An interview with: Hector Arana Jr., Mike Edwards, Matt Hagan and Shawn Langdon
THE MODERATOR: The NHRA Mello Yello Series regular season is officially in the history books, and the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, the six race playoff, is set to begin at the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts zMAX Dragway, September 13th through the 15th. Joining us on the call today are the four No. 1 seeds going into the playoffs: Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan in Funny Car, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock, and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle. We'll begin today with Hector Arana Jr. Hector Jr., thank you for joining us this afternoon.
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Thank you for having me.
Q. Hector Arana Jr. earns the No. 1 seed in Pro Stock Motorcycle on the strength of four wins this season as well as a runner up finish which came in Denver as well as two number one qualifying positions. At the most recent event, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Arana qualified in the top half of the field and raced to the quarterfinals. Hector, starting with this past weekend, obviously, as a racer you want to win. Were you looking for a little bit more at this past event? What are your thoughts going into the Countdown?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Oh, definitely. I was looking for more. I'd be lying to you if I told I didn't want to win the race. But I was solidly in for the Countdown. We knew all I had to do was qualify and I'd lock up the No. 1 seed. So we were trying a new engine combination, it showed promise on the dyno, and we were hoping that the numbers would have looked a lot better and we would have ran better down the track, but it doesn't work out that way. But we took advantage of our position in the rankings and brought out that new motor which was supposed to be a duplicate to my father's, which as you all have seen was a very powerful motor, so we were hoping to get out there. But it didn't run quite as well. We did get some information and found some things out. So, hopefully, we'll try to get that motor up to speed. If not, I always have my motor that I've been running all season to put back in.
Q. Does that number one qualifying position in the Countdown where you were the past couple races, does that give you and your team a little time to maybe test parts here and there, and why you wanted to do good at the event you were at but also get ready for the Countdown?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Oh, definitely. That is exactly what we did at Indy. We took advantage of that, and we did some testing with some different motors. But starting in Charlotte next week, we don't have time for that anymore. We've got to be ready because every little point counts and it's all going to add up in the end. We've got to be ready for it, and that's why we were taking advantage of that in Indy.
Q. Hector, you have an advantage possibly that no other driver may have ever had. You can turn to your dad who has won this championship. What would be your primary question of your father as you go into these final six races?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Just how to keep a clear mind, how to stay relaxed, because to me that is key. Sometimes you can get wrapped up in the points and the championship, and I think it can fog your thinking sometimes and maybe slow down your reactions or maybe just throw you off your game. So most importantly just go and ask him how did you stay relaxed and keep a clear mind and stay under control under all the pressure as the Countdown goes on?
Q. Hector, as far as at your age, you can't have a load of experience with Countdown playoffs. So what is the best way for you? You as a young guy coming into the pressure that you're facing, what is the best way for you to handle it?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: I take it one round at a time. I try not to get ahead of myself, which I did that a little bit in the middle of the season, but I think I learned my lesson there. Like I say, one round at a time, stay relaxed, racing my own lane, not worrying about who is next to me, and just believing in the Lucas Oil Buell that I'm riding because it's one hell of a machine. I know if I can ride it the way it's supposed to be ridden, that she will lead me to the championship.
Q. Not everybody gets to draw on their dad for a lot of support, and obviously, you know, a lot of experience. Can you explain how that is kind of like a special catalyst for you?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Definitely, because he's been there, he's done that. So in a way I have all of his 20 years of experience in racing underneath my belt with only three years. Because he has told me everything and he's there one step of the way. Sometimes he's even there going down a track right beside me. So definitely, it is a good tool to have. I'm definitely going to use him to my advantage for going for this championship this year.
Q. You started the year off so strong, and sort of plateaued out. Do you feel like it's more an issue of the rest of the field catching up with you guys or do you think you all sort of lost your way somewhere?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Oh, no. Well, like you said, we started off awesome in the season, and that was kind of an unexpected thing. We knew that the class was going to be a tough one, but we were able to get those three wins. I think some of it was luck, and some of it was the performance that we had. Then we had an issue where my number one motor was hurt, and those few races it was down and we didn't have a chance to get the parts and times together, so I was running another motor that wasn't quite up to speed. Then as you can see once I got that motor back, I made it to the runner-up in Denver and then we won in Sonoma. Then over here in Indy, we were trying out a new combination and trying to figure some things out for the championship.
Q. Has anybody ever figured out what makes these motors, which seem to be so simple in their design and so much Billet production, what makes one so much better than another, because I know it's always been that way and it still is?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: You know, I think if we knew the answer to that question, we'd be the hero. Because we got motors and we'll build them identically, same exact part, same everything, the heads, so it's not like one guy poured it a little better than the other. Everything is 100% identical and one just runs better than the other. Why? I think nobody will ever know why.
Q. Hector, every rider has talked this season about the parity within your class. We're seeing races in qualifying hundredths, or separated by hundredths or thousandths. Is that exciting for you as a racer going in or is it a little nerve racking too that on any Sunday or as the case was, Monday this week, that anybody has a shot at winning?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Oh, it's very exciting. Like you said, it's even nerve racking because you know you've got to be on your toes because anybody can win this. Number 16 can win this year. So, like you said, it's a little nerve racking because especially when you're going for the championship, it's not like, oh, I know I've got the performance on this guy because you don't. Everybody can run the numbers. To me it's made all of us better riders this year. Whoever stays the most focused and most relaxed, luck on their side and stays consistent I think is going to be the guy who wins the championship.
Q. You have a 30 point lead now going into the Countdown. How important is it to get off to a good start at Charlotte knowing that 30 points is not 120 points? How important is it to get off to a fast start?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: It's very important. Anything you can do to go ahead and get a head start and get a jump on those points, any little point that we can get. My goal is to like get as many points as possible in Charlotte and all the races. Because you never know what's going to happen down the road. A motor breaks or something happens and for whatever reason you can't make the round. So if you can make a point buffer just to make up for any little thing that can happen, it's very important. Definitely that is the goal to do well as quickly as possible, because I feel like if you're able to do that, hopefully that should help you carry out in the end.
Q. As a young guy, obviously, you can relate to other young people, so what would be your best advice for young people in general? You're a successful young guy, so what would be your best advice for young people to be successful?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Just never give up, whatever it is. Whatever you find yourself doing, whatever you like, whatever your goal is in life, to never give up. Just have little goals as stepping stones to get you towards your main goal and your final goal at the end. So stay positive, set goals, and try to mark them off, at the end get the final result.
Q. Which of the tracks in the Countdown do you feel is your track? Which one are you most confident at?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Honestly, throughout the years we've done well at every track, so they all … they're all different, and they all change throughout the years. So I don't think I have one specific track that is my track or I feel like I do best at. For Charlotte, we should have some good data from racing earlier in the year, and hopefully it hasn't changed too much. But like I said, from the weather, from cars going down the tracks, just getting a whole other year of wear and tear on them, they change throughout the years. We have notes that go back and reference on, but it just always varies a little bit. So we just always take it one race at a time. Whichever one the motor seems to run better at, sometimes they like different airs and whatever tracks offer it for whatever reason, sometimes they run better than others. I don't know why. But it's no specific track they run better at. Sometimes they feel happy that weekend, I guess.
Q. You came so close to the championship back in 2011. What do you carry forward from that? Is there one key thing that you're going to keep in the back of your mind going forward in this six race stretch?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Just staying relaxed. Trying not to let the pressure get to me. There at the end of 2011 I'd be lying if I had told you guys I didn't feel any pressure. I felt a lot of pressure especially when I got only nine points away from Eddie Krawiec. I think it got to me a little bit. I know you have people trying to help you out, and they're telling you to do this and that, and you want to win and you try to find a little extra. So sometimes you try to go and listen to them. I feel like sometimes you make a mistake because you get out of your routine. So just keep on doing what I've been doing. Keep the same routine, try to be as consistent as possible, and just trying to stay relaxed and calm, and just being able to deal with the pressure as best as possible.
THE MODERATOR: Hector Arana Jr., thank you so much for joining us today. We'll let you get back to your afternoon, and we'll see you down in Charlotte next weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Next up is Mike Edwards. Thank you, Mike, for taking time out of your day today to join us. Mike comes in to this week on a high note after winning his second Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. This season he has a total of six wins and 13 number one qualifying positions. He's a 2009 Pro Stock World Champion, and in the last five seasons has finished no lower than sixth in points. This is his sixth time to make the Countdown to the Championship. Mike, how important either for momentum or you personally was that win at Indy going into the playoffs?
MIKE EDWARDS: I don't know, you know. Indy is kind of unique. It is the race before the playoffs, but you go there trying to win that race, and the playoff is really not even in your mind at that particular race. We were very fortunate. We qualified good, we ran good a couple runs there on Sunday, and then we didn't run too good there the last couple of runs, but we were very fortunate to win. Just so happy for my Interstate Camaro. Just all my guys just rallied around. We stuck together and pulled it off. It was a great weekend for us. It's our Super Bowl of drag racing, and everybody wants to have that Indy win on their resume, that's for sure.
Q. I understand that you are suffering some pain in your left shoulder because of a rotator cuff. Will that in any way, shape, or form affect you over the following six races?
MIKE EDWARDS: I don't know. It is what it is. I'm just going to have to … it's not really going to have to be an issue for me. It is what it is. I'm just going to have to try to do the very best I can, and whatever the outcome is, I can't do a whole lot about it right now until after the season. But what I'm going to do is focus on everything I've been focusing on all year, and just trying to do the best I can.
Q. When the off season comes, is that something that's going to need some surgery or some kind of medical attention?
MIKE EDWARDS: No, it definitely needs surgery. I've torn my rotator cuff pretty severe. So it's definitely going to have to have surgery.
Q. I watched the U.S. Nationals. You did a great round by holeshot wins. How are you so great on holeshots? I have two questions and then we'll deal with the shoulder injury.
MIKE EDWARDS: Well, I haven't been too good this year for sure. We've struggled, I've struggled, you know, with my driving. The first of the year, I think the only way we lost was because my driving. Got beat on the starting line because when you have a car as fast as mine was the first part of the season, we were just so dominant, so fast. I lost several races there by not driving as well. You know when it comes down to the Countdown if you don't drive good you know you're not going to win these races. We're not talking about hundredths of seconds anymore. We're talking about thousandths. It's going to be thousandths of a second that wins this championship. There are too many good teams out here that are just so close. I think third round over there, four cars in the semis there. Three of them went 64s with zeros, and the other went 63 with a 6. That's tremendous racing. This class has had such good teams in it, this is going to be probably the tightest championship that we've seen since we've been doing the Countdown.
Q. Getting back to the shoulder, I know a torn rotator cuff is extremely painful. So step me through that last run: How did you concentrate? Did you block it out completely? Were you aware of the pain? How were you functioning in the car?
MIKE EDWARDS: It had been hurting me all weekend. It's been hurting me since before Denver, but it's progressively gotten worse. I didn't really know exactly what it was until after Brainerd. I was really suffering there with it. So I went home and had an MRI done, and we got the MRI back and the doctor told me what was going on and what he suggested I do. That was to have surgery the next day. I told him it's not possible. So it is what it is. People have mountains to climb, and this is my mountain. I'm going to do the very best I can. As far as racing in the finals, it's no different than racing the other two, three guys all day long. Once you buckle up and you get in there and your adrenaline gets going, you know, the pain is still there, but you don't focus on it. It's like, you know, it's like being part of trying to do your best at the biggest race that we have, and that's what we're trying to do. That's not going to be any different for the Countdown. It's just do what I can do. Do the best I can, and whatever happens. God has everything in control. If it's meant to be for me, it's going to happen. So that's the way I look at it.
Q. Mike, it seems like not that you're an under the radar kind of guy, but it just seems like you do well, do you well, and you do well. But when you start to win a title or a championship whatever, you dominate. It's just almost like unbeatable all of a sudden. But it's not all of a sudden to you, is it?
MIKE EDWARDS: No, it's not. The way they've got the schedule, the way it is now, it's two series in one year. It's two seasons. You've got the first part of the season to try to get into the Countdown, and then you've got the second part of the season that determines the championship, you know? We ran really good and we win the first season. Now comes the second part of the season. It's the Countdown to the Championship. That is the part that everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to win the championship. So, you know, just right now there is no dominance in Pro Stock. Yeah, we qualified and won the race. But if you look at Sunday or Monday, I should say, these cars are so close. It's going to be anybody's championship. It's just going to be whoever makes the least mistakes. Whoever runs the best, and it's a team effort. That's what makes championships, these teams. That's why there are about six or eight of us down here at Charlotte right now testing before next weekend. Everybody's here doing what they need to do to try to do the best they can. It's going to be exciting for the fans, I can tell you that. I sure hate to lose that 200 point lead I had.
Q. So there is really no magic strategy for anyone in the Countdown playoffs?
MIKE EDWARDS: There's really not. I mean, this is the first race. I've said all along you can't win the championship at the first race, but you can sure darn put yourself in a bad position. So that's what we're down here trying to do. You need to do really, really well here. If you look over the past three or four years, the car that's either won this race or was in the finals went on to have a really good Countdown. This race is very, very big for us.
Q. I know last season Alan found something where he got a little bit ahead of the competition. Obviously, in the off season and through the series you've proven that you found whatever he had and even gone further in all the number one qualifying positions and won races. What was the key to you guys finding something when this class was so competitive? How hard did you guys work in the off season to get to this point now?
MIKE EDWARDS: We changed a lot of things. The biggest change we made was with the Camaro. The Camaro has really helped us. It's really stable. It's just a good car, good race car. We've made several changes to it, and it's just been really, really fast right out of the box. We've worked on our engine program all winter like we always do. But I think the biggest thing we managed was with the Camaro.
Q. Mike, you talked a little bit about getting off to that hot start in the Countdown. You won the four-wide race earlier in the spring there at Charlotte. You have two other career wins there. Does having a binder full of good information, good data going into that event give you a little more confidence?
MIKE EDWARDS: Well, we've all got information at these tracks. We've raced here quite well. We've been racing ever since they started it. But, yeah, any time you can go somewhere and have some success, it gives you confidence, that's for sure. But everybody else is down here testing at the same place too. We're trying to learn and trying to get better at these particular tracks like everybody else. I feel like we should run good here. I feel like we can run good here. You just never know what can happen. You've got to prepare yourself for the best, and pull up there and see what happens there on Sunday.
Q. One final question, how important is it during the course of the event to race the racetrack as much as racing your competitor next to you? Is it just trying to stay consistent and do the same thing each time?
MIKE EDWARDS: That's exactly what you've got to do. I think that's how you're going to win a championship. Race the racetrack. Prepare your car the best you can. You've just got to do everything almost perfect anymore to win one of these races, especially a championship. That's going to determine who it is, who can do all that the best. That's why everybody's down here trying to get better. I think it's going to be one of the closest championships in Pro Stock since they started the Countdown.
THE MODERATOR: OK, thanks for your time Mike. We are joined now by 2011 Funny Car world champion, Matt Hagan as the No. 1 seed. Matt has four win this is season, and four number one qualifying positions. His most recent coming here in Indianapolis. But, on race day he suffered just his first first-round loss in the event when he was defeated by Jeff Arend. Matt, kind of talk about last weekend. Just a very brief pedal and kind of spoiled your afternoon. How disappointing first off was that loss? Does it somehow maybe make your team a little hungrier going into the playoffs?
MATT HAGAN: Well, I think it makes us better. It makes us hungrier. You have to go back and look at qualifying to kind of see the reason that that happened on Monday, actually. We went out there in the Traxxas Shootout and had an opportunity to win $100,000. I feel like we had the car to do it. We qualified number one and the car had been on the racetrack every time. The sun came out, and Dickie (Venables, crew chief) has always done such a great job of racing the racetrack and really being methodical about what he does. So we went out there and went, I guess, a 4.10. And Wilkerson, already being qualified, hat's off to him. He did a wonderful job. But he swung for the fence, and ran for a six or a seven, even though it showed an 8 up there, against us. We went back and said, man, we should have went after it a little harder and pushed a little bit more. So we went back out there in our last qualifying session and we pushed really hard and we went 4.04, which was the low round for that last session. I think we kind of got in the mindset that we should be pushing ourselves a little harder than what we are because the car is taking it to the racetracks there. And we go up there Sunday morning kind of out of character, I think for what Dickie Venables likes to do. It really bit us. I really have to step back and say, hey, that was kind of my fault because I was kind of pushing Dickie to run the car harder, and felt like we could do more there, when the guy has been nothing but phenomenal reading the racetrack, judging the racetrack, and putting the car down the racetrack. So I think that kind of bit us. We learned a lot there. He learned a lot to trust his first judgment and not go up there and run a number and really just run the racetrack. But everything happens for a reason. We learned so much. Unfortunately, it was at the U.S. Nationals, but fortunately enough for us, we worked hard enough and accumulated enough points where it was kind of a throwaway race other than just the pressure to win and the pressure to win that trophy of the U.S. Nationals. Like I said, it was good and bad, and as long as you're learning from it, you can pull something away from it, and that's what we did this last weekend.
Q. You had an amazing situation and winning the championship previously. Dickie Venables steps into your team at the very last minute at the start of this year. Do you feel the same allure, if you will, that a championship is just waiting for you to step into it?
MATT HAGAN: You know, honestly, I felt like we have a car that can win this championship, and I feel like as long as we continue to do or continue to be as consistent as we have been all year long, there is no reason we shouldn't win it. The biggest thing that we did is we pulled everybody together, and you say, well, look, everybody gets this big deal in their head. It's the Countdown Championship, and sure that puts pressure on you, but you can't allow that to happen. You have to do what you've done all year long to get you to position where we're sitting number one. So why change everything just because someone says it's the Countdown. I absolutely feel like we have the opportunity to go out and win another championship. Dickie Venables is probably one of the smartest guys I've worked with. Everybody that I've worked with has been top brass, but this guy is above and beyond. Just super excited to be around a group of guys that work really hard. Dickie, man, he's just been awesome all year long. He's been a great team leader. We have team meetings before and after the race and it's just a really great atmosphere to be in. It pumps me up and drives me to put my helmet on, get focused, and get up on the wheel and make things happen.
Q. From the standpoint of already having won, does that make the next six races a little easier for you that you don't have the stress anymore of can you win a championship, it's can you win another championship?
MATT HAGAN: Right, obviously, being there, you know the pressure of being on top of you. I think with our a championship it came down to the semifinals of having to beat Cruz Pedregon on the last day of the last race. I'm not sure it can get a lot more pressure filled than that. I'm sure in some wild situation it can. But that was a lot of pressure. Being able to know that you can rise to the occasion and do that obviously builds confidence. Knowing that you have a group that you've never had this type of charisma with, the chemistry this team has, I've never had before. It honestly excites me to know end to be strapped to a race car that I know a group of guys that put this thing together right. And Dickie is up there making educated decisions of what we need to do, and I've just got to drive the wheels off of it. It's up to me. I feel confident, cool, calm, and collected about everything, and just super excited to be a part of it.
Q. Matt, what is the best way to shift gears, so to speak, going into the playoffs? Is there a best plan for you and your team?
MATT HAGAN: Well, like I said, I think the best plan is to continue to do what we've done. I don't think we need to change anything. We've led in points all year long. There is a reason our car has been number one for the majority of the year and it's because it's been consistent. There is a lot of luck involved with a lot of this racing stuff but you really make a lot of your own luck. We've had a car that's gone up and down the track 20 times without smoking the tires and doing anything crazy, and that's hard to do when you pour nitro in the tank. And that really boils down to the guy turning the knobs and making the decisions and obviously driving it well. But I think what we need to do is just stay focused and stay driven to keep doing what we've done all year long, and that is to try to turn four win lights on subbed. You capitalize on the little things and make sure you're taking advantage of the small opportunities. When we won the championship, there were so many times that someone messed up in front of us and we could have taken advantage and really run away with the thing, and we just never capitalized on some of those small misfortunes for some others. And I think that if you can do that you're going to be a really hard car to stop. But the hard part is doing that. What we've been able to do all year long is go down the race track and run. Dickie runs a smart race car. He's not out here trying to do anything crazy or reinvent the wheel. He's just been rubbing on this combination, and he just wants to keep moving forward. The same with me. I just want to keep driving the same way I am, line them up, and run what you've run kind of thing. Like I said, just on cloud nine. We've had a dream season. If we don't win another one, which I hope we do, it's been a wonderful season so far.
Q. Coming into Indy with the bigness and greatness of the Indy race, is that good preparation for just slide into the Countdown and playoffs which are big too?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, you know, I think that Indy is a race everybody wants to win. We were disappointed that we didn't. But you learn from it, move forward and put it behind you. I think that our team, like I said, we got into some situations there at Indy where we were pushing ourselves a little hard to be aggressive out there when we probably shouldn't have. Especially in the first rounds when you're just supposed to go down the racetrack, and we didn't do that. The big thing was that we learned from it, and it was a race that we had an opportunity, but it didn't count so much as it would in a Countdown. I think as long as we continue to grow as a team. You have to remember, this team is still very, very young as far as being together. We've only been together this year and we've had so much success and the guys are gelling so well, but we've still got a lot to learn and a lot of growth left. You know, it's coming though. Like I said, I can see the writing on the wall. It's there. It's just a matter of capitalizing on it and a matter of taking advantage of some small opportunities that arise.
Q. Quick question, you've come to experience this Countdown from all angles. In 2010 you had the title and lost it in a heartbreaking fashion. 2011 you win it all. Last year you didn't make the Countdown, so you've seen it from all angles. What do you gather from all those experiences as you go into the Countdown this year ranked number one?
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, for Magneti/Marelli and Rocky and everything, obviously, we've had a car that has just been very strong this year. And I've had in the past cars that were not very strong. We've also, this Countdown formula has allowed us to win a championship because we didn't start at number one. This is the first time for me leading the points going into the Countdown. I know there is kind of a stigmatism, the guy that usually leads the points doesn't necessarily win the championship when you go into the Countdown. But I feel like we can do that. I definitely want to be that statistic. There has only been one guy to do it, and that is John Force, but the way I look at it is if that guy can do it, I can do it. We all pull our boots on the same way and put our helmets on the same way. If it's doable, this team can do it. I'm just so confident this year. I know we're still going to have some bumps along the way like we did there at Indy, and can you can't make everything perfect all the time, but I think as long as we're growing with this deal, it's going to be just fine. We've got six races and it's going to be a dog fight out there. These cars that we're competing with are just top in the world, man. That's just it. You have to remember that. You have to show respect to these drivers and show respect to the team, you can't take them lightly. You have to bring your A game. You can't just show up and it's just another race, because it's not. It really does count. Anybody that says that it's not, it's kind of foolish. But you still have to continue to focus and not let that pressure get to you and just focus on what you can control. That is the biggest thing for me. You minimize everything to what's in your control, and you have to count on your guys and your crew chiefs and assistant crew chiefs to do the rest. We've seen it from all angles. Obviously, had a lot of pressure on me the majority of my career, but that's what makes you good. You have to learn from it, grow from it, and capitalize on those little opportunities.
Q. The Countdown is going to last over two months. I'm sure you're going to encounter all kinds of changing weather as it gets later in the season. Are you pretty confident now that Dickie has a notebook that can handle any of the combination that you may need for, let's say, Texas and Reading, Pennsylvania, and on and on?
MATT HAGAN: Absolutely. This guy has shown me every weekend that he's got it together. He knows what he's doing out there. This whole team has. Man, it really has. I've been beside myself the majority of the year just how good these guys are and how good they work together. And Dickie, we went out there and tied the national record, I guess. So he knows how to run good in the cool weather, and then we're going down hot racetracks. It's been 20 laps, until last weekend, that I haven't had to pedal the car. So that's phenomenal to me. That is not bragging; that's just facts. But there will be some down times. I think that there are going to be some times when everybody's human. Dickie's going to miss it sometimes and, hopefully, I don't, but there are going to be times when I walk in the trailer and say, man, guys I'm sorry. I messed up. At the end of the day when we get together as a group and talk about what we can do to improve and what we can do to make this car and this team better, as long as we're growing with it, I think that we have a real, legitimate shot at the end of the day in Pomona to either be leading points or be right there in the dog fight to win this thing.
Q. Obviously, it kind of goes without saying, but Charlotte starts the first of four races in a row, and in that kind of stretch you can make or break your season. Talk about the importance of just going into Charlotte and kind of starting things on a good note, especially going in in that number one slot?
MATT HAGAN: Well, Charlotte for me has been bittersweet sometimes. We've won Charlotte in the spring, but that doesn't mean that you're going to win it in the fall. I think that we have some great notes to go off of coming into Charlotte. We pretty much had five, six, seven, eight hundredths on everybody at Charlotte when we were running the car. But that was spring, and this is fall. It's totally different conditions. I know that Dickie's pretty confident with it, but I feel like we have to stay humble rolling into Charlotte knowing that these guys all got their game face on. They all know what's on the line. We do as well, but you can't let that get you rattled either. You have to keep doing what we're doing and moving forward. But I'm excited about it. Four in a row, man, I mean, I would run these things every day of my life, if I could. It's just finding a sponsor that would let you do that. It's really one of those things where, you know, just four in a row, stay focused, get lots of rest, and stay motivated to win.
Q. Last thing really quick, do you change your mindset or is there anything different that you or your team does that since you're starting at number one, or do you just kind of stay in that attack mode, so to speak?
MATT HAGAN: No, I think it's been attack mode all the time. My lights have been 50s, 60s, 70s on the tree, shallow. And when you do that and put a good race car underneath it, that's a hard combination to beat. So I think we've been in attack mode from day one. I'm in attack mode on the tree in qualifying. So you can pull up the spreadsheets and look at them. You know it's no joke. We're coming. It's going to be a war, man. I think that you don't change anything we've been doing because it got us to where we're at and that is the No. 1 seed right now.
THE MODERATOR: Our last guest today is Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel. He's the number one seed in the Top Fuel class, and he had a memorable weekend at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. He not only raced to a $100,000 payday when he won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout in Top Fuel, but then on Monday he raced to his first Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals title when he defeated Steve Torrence in both the race and the Traxxas event. Shawn, I saw on Twitter you said that it was is the best weekend of your life, and you weren't sure if you were dreaming. Talk about last weekend. Has it sunk in yet, all that happened last weekend?
SHAWN LANGDON: Yeah, slowly but surely it has been. Just going through today, going through my emails and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and everything and just hearing all the nice messages from a lot of my friends and family and coworkers, you know, fellow competitors and a lot of the fans just what they've been writing. It's just such a great feeling to be a part of such a special event. To not only win the event, but to win the Traxxas Shootout the same weekend, it's just one of those weekends that it really doesn't get any better than that.
Q. I have to ask you the question that you just raised to me, if you can win the Championship, will you have found a better day than winning at the U.S. Nationals?
SHAWN LANGDON: Well, you know, yes, because the fact of winning the championship, that is your goal. That's what you were brought to the team to do. Our single goal is to win the championship. So with that weekend we had last weekend, winning the U.S. Nationals and winning the Traxxas Shootout, that one single weekend, it really doesn't get any better than that for that particular race. The championship is just an overall achievement throughout the whole year. So I think, you know, if we go to Pomona and we win the championship in Pomona, that will be a yearlong accomplishment. But this weekend was pretty special to be able to win both races in one weekend.
Q. At the same time, and this was going to be my original question, in addition to winning the U.S. Nationals, you've also become far more involved throughout the entire season with actually managing and running the team. Can you talk a little bit about how that's helped you become a better driver?
SHAWN LANGDON: Well, I think it's just understanding a little bit more of what's going on. Last year when I was brought to the team, it was basically as long as I'm there by the time we warm up on Friday, and win or lose on Sunday, whenever we were done and the car was put away, basically hop on a plane and you can go home. So it was just to the part of where I would show up to the track and just basically hang out with the guys and make my runs and do my job at the track. It’s tough to build team chemistry like that. This year being able to be at the shop and talk to the crew guys a little bit more, talk with Alan (Johnson, team manager) more, talk with the crew chiefs more, knowing the direction of the team, knowing certain parts or pieces that we're putting on the car, what we're trying, what we like, what we don't like. I really do think that it makes you a better driver just understanding the car. It definitely makes you sound a little better on the top end when you get out and you want to talk about the run. You have to have at least a little knowledge about what you're talking about.
Q. Here's something I don't think we've talked about much was the track conditions. You guys had a rain out. You lost a round. Then you had sun and cloudy all day Monday during the finals and semifinals and all of that. How much adjusting do you have to make in your driving to accommodate the track conditions, because it changes so much? It changes the engines. The weather stations go crazy every time it changes. How do you change mentally and physically in driving the car?
SHAWN LANGDON: Well, as a driver, it's a little bit easier on the driver. As a driver, I think the biggest thing that you want to focus on is just mentally preparing yourself correctly for the conditions. You know, obviously, when it gets hotter out, make sure you stay hydrated. Make sure you're eating properly. So there are some little things like that that you can do to help. As far as on the track, they really made, the crew, Al Anabi crew made my job super easy on Sunday, because I didn't ever have to pedal the car. There are different ways to pedal a car in certain conditions of when the track is really cool or versus when it's really hot. So for that, the crew made my job very easy. I didn't have to pedal the car at all. The car made flawless runs down the track at all times. But for the crew chief, it played a pretty big role just when you go from where we were at testing, and then we get there, it's a lot hotter, a lot more water in the air with the grains going up and the humidity going up, so there are a lot of things you're going to watch in the weather station. You've got to play with the compression a little bit, play with the overdrive a little bit. A lot of different changes in the clutch department. Then it's just going from the first round where it's nice and cool to basically where it's hot and muggy second round. We slowed down from a 3.78 to a 3.84. That was intentional. Just because the crew chiefs read the track, and we just couldn't apply the same amount of power to the track that we did in the first round. It's just, that's where it pays off to be part of a great team like this and basically trusting your crew chiefs and their calls.
Q. If you have problems at the other tracks, your crew chiefs will know what to do. I think that's a tremendous skill on the part of the crew chiefs.
SHAWN LANGDON: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, that's why the crew chiefs get paid the big bucks. They, obviously, this team over here, in the past they've known how to win in the past. I think that's just a benefit to having two cars is (teammate Khalid) alBalooshi, unfortunately, alBalooshi smoked the tires in the semis, but with the tires right in front of us in that lane, we were able to adjust our car a little bit and slow our car down in that area where he smoked the tires. So if we were first pair out probably we would have smoked the tires and he probably would have gone on to win the race. So it's a big benefit to having a two car team.
Q. Talk a little bit about the ups and downs in your career along the way and how it's along the way you've come to the ability of getting a big win at Indy and still be in contention in the Countdown?
SHAWN LANGDON: Well, I mean, as far as growing up in the racing the Sportsman categories, I learned a lot racing there of kind of running my own team, running my own car, learning basically just how to be a competitor, how to be a good sportsman, how to handle winning and how to handle losing. There are a lot of years that I was out there racing just to pay my bills. Never really had much. Basically everything I had went into my racing operation. Now being up in the Top Fuel category, it took a while for me to adjust. I mean, it was almost four years for me to get my first victory. There are just a lot of different things that can happen in the cars that can really help or hurt you. We had good cars at times. I mean, there were times where I made some driving errors, but I think the biggest thing is just learning from your mistakes and being kind of true to yourself. Don't make excuses. Don't blame things on other people. You know, if you make a mistake, you accept it, and you learn from it, and you try to make yourself a better person on and off the racetrack. So I think it's just a lot of those things throughout the years of just trying to be an honest racer trying to make myself better to prepare myself for situations like this. Racing for the Al Anabi team, they put you in a position to win. You know they're going to have a great car. Now it's up to me to perform and basically handle the pressure properly as a driver and not crack under the pressure.
Q. How long do you think the excitement of winning Indy will go into the Countdown? The pressures that you're going to have in the Countdown.
SHAWN LANGDON: Oh, well, obviously, winning Indy is a single biggest thing every year other than winning the championship. So, obviously, it's great for team morale. It's great for team chemistry. That was one of the things on the list of things to do this year that we wanted to accomplish. So we're able to take this win, head into the Countdown, No. 1 seed, winning Indy, winning the Shootout. We have a lot of momentum right now, a lot of good things are happening, a lot of good vibes. Going into the first race of the Countdown, you're on a high note. That is exactly how you want to start it out. Hopefully, we can do a repeat performance last year winning Charlotte, start off on the right foot and hopefully carry this momentum all the way through.
Q. You kind of touched on it. Is there any added pressure on you in terms of Al Anabi has obviously won championships. Alan's obviously won numerous championships. When you go into this number one, obviously, you're in a great setup with this team and one of the best drivers out there right now, how do you avoid maybe having that added pressure considering the history of your team and the success they've had and you trying to put yourself in to be a world champion?
SHAWN LANGDON: Well, I think a lot of the pressure a lot of the pressure probably comes from myself. The pressure that I put on myself. Because I love the sport of drag racing. I love everything about it. This is my job, but I'm also living my dream. I just want to be the best. I want to do whatever to make myself the best. It's not anything that comes from (team owner ) Sheikh Khalid or (team manager) Alan Johnson, you just know that being part of the team, they're there to win championships. They're going to do whatever it takes to give you a race car that's going to win championships, so it's up to you to perform. I want nothing more than to be able to perform as a driver. So, you know, it's basically up to me right now. It's not any pressure that these guys are putting on me. I mean, there is a lot of the pressure that maybe comes from the outside with, sometimes just media attention and stuff like that. But as far as internally on the team, I mean, we're just trying to do the best job that we can, and we just want to basically take it one round at a time, make the best run for that situation, and hopefully the wins and the championships will come along with it.
Q. Sort of along the lines of what you were just talking about, after you beat Steve Torrence, during his post-race interview he made a remark that with Alan Johnson tuning the car, anybody could win in it. I'm just wondering if you're annoyed by the fact that there are still those kind of comments floating around, maybe among fans, certainly probably still that feeling among some drivers and competitors?
SHAWN LANGDON: No, because I know that I mean, it's a fact. If you race for Alan Johnson, you're going to win. It's not to take anything away from Blaine Johnson. It's not to take anything away from Gary Scelzi or Tony Schumacher or any other guy that's driven for him. But Alan Johnson is going to win races and he's going to win championships. But there are a lot of things that, as a driver, fortunately, I've been able to win a couple of races on holeshots. So you kind of take it with a grain of salt. A lot of the fellow competitors, everybody would die to have the opportunity to race for Alan Johnson. I mean, the guy is just an absolute genius. I've learned so much in these last two years racing for this guy. He's made me ten times the better driver than I was before. So, you know, really, at this point, hearing comments like that, it just is what it is. People are going to have opinions and different opinions. I'm not worried about it. We're not worried about it. We've got a good thing going, and we're just focused on winning the championship, and that's it.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports