't drive through life looking through the rearview mirror. But is there one thing that you looked back on last year that you're definitely has changed for you this year that you're not going to do that you did last year?
RON CAPPS: No. I don't think I could change a thing last year. It's easy to look back at certain qualifying runs that we could have and should have. All it is going to do is aggravate you. I felt like at the end of the year, even though we lost that day, Sunday, you know, all the emotion my daughter had at the other end of the track. But we got back to the pit area and within an hour, I looked back and said we had a great season. It was almost a fantastic ending, but it just didn't happen. I've sat, and believe me, in the past when I lost to Scelzi that year, I really felt there were times we could have changed this or that and run better here or there. I just can't change a thing of how last season went. We set the all-time quickest run. We had such a great season, and I knew we were going to have another chance if we kept the team together. So it wasn't that bad.
Q. You made the comment that you wished there were more people included after the U.S. Nationals. Did you have any fear at the beginning of this year that come the time of the U.S. Nationals you might be one of the magnificent drivers looking at how close you might have missed the chance to run for the championship?
RON CAPPS: No, and that goes back to the previous question. The answer I have is I really felt like we could just hit the ground running again this season at West Palm at the preseason test, and we were going to be fine. I tell you guys, I don't have that thought in my head. I mean, Tobler has had such a great tune-up that if we get off a little trying things, he's got a great way of getting back to where we were. And I didn't feel that at all. I also didn't feel like we would DNQ anywhere. So if you're so cocky to think that it's not possible, then you're ignorant. But if you're confident, you know, listen, things happen, like in Seattle. But I would have told you there is no way we would have DNQ'ed anywhere. So it's hard to say. Anything is possible. But I don't think any time in January did I ever think that we would not have a shot or be vying for a championship or really rolling into September not having any wins.
Q. I know that you watch all kinds of racing. So when you look at somebody like Tony Stewart who has been injured pretty significantly. It's ended the rest of this year for him, what do you feel for a driver like Tony Stewart? And do you ever worry about facing that same risk in the NHRA?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, but look at Jeff Arend, he was hopping a fence to get to the (rental) car, Gold Key parking lot to get to his car, fractured his heel and he was out of the race. I got the text message from (team owner) Don (Schumacher) on Saturday morning. We raced a little off road race on Friday, kind of a demo in Brainerd. He sent a text out saying, hey, enough racing other stuff until after Pomona. He's always been very, very, very good about letting me go and race other things because he knows that I check my equipment. I look at other stuff, and I learned that from Tony Stewart. The first time I got to go race a dirt car was in Tony Stewart's sprint car in Missouri one year, and he got me going on it. I drove for him at the Chili Bowl, and he put me in the first Prelude and I was in it every year. So I learned that. When I got the phone call from one of those guys that night, I had gotten the headlines on Twitter that he was hurt bad. There was a lot of stuff floating around that he might have died. Thank God one of his guys called me and said his leg is hurt, but he's not dead. He's okay. His head's all right. That was good, considering what happened to Jason Leffler. But I knew Tony's injury, I guarantee you, there are a lot of racers that race other stuff away from the profession. They got a phone call from their owner saying, hey, that's enough. But when the season starts to get in the Countdown, I don't get in any other cars. I'll race March Meet next year at the beginning of the year and going to Australia to race a Nostalgia car after the season is over. But, yes, to answer your question, it does make you think. But I could get hurt worse driving on I-465 here at Indy than driving my NAPA Funny Car for sure.
Q. Talk about the dual roles and off the track type stuff, of course you have to have a good image on the track to be fast and you have to have a good image in the public to do the rest of your job. But you take it to a different level. You're a part-time TV and movie star now doing the NAPA commercials and now have a role in the Snake and Mongoose movie. Talk about your dual roles?
RON CAPPS: That's just being lucky to be called to go do it. I posted on Twitter a throwback Thursday picture of the first time I acted. I played an evil cowboy, a bad cowboy in a Western. I was hoping nobody could get ahold of it, but apparently people are buying it on Amazon. It's sort of a comedy, but it was not made to be a comedy. It's fun to look back and watch with the kids, but it's always been fun. The NAPA commercials we get to do every year are big time on the set, a lot of people on the set. So it's sort of like being on the movie set. So being asked to do The Snake and Mongoose movie was like a kid in a candy store. Growing up, driving, being around the sport of drag racing. Just the movie coming out about Snake and Mongoose, I was so pumped up about it. Getting the phone call to be in it and playing Lou Baney who was a legendary team owner back then was very cool. I don't know. I'm a lucky guy. Like the Tony Stewart deal, had I not been driving what I do now, there is no way I would have gotten a shot to race all the dirt racing I love to do, even though I loved doing it growing up. I'm just a lucky guy, man.
Q. Talk about that and being able to do that. Not everybody gets to do that. What kind of satisfaction is there? There are probably 3 or 4 percent, maybe fewer that actually get to do what they love.
RON CAPPS: It's amazing. Once in a while, because I do so much traveling away from the races doing sponsor appearances, if people saw my schedule that I'm not home. There are sometimes I'll sit down and put my head in my hands and go, my gosh, I need to take a breather here, a breather there, or my God, I have to be here or there. And I stop to realize and I have to remind myself I'm one of the lucky gosh, I guess you could say 1 percent or less that gets to drive a Nitro Funny Car for a living. I get to wake up, put a fire suit on as my job and go 320 miles per hour and represent a great company and run around and get to do commercials and movies. I'm truly blessed. So all that stuff has just kind of come along. But I learned early on and I still learn to take advice and to heed people that I respect their opinions. You know, being around Snake, and Don Schumacher and all these guys early on in my career, to stay humble. Connie Kalitta, Ed McCulloch, all these guys I went to for advice in my career. I've always felt like I've taken the right steps and stayed humble enough. Snake used to say don't drink your own bath water. That just meant don't let your head get too big or start reading your own press clippings. So I really felt like I've listened to these guys. The reason they're successful at what they do, and I felt like the only way I was going to be as successful in this sport and get to do it for a long time was to listen to these guys. So I guess I've done the right thing so far.
Q. Ron, a while ago you mentioned you kind of wished there was a wildcard provision when it comes to playoffs in drag racing. Have you given that a lot of thought? Have you come up with any ideas and what would you like to see in that?
RON CAPPS: Well, we've sort of not copied but gone along with what NASCAR has done so far. I don't see anything wrong with it. I think having a little more incentive here and there for race wins, adding some points once you get in the Countdown. Instead of just the leader, you get the bonus of the one round. So if we stay second, Matt will lead us by 30. That's fine. I think throwing in some incentive things here and there would make it fun and would get more incentive from race to race. The little qualifying points that NHRA threw in, I think that's awesome. It's fun to count those points and see the crew chief kind of light up if they're first, second or third quickest of each session. I would like to see a wildcard. I'd like to see 12 cars in it. I'd like to see just more ways of adding up to your points when the Countdown starts. Because that guy could come in sixth place in the Countdown right now, and let's say he got four wins and he's got a few extra points for wins, then it starts mixing stuff up. Rather than a team that might be leading the points but by a few races going into the last couple races and maybe going with a test or something and another team wins a couple races and it vaults them up there to where they could be leading, believe it or not, instead of just being sixth. Something like that. I think a little more of what NASCAR has done would be cool.
Q. So more emphasis on winning national events?
RON CAPPS: Absolutely. Greg Anderson talked about it. There are guys who don't go to every race expecting to win that race. They may be testing something, trying this or that, or they may be on the points lead and trying to coast on through sort of. I think there are a lot of teams in different mentalities going into races from Denver on that aren't necessarily going there to try to win that race like they would if it was in the Countdown. I think that robs a little bit to the fans, but, again, NHRA throwing in the qualifying points, that fixed a lot of Saturday testing that the teams would do and just go out and smoke the tires. So anyway we can throw an emphasis on trying to be the quickest car every run and go down the track, like NHRA has done a good job of, and race wins would definitely spice things up.
THE MODERATOR: That will conclude the Ron Capps portion of our conference call today. Ron, always a pleasure to have you on these calls, and thank you for taking time out of your busy afternoon.
THE MODERATOR: Next up is Tony Schumacher. He and his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster team are also testing here at Lucas Oil Raceway, and we thank him for his time. Schumacher is a seven-time world champion that's again poised to make another run to a Top Fuel world championship. He has three wins, three runner-up finishes and he has one No. 1 qualifying position. He's led the points during the course of the season and is currently in third behind one of his teammates, Spencer Massey. Tony, coming into the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, you're currently third in points. You've got the second seed and top seed still out there. Is there a big difference between the third and second seed going into the Countdown to the championship, do you think?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, when it comes down to the end of the season, we've seen over the last couple of years because of the Countdown that every point matters. Obviously, we'd rather go into the Countdown in second or first, which is a long way out there. We really have no feasible way to get there at this point. Rather be in second. It's Indy. It's a great race for us. It's one of the races where we've always made up points. We've got to make up 50 points. We have to start out qualifying strong, and get as many points as we can and go out and win the race.
THE MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much, Tony.
Q. Tony, a lot of times I've processed and I've done this for years, processing points. Just every time I'm doing NHRA and every time I'm running through there I go, well, Tony is maybe a little bit out, and, boom, Tony comes right back. This is just like it seems like you can never be counted out, and you almost always come back in. Could you talk about being able to be in that position over so many times, years and years?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think I really enjoy racing cars. I smiled when I heard Capps talking about that too. We're a small percent that gets to do what we do. But I think our teams, Capps is a great leader, and I want to make sure my guys understand how much I enjoy it. More importantly, enjoy the big moments, because the end of the season, the six Countdown races, and let's face it, Indy, you don't get any bigger than that, they're high pressure races and we're very, very good at those. If everyone had equal cars, our team's going to come out ahead because we have such a good positive attitude when the pressure's on. That comes from everyone from my dad, my crew chiefs, the drivers and everyone on the team. We get it. We understand that championships are won by getting through the pressure races and by getting through the big, monster moments because we're all going to have them. All those guys in the Countdown now are going to be put under those big pressure moments. Some of them aren't very good at it. Some of them are very good at it. It's kind of what puts you there in the fight at the end of the year. So most of us understand the rules. I've said this for years. I've said it before there was a Countdown, and then the year in '07 when they came out with it, you have to read the rulebook. The rules say you're allowed to go into the Countdown. Afterwards, there are ten people that can win a championship. So like most teams, you go into the middle part of the season and try new things. You go out and try to get new tune ups to work. But you put away that great tune up that goes out and wins races, and I wait to use that in the big moments. If you don't, you're foolish. The rules are there in black and white. They're written out and we understand how to use them. Why do we come back at the end of the year? Well, we never went away. We were just trying things. We went out and tested. We know we can win. We saw Robert Hight win it from the tenth spot. That Countdown was six races long, lots of points are there. If you can come on strong in the end, you can win this championship.
Q. As far as the stability, it happens in NASCAR and NHRA too, especially when it gets around to the silly season. But even the top champions, they have to move on to other teams for various reasons and adapt completely. You've got the stability of being with Don Schumacher Racing. Could you talk a little bit about that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yeah, it's not just being with my dad, but our team as a whole. The 100 plus people; it's a pretty secure team. Very few people leave. It's a very small silly season. Our guys don't change as much as most people, and because we've been together for longer periods, we just get stronger and stronger. We can rely on each other. (Crew chiefs) Mike Green and Neil (Strausbaugh), they don't have to ask me what I'm going to do on the next run. I don't have to ask them what they're going to do. I think they're going to give me their best and I'm going to do the same thing. Over the years you grow to understand that, and our team gets stronger and stronger, and we get it. We understand each other. That's such an important part of the game that lasts three and a half seconds, being able to put the faith in the driver, put the faith in the crew chiefs. So when the car starts, we know those guys are that good, and we don't have to start second guessing and wondering what happened.
Q. This year the NHRA dropped their ban on testing. Has this helped to make the competition better and even tougher because of the ban on testing?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a really good question. I haven't heard of that many people testing outside the four days we had before. I really haven't. I think without knowing the correct answer to that question, racing is as good as it's ever been. It's simply incredible. The races are close and they're good. A few more people need to go out and win. You know Clay Millican's going to win a race soon. He's beating on that door. He's a world champ in IHRA. There are other guys out there that are going to do it. Like I've said in every press conference all year, I feel if I was a fan paying money to watch a race, this year and last year have been some of the best years that NHRA has ever had with Top Fuel and Funny Car. The racing has been incredible. Top Fuel and Funny Car are so darn equal. There are a lot of crew chiefs, lot of good drivers, and the races are second to none. You watch these races, and they're won by inches. Cars making 10,000 horsepower, and running a thousand feet and you can win or lose by inches. It's simply what every fan would want on any given day. If you're going to spend money on any sporting event, you want it to come down to the end with two great teams and that's what you're seeing.
Q. Do you feel now, in hearing you say you haven't seen that many teams testing, do you think that will change when it gets down to the crunch in the Countdown?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I'd like to know when we're going to test. We have four races in a row and two weeks off, and Vegas and Pomona. We'll test after Vegas. Are we going to test on the two weeks off? Hard to say. If we're fighting for a spot out there or if we're not learning enough during qualifying. I think with that ban for so many years, we kind of adapted to learning a lot more and paying a little more attention on qualifying runs than in trying different parts and pieces throughout and understanding when to do that and using it to our advantage. But I'm sure, if need be, the teams that can afford to go out and test, they're going to always have that advantage. There is no doubt about that. And lifting that ban, I think it will prove that the better teams or the teams that have the most money go out and win another championship. But let's look back. There was a ban the last several years, and it's still the high dollar teams that go out and win without the testing or not. So if the fans start writing, well, the lower dollar teams couldn't afford to test, we've still got to keep our senses about us. The teams are still winning. It's the same teams with or without the testing. I just think the level will get a little quicker if we go out and test some more. But we're sitting here at Indy right now trying to figure out what we're going to test in the next couple runs anyways. We have a good handle on it. We know what the car is going to do. We're making good calls. I think going out and just making runs to spend money is nonsense. If you have a new part, a new piece, a new combination, a new clutch disk, a new fuel system, you have to go out and test it. But just to make runs on a racetrack, nobody ever shows up and spends extra money to do that.
Q. This year I think at one stretch we had seven out of eight weekends on the road, and with the Countdown, I believe it's like four race weekends in a row. And you just mentioned, when is there time to test. Does having this many races in a row, does it hurt the quality of the product for NHRA?
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, I can't imagine it hurting anything. I've looked up this the stands in Denver and Sonoma and seen packed houses. Just an amazing following for a time in our country where there are not that many marketing dollars out there and not that many extra or that much extra money to go out and spend. I mean, people are kind of hurting right now and they're still showing up for our drag racing. So I don't see anything being hurt outside of it. You might see it that way, but they're still showing up, and our races are as good as they've ever been. I don't know. I wish I was smart enough to give you the answer correctly. But our sport, you know what I really wish, I wish 30,000 or 40,000 more people would show up for a race, because I think we have the best sport in the world. We have the coolest cars in the world. It's strange. People go, oh, you're just going straight, and people seem to give us the step child effect in Motorsports. But the ones that come out, when have you ever heard a fan say this wasn't the best days of their lives? They love it. We just need to get that media out there. Get the people to show up for the first time, and they come back over and over again. It's the greatest sport that's ever been put out there. I've been to all kinds of sports. I've stood in lines at games and waited for a ballplayer to come out and give my sons an autograph. They don't do it. Out here you get to come out and be part of it, and it really lends to something great. Can we make the sport better? Probably. I don't know how. I've thought about it many times. How do we make the sport better? How do we make it more entertaining? It's got to be out there, but I don't have the answer for it. I think what we offer people for the money is the best day of their life. They're going to come out and have a phenomenal time with their families.
Q. I think more of what I was trying to ask for that question was does it hurt the teams; I mean the quality of the product that the teams are able to put out because they're on the road so many times, so many weekends in a row and can't go back home and service their stuff and so on.
TONY SCHUMACHER: It makes it harder. It makes it harder for the teams that don't run all the races and have the full time staff and guys back in the office, I'm sure it makes it more difficult. We've got 24 or 26 cars at Indy. What is going to happen in the middle of those four races when we get to St. Louis? Is everyone going to show up? They are probably going to be home building parts that they burned up and broke up. The money goes to the next race. So there is a possibility that we'll lose a little bit of the effectiveness of all of those teams showing up, and thereby making the sport a little less. If there are only 16 cars that show up, it changes the sport rather than 24. So, maybe spreading it out, but where are we going to spread it out? We did 7 out of 8 weeks. God forbid there was a rain out. That was gone. Now we've got four in the fall when you're including St. Louis and Reading, and you get a rain out anywhere else, and those two weeks in the middle are gone. There is nowhere to put anymore, man. We're pretty much jam packed. It's going to be hard. Even on a team like us. We have 100 plus employees. It's going to be difficult to keep the guys upbeat and ready to go and ready to race with that much work to do and that short of time, and with the weight of the world sitting on them. It's all or nothing at that point. There is no easy one. There is no break. It's a pretty intense sport. Isn't that what people show up for? To watch who can get through it? Beginning of this year we were talking about running short turnarounds, making it a show, making it interesting the whole time. But this pressure, this amount of race in this short of period puts the pressure on, thereby making it a championship for teams who know how to suck up the pressure and know how to get through adversity. The Army Car is great at getting through adversity. There are some teams that fail year after year. This is one of the teams that goes out and proves time in and time out that we can get through those kind of crunch times. Four races in a row, that's crunch time.
Q. The U.S. Nationals, that racetrack for some reason or another, has been something that seems to sit in your pocket. It's like it takes less effort to win. What does it take for you to win, and what does another win at U.S. Nationals mean to you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, man. To have the chance right now, we're sitting on an opportunity to win ten U.S. Nationals. No one has ever done that before, and I think that plays into our benefit. We're better with the pressure on. That's what our team has been great at. Every year, the last several has been high pressure. No one has done this before. Can you pull this off? Can you tie Big Daddy? You know, the records a few years ago in '08, we had run so many races in a row, (crew chief) Alan Johnson announced he was leaving. The pressure was on there. Then to come back the year after, we've got a new team. We're great at those moments. I think once again the reason we win this race is because we are great at high pressure, big moments. This is the highest pressure, biggest moment. You look at the races we've won, the Pomonas, Vegas, why is that? The pressure is on. It's the end. You have to absolutely be great. There can be no dropped balls or no failures at any given time. That's what makes this team good. Indy starts it for us. Indy is my first race ever in Top Fuel at the U.S. Nationals, and we went to the finals there. To go out and have so much success for the race, I'm truly blessed that it's Indy. There are guys that win Seattle or this race, that race. I have the U.S. Nationals that we're extremely good at and productive at. We have nine championship trophies from the U.S. Nationals sitting on my shelves. That's an incredible amount. And there is a space next to it for number 10. I'm a week away from having that opportunity. That's a gift. It's a gift for any man to wake up in the morning and have that one shot at it. It's an incredible moment. Last year we had the gift of tying the winningest ever (Bob Glidden), and we pulled it off. It was a great race. When that win light came on, it was simply incredible. We had the opportunity. I got this beautiful little poster this kid made me because I mentioned something I saw on a commercial, it said, "Before every moment, there is a moment." I love that. This week, testing right now, this is the moment before that moment. To go out and win that race requires this, the effort, the preparation, dedication, all the stuff that leads up to this race now. We're running extremely well testing and we're prepared for this. We understand coming into this that there's not going to be that many more chances at this. We've got to go out and do it. We've got to win this thing because we have a team capable of it right now. Right now we have a team capable of winning the U.S. Nationals and doing it for a tenth time.
Q. To get back on the topic that you were also reaching out to, and that is reaching out to fans and such, how much of your life do you spend away from the racetrack reaching out to people saying, hey, come and look. Come and see what we're doing.
TONY SCHUMACHER: It almost makes you crazy because and I'm sure all sports we feel the same, we feel like we're in the best sport in the world. That's why we chose it. So I feel like we build fans one at a time. Chicago had ten teachers from my kid's school that have never been to a race before. Invited them out, so we're always doing it. You think ten people. It's not just ten people. It's ten people that just had the time of their lives, and they went home and told everyone they know. They're going to have the same problem that I had, because it took me years to get them out there. They picture a drag race and still picture James Dean, a pack of smokes rolled up in a white T shirt. They don't picture these monster Top Fuel cars with 10,000 horsepower. They come out and see it, and the kids smile from ear to ear. They're hooked. It's a great sport and a blessed day for every one of those kids. But it takes a long time to get them out there. How do you go on TV? ESPN does a great job. How do you make 10,000 horsepower come across a TV screen? It's very difficult. How do you make it exciting on TV? It's a tremendous amount of pressure that those guys have when it's a live sport. You have to be there. You have to witness it live. You have to feel it in your bones the first time. So I can spend as much time as I want across the country, going to every school, telling everyone they need to come out, and you'll still only get a handful of people that show up. Even with free tickets, they just don't know until they get out there. They get out there and see it once, they're coming back the next year.
Q. A little while ago Ron Capps was talking about how he'd like to see a wildcard provision in the Countdown. What are your thoughts on that? Is that something you'd like to see?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's the same as our Traxxas Nitro Shootout. You bring in some of them that didn't earn the spot, so to speak, and give them a chance to go out and win it. There are ten guys out there that have earned a right to go out and win a championship. But there are other people out there that it's not the worst situation. I find it a little difficult that there are only ten. All the rest of the guys just have to come spend money racing. Yeah, they can win a trophy, but they don't have a chance for it. It would be cool to have a couple of spots open to allow, whether it's a fan vote or past champion or something, I liked his idea of adding more points to it too. I think if you win a race, you deserve more than 20 points for just winning a round. I think it's always been that way. I felt like forever you go out and win a race, you earned something. You haven't gotten some rounds, you've gotten past all the rounds and you deserve a little more so. That's my opinion. When they added the qualifying points, it definitely added to the sport. A lot of people were back and forth on that, but over time it's proven to be pretty interesting. What I definitely am a fan of, is the fact that the losing points on oil downs goes away. I've lost 20 points, and okay, great, puts me in a different position. But once the Countdown starts, the last thing you want to see, and we had the opportunity last year to go out and win that final round and be the world champ. Had I oiled the track down, we would have lost it. Now who as a fan wants to see that? So NHRA was smart enough and recognized that and said you know what? We can't have that. We couldn't even explain how he won the race oiled the track down and lost the championship. We don't make the tracks. We do everything possible, everything, our engineers design the best buckets, the best containment systems. The last thing we want to do is oil it down. So to lose championships through that, I'm happy NHRA did that. Like to see some more points added in for some bonuses along the way. They need to be written in the rule books and textbooks. Not opinions that we'll give some points for this or that. It has to be a good, hard survey on how to get those points into the system and make it a little more exciting. Exciting, but not confusing. I had a hard time explaining my friend's reactions times. I think some of that stuff needs to be simplified so fans can understand it. We have a lot of numbers in our sport. It's a difficult sport. Then we throw four classes in there. We have Pro Stock Bike and Pro Stock, Top Fuel, Funny Car, the sport is awful confusing, which is part of NHRA and ESPN's issue when's they're trying to get across a big show with that many cars and that many explanations in a few minutes on TV.
Q. The U.S. Nationals being the U.S. Nationals, would you like to see that weighted more a little bit toward the Countdown? Giving more weight to a victory there?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think we should run all seven of the Countdown races at Indy, trust me. Because I won Indy, and I'm sure there are a whole lot of guys out there that would. How is it a big goal if there are more points. We need more emphasis on it. We need a bigger goal. We need something like it used to be. It used to be more points. It pays a little better, but it should be a miraculous thing. It's Indianapolis. It's an historic race. More people show up to race. More people spend their hard earned dollars to go out and do this, and the fans show up in big numbers. Let's make it bigger.
Q. You kind of mentioned it earlier, but going after that 10th win, for some people they don't think about it or mention it, but it's clearly at the head of your motivation, isn't it?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, for sure, absolutely. Some people are like the pressure is big. Do you not think about it? No, I do every minute. Again, we're a high pressured team. If you look back at the races we get beat at, it's once in a low pressure. We drop the ball a little bit, relax, get complacent, but these big races we are good at it and we do it time and time again. We do think about it. We do prepare for it, and we understand it's a big moment. It kind of reminds me in '06 when we had to set the world record (on the final run to win the world championship). My team and I walked out on Sunday morning before we ran the race, and we stood out there and looked at the mountains. I said, this is a beautiful day. Those are gorgeous mountains, but when we come back in seven or eight hours, they're going to be better. We have a gift of a moment, and we have to do what is perfect, textbook. The world has to revolve and everything has to change for this to be perfect. We came back later that day and looked at the mountains and they were gorgeous. We won the championship by setting the world record on the greatest run in the history of the sport. But before the race, we recognized the importance of that race, and it prepared us for it. It was a big race, a huge chance for us, and we have to be 100 percent prepared. The last thing you want to do is have a chance in the end and drop the ball because you weren't prepared for it. That would be the worst story ever. You come in to this thing with the gift of the moment and you don't show up prepared with the right people to do it.
THE MODERATOR: Tony thank you very much for your time as always, and we'll see you next Friday for your first qualifying session at roughly 7 p.m.