The following excerpts are from an interview with NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock racer Jason Line, Funny Car driver Matt Hagan and Top Fuel competitor Doug Kalitta.
THE MODERATOR: Joining us first today will be Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr. Hector, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Thank you for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Hector is currently second in the championship points. He has raced to five final round appearances this year and secured four wins during the season. He's also posted two No. 1 qualifying positions, and he has led the points the majority of the season but relinquished it to Matt Smith following the event in St. Louis. Talk about your season to date, and then secondly, talk about what it's going to take the last two races to get back atop the point standings.
HECTOR ARANA JR.: We started off the season strong, but in all honesty that doesn't really matter if you don't have your stuff together for the Countdown. I don't know if we lost focus or we lost some of our better motors and just a couple little mistakes on the starting line, and next thing you know you're in second place. We'll get back into it. We've finally got some good motors back together, and we know what we have to do, and it's not impossible to win, but it's definitely going to be very, very, very tough, and we're going to have to be flawless these next two races and have a little bit of luck on our side. We have our fingers crossed, and we're going to do everything we can to get this Lucas Oil Buell to the championship.
THE MODERATOR: We've seen this year teams get on hot streaks in all four categories, especially where they just seem to have a rash of No. 1 qualifiers, can knock off a couple of wins. How easy is that to catch for any team, and is that something you guys are looking for going into the last two?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: It's easy, you know, and I want to say it's all confidence. When you start going rounds and you start winning the races, you as a driver, you get this confidence, this extra confidence, and you have this attitude that I can't be beat. And when you go to the starting line with an attitude and a confidence like that, it's easier. You're not as worried to red light, so therefore you're not going to be sleeping at the light. You're just on your game. Like I said, all you've got to do is have a good motor, just feel good that day, have your confidence, and start going rounds, and I think if we can do that and we can get over that second round hump and just go rounds and not have any mistakes, I think we can do it.
Q. You kind of touched on it a little bit when you mentioned being on your game. Is there a best way to be on your game?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: I mean, we're trying everything we can just to be practicing at the tree and getting the bike running 100 percent where you're not working to death on it, and those four back to back races in the Countdown, we were running the bike was getting hurt, we were running a hurt motor, come back, we were working until midnight every day, load up, drive around the clock to get to the races, and our team, we've been tired. I think now finally we've got some good parts in the motors, we've got them all refreshed with these couple weeks off and kind of regrouped, and I think we'll be good to go.
Q. And as far as it being a long season, of course everyone says every round counts, but now you've got just eight rounds basically. How do you approach those rounds knowing that you're running out of them?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Yeah, you know, one round at a time, and every round counts. Like I said, a little bit of luck and no errors on my side as a driver and hopefully no errors on the bike, and hopefully the No. 1 guy goes out early and you can gain those points. Other than that, you finish wherever you finish.
Q. Hector, with that LE Tonglet flak, was that just kind of spouting off in the heat of the moment, and does that make you vulnerable with your opponents?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Definitely that was heat of the moment. You're angry, you're stressed out. It's the Countdown and you're trying to go rounds, and they did play games. They did go and double-bulb me. We always try to race fair, but apparently you can't do that. Being a nice guy hasn't gotten us anywhere so far this year in the Countdown, and the class is so tight right now that you've got to beat them on the starting line, so everybody is doing everything they can, especially if their motor isn't running as strong as other people because that's what they have to do to win. It's my fault for falling into that. I should have known better, but I've never run into a situation like that. You know, that's what happens. But like I said, I learned my lesson, and I've got a game plan for next time that happens.
Q. You know, you talked about you're going to have to be flawless in these last two races, and you've been talking about that already, but that just puts a lot of pressure on you. Is that too much to ask when time is running out, for everything to be flawless? How much pressure does that put on you?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: You know, it does put pressure, and I don't know if it's too much to ask or not, but it's what we have to do, so it's what we have to ask.
Q. You mentioned that you guys, your team was tired with the back to back races. What effect does it have on you guys having three bikes this year?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Well, I can tell you this: When we were racing with two bikes the past two seasons, we were already short a crew guy and that was with the member that we had. Then we come to this year and we added another bike, essentially we lost a crew guy because my brother was one of the crew guys and now he's a driver, so now we had three bikes with the same amount of crew guys starting off the season, and then halfway through the season we lost another guy. So it's me, my dad and my brother, and my crew chief Dan. That's how we're racing. We got another guy locally over here that he stepped up to the plate to help us go to the races, and his name is Galen, and we want to thank him for doing that, stepping in last minute. He's got a wife and a family, but he's sacrificing that to help us make it through the season, and then we also have Juan that comes to all the races, him and his sister, and they'll cook for us and everything, and he has also stepped up to the plate and is helping us work on the bikes and making it possible for us to race.
Q. We go into Las Vegas, such a fun city, exciting city. Obviously your focus will be at the track, but what are some keys to having success at that venue?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Vegas is a very good track. It's smooth. But just making sure you stay relaxed and stay focused and get good rest, don't stay up too late on the Strip, and most of all have fun. You've got to have fun while you're doing this. If you're not having fun then you shouldn't be doing it. Like I say, we're tired but we're still having fun, and we love racing. We love flying the Lucas Oil colors, and that's why we're out here doing this.
Q. I'm wondering how does the team allocate engines down the stretch here? Do you have one designated engine per race, or do you guys have a pool of engines? How do you figure that out?
HECTOR ARANA JR.: Well, we have three motors that we've built them all as close as we can together, but as you know, you can build two motors identical and one always runs better than the other. So we have three motors that run really good, which are taken up by all three of us drivers, and then we have two backups that are pretty close, and that's it. So hopefully our motors will last us for the rest of the season, and if something happens, we have two backup motors, and then we also have parts in a trailer that hopefully we can rebuild a motor to keep it running.
THE MODERATOR: We will now be joined by Jason line in Pro Stock, the two time Pro Stock world champion and driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. Jason is currently third in points and he's raced to three final round appearances, amassing two wins and one runner up finish. Jason, you were recently involved in an incident in Rockingham, badly damaged your Pro Stock car. First, obviously you're okay. Have you guys been able to pinpoint what happened during that test?
JASON LINE: Yeah, it was actually really easy to pinpoint. It was driver error. Yeah, it was not one of my shinier moments, but that sort of thing happens, and you've just got to move on. Obviously it was not great timing. We had our Summit Chevy Camaro running good, and we struggled a bit this year, so it felt really good to finally have the car running good, and certainly as fast as anybody's, and now we've got to start over. It's just one of those things.
Q. Basically we're probably looking at maybe three guys at the top there that are close enough that can make a big difference, in this race coming up anyway. Do you think about that? Do you think about points when you go and you know those three guys, and you're one of them, going into Las Vegas?
JASON LINE: Well, I think you have to think about it a little bit. I mean, obviously you're going to have to win, so I don't sit around counting points, of course. I'm lucky enough that somebody else does that. But you have to win, and you really need to win the race. I've said that the last two races, and if we wanted to put ourselves in a better position we needed to, and just didn't make it happen.
But yeah, I think I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about the points because that's all that matters.
Q. It’s long season, if I remember correctly I talked to you down in Bradenton before the season started, and here it is many months later. Does that take a toll on you guys?
JASON LINE: It does me. I'm getting old (laughing). Yeah, especially after weeks like I've had the last couple. But yeah, it's just part of the deal. You know that going in, so you try to do the best you can. I try to pace myself and be the best at the end of the year. But it's difficult to do. Some people are better at it than others, and I don't know where I rank, and it doesn't really matter. But right now you have to somehow find enough strength to remain to be focused and be focused better than your opponents at this point in time. That's what's going to make you the champ or not.
Q. You kind of talked about the season, and it probably wasn't what you and Greg are accustomed to in the middle half of the year. Pro Stock is such a fine line between really hitting on your combination and missing out even by a thousandth or a hundredth in Pro Stock. What did you guys kind of come upon when this Countdown started?
JASON LINE: Well, I think we kind of went back to square one. You're right, the difference between being great and good, it's a very little bit in performance but obviously a lot of effort. Yeah, we tried to go down some different paths and do things a little bit different, try to separate yourself from everybody else, and you know, it's not easy to do. We were struggling with it, weren't making it work, so we kind of went back to some more basic stuff and got to running better, of course. We had to do something because the Countdown was upon us, and again, we wanted to be able to contend for it. But yeah, it's been a tough year for all the Summit team, and you'll have that. It's great competition, and that's what brings out the best in you hopefully.
Q. You're always so hard on yourself, and maybe that's your strength. Have you thought about how hard you are on yourself all the time?
JASON LINE: Well, I don't know that I guess I don't think about that per se, but self-deception is very dangerous. If you go in thinking that you're better than you are, that's not a really good plan at all. I think you've got to be honest with yourself. Stars might lie but the numbers never do, so I haven't had a great year, haven't done a great job. It was not for lack of effort. I want to be better, want to do better, I just haven't. But we'll figure out a way to get there.
Q. You talked about some of the hardships you guys have had this year and doing a better job as a driver and everything else, but what's being done to make sure you don't have the same struggles next year?
JASON LINE: Well, nothing, really. It's no different than you doing your job. You have to learn from your mistakes and hopefully we did. We'll see. I guess the best predictor of the future is the past. Hopefully we can learn from those mistakes and not do them again. Again, I've done it before, and obviously some of it goes back to your personality type and what kind of human being you are. I tend to try to probably go too far and stretch things too far and reach too far into the future when it comes to working on some of this stuff and end up going backwards. But again, it is what it is, and I'll try to learn from those mistakes and try to do a better job so that next year we have a better year overall. Whether or not we win the championship is another thing. Obviously with the playoff format it changes things. But we still want to win races, and we didn't win many races this year.
Q. You talked about the season and you talked about your teammate Greg. He's kind of looking at unfortunately maybe ending a streak of 12 seasons with at least having one win each season. Is that something you guys even think about, or is it you just focus on the task at hand of getting the car down the track and let the wins come as they may?
JASON LINE: Well, I've thought about it, and I'm sure that he has, as well. There's no question I'm sure he has. We don't mention it, don't talk about it, but certainly I think we're all proud of the fact that the Summit team has had a pretty good run for 10 years, and to break that streak, you know, that would kind of stink. But again, at this point we only got two races to do something about it. That's why we're here in Vegas testing. We're trying to make sure that not only we give ourselves a shot to win the championship but him a chance to win one of these last two races and keep the streak going. It's not the end of the world if it doesn't, but at the same time, 10 years, it's hard to start another streak like that. Hopefully he can get a win one of these last two races.
Q. Talk about testing. You guys race at Las Vegas twice a year for your category and then you're testing. How much data can you hopefully bring from this week and even from the spring race into the race next weekend?
JASON LINE: Well, you'd like to think some. It's hard to say, obviously. Weather plays a big factor. The race is in pretty good condition, and its personality hasn't really changed much in the last few years. Obviously the race car is the big variable. You know, I'm sure there's a lot of good data from past testing here, but not all of it's going to be good because obviously our setup has changed considerably. But hopefully we can learn something this week testing here and have two good hotrods for next week.
Q. First, how is testing going, and are you at an advantage or a disadvantage with this different car?
JASON LINE: Based off testing so far, I'd say a severe disadvantage, but it's not over yet. Yeah, it wouldn't have been in my plan, I can tell you that much. Like I said, the gray Camaro that we were racing there, it was fast and running really good. Very predictable and consistent. To have to start over is tough. It wouldn't have been the path that I would have chosen. But that's the way it goes, and you have to just deal with those things the best you can and make the best of it. That's racing, that's life. Hopefully by next week hopefully we'll have a good, competitive car and be able to give everybody a run for their money.
Q. Did you have some type of database going in with this car already that you were able to build off of in testing?
JASON LINE: Yes, but not a database that we're real happy with. Yeah, again, it's a tough deal, but it is what it is. You've just got to make the best of it. Like I say, I feel like we'll have at least a competitive car. Will it be as good as the car we had last week? You know, at this point I'm going to say I probably doubt it. But you never know, a lot of things can happen in a matter of days. We're just going to keep working at it.
Q. You mentioned self-deception being very dangerous earlier in the call. Did you guys underestimate what it would take with the complete switchover to the Camaro this year, maybe underestimate what it would be to run these new cars?
JASON LINE: No, I don't think so. We had the Camaros last year, so I think the last five races of the year last year I had the blue Camaro, and we qualified No. 1 for five races in a row, ran really well. I think the self-deception comment was more me being critical of myself, and again, I haven't done as good a job as I need to do. I can't blame anybody for that other than myself. But as far as the underestimating the task of making the cars good, no, I think we pretty much know at this point what it's going to take. The problem is we have a constant quest to go forward, and we make a lot of changes and probably make them too fast. When you do that, you tend to get lost a little bit. But it's all in the hopes that you're going to find something that sets you apart from the competition, and in Pro Stock right now, obviously a hundredth is a huge deal. That seems like a world away. But in trying to go forward, sometimes obviously it's one step forward, two steps back if you're lucky. It's just a hard deal.
Q. You said that the best predictor of the future is the past. First of all, you sound like Dr. Phil.
JASON LINE: I've never watched Dr. Phil, by the way, just so you know.
Q. That's one of his big things. But that being true, does that actually give you some kind of hope, because it seems like every time something bad happens to your team, you guys come back out and storm to the top? So maybe that's a good thing?
JASON LINE: Yeah, maybe it is. We're looking at it that way, and again, you know, a lot of bad things happen to a lot of people. You can look at it and say it's bad luck or call it whatever you want. The truth is most of the time it is self-inflicted. You can either cry about it or you can move on. Obviously we've got some pretty tough folks that work for us, and we're just going to move on. We'll make the best of it, and maybe something good will come of it, it's just a matter whether it does this week or next week or maybe six months from now. I can tell you that I learned a lot from the incident, and unfortunately it cost a lot of money to learn that, but again, it is what it is, and you have to somehow turn it into a positive thing.
Q. Has Greg come in and helped on that front?
JASON LINE: Oh, yeah.
Q. Because so many things happened to him, as well.
JASON LINE: Sure, absolutely. Anybody that really knows Greg, he's a hard working guy, and he doesn't give up too easy, that's for sure. If you tied him and a mule together, after about three days a mule would give up. He's a hard worker and a go-getter, and he's not going to quit until it's over.
Q. That's your Midwest upbringing, is it?
JASON LINE: I guess it is.
THE MODERATOR: Next up we have Matt Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car world champion, who currently sits second in the points. He has won four races this season, which is a single season record, as well as four runner up finishes. He also has five No. 1 qualifying positions, which is also a single season career high. Matt, first off, thank you for joining us today.
MATT HAGAN: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: You relinquished the points at the Reading event but during the test session here in Indy, you said the team was obviously still focused on the championship hunt. What is your mindset going into the last eight rounds of racing?
MATT HAGAN: Well, you know, to start off, we did have a good test, and it's one of those things where our guys were beat to pieces. Four races in a row, for a Fuel team that's tough to do. So the biggest thing is we wanted to get our guys healthy, back, and get some R & R in them and make sure they have a positive attitude to come out here and be competitive and are driven to win. I think they needed a little break. I mean, I needed a little break and I get to fly around. You know, it's a neat deal that we have a little time off right now, and I'm back home right now spending some time with my family. I'm about ready to open up Matt Hagan Outdoors and we're doing photo shoots and stuff like that today. Racing is kind of the last thing on my mind until I roll into Vegas. You can't help about think about it every now and then when you're lying in bed at night, and a lot of this stuff is out of your control. We prepare, we plan, and we practice to win. But sometimes it comes down to just everything kind of lining up and the cards fall where they may. But you've got to do your job out there and that can't be something that we take lightly, so we definitely have to stay focused and work hard. But yeah, we went out there and tested, and we tried to do some different things in the bell housing, and not really the direction I think that Dickie (Venables, crew chief) wanted to go in, so we're going to keep focusing on some stuff that we're doing and just one less thing to look at and kind of put the blinders on and keep moving forward.
Q. You held the points lead through the whole regular season and into the Countdown. John Force has just been on a tear. How tough is it to maintain what he's done the last couple of races?
MATT HAGAN: It's very tough. Nothing but respect for that man. He built fuel Funny Car racing. Without John Force it's hard to say that there's NHRA. He’s that type of guy. But honestly I think it's going to be really hard for him to keep moving forward like that. You see a lot of guys come out, win back to back and then they struggle. I've kind of grouped my guys together and told them, I said, you know, these guys, they come out here and they win the next two races and we can't catch them, then you tip your hat to them and go over there and you shake their hand and tell them they did a hell of a job. But if they fumble the football, man, we've got to pick it up and run with it. There's no room for error. We've got to have two good races, he's got to have one bad, and it's got to play out that way. It did for me in 2010, man. I came out of this points lead in Reading 65 points ahead just like John did just now, and he come back and spanked me again, man. It's very doable, it's possible. You have to be confident. Confident, cocky, call it whatever you want to be, you have to be driven to win. I mean, if you're not confident, and I think I read a sports book the other day that said if you're not confident, you find a way to lose, and we're not going to find any ways to lose, we're going to find a way to win out here.
Q. You mentioned John Force. What's it like for you to be back three rounds knowing that you're chasing that icon?
MATT HAGAN: Well, it's tough. The cards are stacked against us, but it'll make it that much more special when we win. Definitely you look at a guy like that and you look at your career, and a lot of guys out here would just love to be in my position to do battle with this guy. He's 15 time world champion, and I'm working on my second championship, and hopefully it comes together for us in these next two races. But if it don't we'll get back together, we'll work hard and make it happen the next year. We'll go out and win it the next year. I'm still focused on that. John is a legend, but I think some of that stuff gets in people's heads. The biggest thing that we have to think about, that I have to think about, is just not who's beside me because that's out of my control. A lot of it is just what I can control in the race car. It's leave on time, keep it in the groove and turn the win light on. When you get to thinking about all that other stuff that's out of your control that's so variable anyway, I think it really goes and messes with people. For me it's put the blinders on and just kind of dig deep. The guy, like I said, he's drag racing, man, and I have nothing but respect for him. He's always been super kind to me, but it doesn't mean that I don't want to beat him anymore. Nobody has been giving me anything out here all year long, and we're not going to give up any rounds to anybody else.
Q. You've had a lot of success in your career so far. What has helped you along the way that you think it'll help you most when you get up to that next round in Las Vegas?
MATT HAGAN: Yes, sir. I've had a very blessed career. I mean, the last three years of my five years of racing I've been battling out for championships, and it usually comes down here to the wire. Anybody would trade me tomorrow for the season that I've been able to be involved with and the group of people I've been around, and I think that's the biggest thing. I surround myself with eight guys that work on the car, and they're just passionate about what they do, the chemistry with the group, everybody is working hard, and it comes down to people, man, and making the right smart wholesale changes on the race car, good decisions out there, and surrounding yourself with the best. You know, I feel like we've got the best group of guys out here. The points showed it all year long. John has got on a hot streak, man. I mean, that's just one of them deals that sometimes that stuff happens. Unfortunately we've had a few bad races. It's showing. But we've got to gather it all back up and go back out there and make it happen. I still feel like I've got the best crew chief out there and we've got the best group of guys, and I'm coming to win in Vegas.
Q. It seemed like at Indianapolis we saw a different, more aggressive Matt Hagan. It may be just me, but did something happen halfway through the season there to motivate you to take this new stance? You seemed definitely more aggressive.
MATT HAGAN: Yeah, you know, it's just you have to be aggressive with any sport. You get to thinking about it and looking at it, when you're playing baseball, when you're playing football, any type of sports I've ever been involved with, you know, you don't put your pom-poms out and cheer for the other team, so why are we doing it here. That's just my mentality with it. We've got a group of guys that are working really hard to go out there and win. Their salaries depend on the bonus money, their paychecks, their wives, their kids, their house payments, that kind of stuff, and when you put it in perspective, I've got eight guys that are really counting on it. Fifteen grand, 20 grand, whatever they're about to make, that goes a long way for these kids. I just don't take it lightly. I don't know, I just want to be aggressive and make sure that I feel like I've left it all out there on the racetrack. You'd hate to look back on your career one day and say, well, if I'd have tried to get up on the wheel a little bit more, if I'd have been a little bit more aggressive, if I'd have done some things to maybe get in somebody's head, it might have had a different outcome. I just want to put it all out there, just like in sports when you put your body out there. You just throw it out there and hope for the best. But you just do your best job that you can, and at the end of the day, it is what it is.
Q. Did you feel that you had been pulling out your pom-poms and being a nice guy? Did something tell you or did somebody point out to you that you need to stop that?
MATT HAGAN: No, not at all. That's the thing, I don't think that anything should be fake out here. I mean, it's one of those deals where you can't make up stuff. That's the worst thing that could happen for our sport. But our sport, I just want it to grow. I love what we do. I love what I do. I've always worn my emotions on my sleeve and try to call it how it is and say what it is. If I'm wrong, then I admit I'm wrong. It's one of those deals where I just think everybody, sometimes they just try to say what people want to hear or what they want to hear than what needs to be said sometimes.
Q. You guys went testing. That's something that Dickie has kind of been putting off; he did not want to go testing; he didn't want to get confused. Why now before the last two races?
MATT HAGAN: I think he saw some different ways to maybe run the clutch and run the race car and do some different stuff like that. If you see something there, you've got to try it. You don't want to go out there and say, well, it might look better if we do this. You either take the time and the opportunity that we had out there to do that and see if it really worked or if it didn't, and that was for Dickie to decide.
Q. Between you guys, between all of Don Schumacher's Funny Cars and John Force's Funny Cars, it's two very different team atmospheres. What advantages do you think you guys have with the way your program is run?
MATT HAGAN: None. I mean, nobody is going to give us anything. Nobody is going to help us out. Everybody is against us. My teammates actually have been the guys that have been killing me the most. It's one of those deals where my teammates, I've been beat three out of four races by teammates this year in the Countdown, and it's tough. It's one of them deals where you look up and say, man alive, that just happened. But nobody is going to give you anything out here. They're making their best runs against us every weekend. We're not looking for any love from anybody, so we don't have any advantage other than just knowing that we've got to go out there and work hard, and it all depends on us. We can only count on ourselves.
Q. You raced to the semifinals in Las Vegas in the spring. How much data can you guys transfer from that event to this event, or is the car kind of a different beast than it was early in the spring?
MATT HAGAN: You know, that's probably a really good question for Dickie. I think as long as some of the conditions are similar, we can look at some of that data. But a lot of it has to do with the altitude. We're halfway there to Denver when you're talking about Vegas. A lot of that stuff changes with head gaskets and compression and different things like that. There's just so many variables that these cars have to deal with and these crew chiefs have to deal with, it's overwhelming sometimes. You know, I really believe that Dickie has got a pretty good handle on this car still. We've had a couple things that we've went back to our notes and Dickie got to see and some things on the timing systems and different things like that that kind of might have messed some of our train of thought up and we've done some things differently. But now, I mean, everything that has happened so far we know why it's happened. There's been a rhyme or reason, that kind of thing. It's not like the car went out here and did something and we don't understand why it did that or we're not sure of what was going on there. I think a lot of the problems that we've been seeing and facing are fixed. So I'm very, very confident about coming into Vegas, qualifying well. It's all about Friday night, laying down a good number on Friday night, that first session, and setting yourself up for the rest of the weekend.
Q. You've been through every emotion for the last three years, the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. How would you compare this championship campaign to 2010 and 2011?
MATT HAGAN: I think it's a lot more stress free. 2011 it was just so unpredictable. I'm with a different group of guys. They're a little bit, I would say, more focused. Not that our other group wasn't, but after you've been there before, the hardest part is winning your first one, I believe, not that I've got a second one to talk about. It's just so hard to win that first one. Ask Ron Capps how hard it is. It's so tough, and after you've been through that pressure and you understand kind of how to internalize that and use it as a positive, I think that you just grow from there. Maybe that's why John has got so many. He knows how to do it; you know what I mean? We're racing with the best out there, and it's not to say that there's a couple boys back there right behind us that can't sneak up here and do this thing, too, but I really think it's turned into a two horse race here, and we just have to focus on what our car can do and not really who's beside us, as hard as that is to do with a 15 time champ out there. But we can't control how he qualifies, we can't control who he runs, we can't control how many rounds he goes. We've just got to go out there and try to go four rounds on Sunday and turn four win lights on and do it two more races. I believe we can do it. I know that's a steep hill to climb, but I've never won back to back, and I sure would like to these last two races.
Q. You've spoken at length today about John Force, racing him. Given how popular he is and all that do you almost feel like you're the villain in this drama? When you're trying to beat Force and maybe the world is rooting against you?
MATT HAGAN: Well, if you read Facebook there ain't no Matt Hagan fans out there. That drives you. People either love you or they hate you. I don't want anything in between. That's just racing and the fan base and that kind of stuff. Yeah, I feel like we've got the cards stacked against us, but if we can come out here and pull this thing off, it'll make everything that much sweeter for us. Yeah, it's tough. I mean, but John Force has been out here 30 some years doing this. He's built a humongous fan base. This is my fifth season out here doing this. I don't expect everybody to cheer for me. It's one of those things where I'm not asking you to. I just want to go out there and race my race car and hopefully turn on four win lights on Sunday. I don't know, I mean, you can't help but like the guy. I like the guy and I'm racing him. He's always been very kind to me. He's a stand up guy. He's the same off camera as he is on camera, and I mean, I don't know, just a good all-around guy. So yeah, I understand why people like him. But when it comes to racing, I want to beat him so bad I can't stand it. I think about it at night, I think about it in the morning, I think about it when we're out here doing this deal. And I try not to think about it because sometimes I feel like it consumes me. That's why I've got to get out here to the farm and do some different things to occupy my mind and spend some time with my family. But it is what it is. That's why we race. We have a passion for it. Hopefully I can just grow my fan base. I love my fans. The ones that support me, I just can't say enough about them. And I got to really see that when we had such a bad year in 2012 after coming off winning the championship, and there was still a pile of people at the ropes asking for autographs and a pile of people still cheering us on. I know that I'm a long ways from John Force, but we're building them every day, and I just can't say thanks enough to the ones that support us.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Doug Kalitta, who is currently second in points in his Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster. Kalitta has one win this season and one runner up finish along with five No. 1 qualifying positions. He's finished second in the points three times in his career and is battling for his first championship. Doug, you have had one of the fastest cars all season, you've been part of some incredible racing, but since the Indianapolis event you guys have really made a strong championship push. What did you guys hit upon here in the back end of the season?
DOUG KALITTA: Yeah, I think it's just hopefully all kind of coming together for us, really Jim Oberhofer, my crew chief, and Troy and really all the guys. We just keep doing what we've been doing, just try to not make any mistakes along the way, obviously just hoping that the win light comes on each time.
But real proud of the effort that everybody has got going on. We're real focused at trying to do the best we can, and like you say, it's getting better for us since Indy, and definitely really looking forward to the next couple races.
THE MODERATOR: You guys had great consistency the past couple of races. I think people are amazed that you can be consistent in an 8,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster. How do you hit upon that consistency?
DOUG KALITTA: You know, as far as tuning the thing, obviously Jim and Troy and all the guys, they work real hard at it. It's a fickle machine. Some days it responds well to what you're trying to do, and we've just come across a setup that I think we're trying not to veer too far from. But it's really just hats off to my guys there. We're trying obviously real hard. Everybody is focused, and that hopefully has something to do with just how bad my Mac Tools team, how bad we want to do well out there. That's kind of what we're up to. It definitely helps your confidence going into these events, and right now we're feeling pretty good about it. Obviously I wish we were going to Las Vegas here this coming weekend because I know me and all my guys are ready to go. It's just the wanna win, do the best you can attitude we have right now, and obviously when you know your car is running as good as anybody out there, you're just trying your best. Right now I've probably got one of the better opportunities to hopefully run with Shawn and whoever else is coming up, because I think second on back, everybody is within a round of one another. Shawn has pulled away a little bit, but we're hoping that we can definitely gain on him, and I think we can.
Q. With your good results, how long does that take to transfer to your team?
DOUG KALITTA: You know, it's hopefully been building all year. Definitely there's a bunch of great Top Fuel drivers at the top of the pack here, so I know as the guy driving that thing, I'm going to definitely have to be as good or better than some of these guys. Each round is pretty tough these days. Personally I'm trying real hard to do the best I can, and at the same time I love doing what we're doing. It's fun. I wouldn't want to do it any other way. To have an opportunity with two races to go to be in the position we're in, we're all having fun, we've got a good competitive car, and we're just really hoping for good results, and I'm confident about it.
Q. Tony Schumacher always talks about these big moments, and that's what he likes to call the big moments. You're not nearly as boisterous as Tony Schumacher, but do you frame these down to the wire championships the same way that he does?
DOUG KALITTA: You know obviously there's not too many rounds left, so it's definitely time to lead, follow or get out of the way. I personally feel that we're up for the challenge, and I look forward to going to these next two races and hopefully running towards the front of either one of the two. Anything can happen. I mean, we've seen over the years how the points have gone at the last two races. You've just got to stay upbeat about what we're doing, and I'm confident, and yeah, I feel real comfortable going to the next two with the group of guys that I've got and making some good out of it. We've got a little bit different paint scheme with the Vegas weekend with a Chip Foose designed car. That'll make it a little more fun and change it up a bit. But I think we'll be ready.
Q. Is there a crazy guy inside Doug Kalitta going, give me the ball, coach, I want to get this last shot?
DOUG KALITTA: I guess time will tell. But it'll be fun. I think we're in a good position. Like I said, one of my better opportunities I've had in a few years to be in this position, so hopefully we can take advantage of it.
Q. What do you draw on as you go down like Tony has got maybe past history or something? What do you have to draw on, like motivation or inspiration? Do you think of Scott or do you think of Connie? Do you have an inspiration like that, or is it just confidence in your crew and your team?
DOUG KALITTA: Yeah, it would be obviously great to bring it home. No one in the Kalitta family over the years has been able to do it, so it would certainly be a proud moment for me to be able to do it. Yeah, it's been a personal goal. You always try to accomplish all your goals, so this is definitely one of them that's still standing out there. So really it's just having confidence in your ability and feeling confident about it, and that's pretty much how I feel going into the next two races.
Q. You finished second in the points three times in your career. Are you just tired of being a bridesmaid here that you want to get to the championship Wally?
DOUG KALITTA: Yeah, it would be a huge relief. I've looked at that championship trophy a few times and wished it was on my mantle. Yeah, you know, there's always a first for everything, and it might as well be our turn, I think.
Q. Last time you were in this position in this tight of a battle I believe it was 2006. How many of the guys that are on your team right now were with you then when you came so close to getting that big Wally?
DOUG KALITTA: Probably not that many. There's a couple guys back at the shop, obviously Jim Oberhofer, he was with our team I think at that time. He was tuning for Hillary or Scott, one of the two. But amongst our organization, there's probably four guys that are still there.
Q. And do they want to win this as bad as you do and overcome the disappointment from 2006?
DOUG KALITTA: Yeah, I mean, just as hard as we've been trying with really all of our teams and just building Kalitta Motorsports, obviously this would be a great morale booster for really all four of our teams. I'm real proud of obviously the effort that we've got going on with our other cars, but it would be awesome to pull that thing bring it home for Connie, who's obviously supported me for a lot of years, obviously with drag racing and sprint car and midget racing, he's backed me then when I was doing the open wheel stuff as well. Yeah, it would definitely be a proud moment to bring Connie home that kind of hardware. I'm sure Scott and the other people that have brought home those end of the year championships to Connie, he'd definitely like to see another one.
Q. Towards the end of last season, it seemed as though Oberhofer stumbled onto something on that car, and that car has been very consistent and has been really fast all season. Has he told you what he found? Was it a batch of clutch disks? Find something in the blower? What did he stumble onto, because that thing has really been working?
DOUG KALITTA: You know, I think it's just a little bit of everything. We've just kind of narrowed in on the clutch, the motor combination, superchargers. Obviously everything in drag racing is always advancing, the quality of the heads, and he's pretty proud of it. He's got his hands around the whole thing really well. And Troy, who manages all the guys on the team, is doing a great job getting the car back consistent each time we take it apart and put it back together. That's obviously just as important as anything.
But no, we're proud of him. Yeah, he's hungry as ever. I talked to him a little bit yesterday, and looking at that paint job, hoping that maybe it's going to be a fast car for Vegas. I think it will be.
Q. With everything that you have going on at home, with your business and with your family, the kids, the whole deal, how much do you think about racing and about this championship when you're not at the racetrack?
DOUG KALITTA: Every day. It's coming down to the wire here. But no, the shop is real close to the airport, so I'm by there periodically throughout the week and trying to see how the guys are doing. Yeah, they're looking forward to obviously getting a couple weekends off and kind of get recharged.
I'm real focused on trying to be ready for these last two races. Fortunately with the airline work that I do, I'm surrounded with a group of very good people. Obviously it's a very busy time, but it's what I enjoy doing. You know, aviation is kind of in my blood, as well, and then my family, they're doing real well. I've got a 10 and a 12 year old, Mitch and Avery, and they're doing great.
Right now it's business as usual. Get a couple weekends off and be ready for Las Vegas with our Foose car. It should be fun.
Q. You just always seem too mellow and so laid back. What gets you charged up before you get in the car?
DOUG KALITTA: This opportunity here is kind of what I've been hoping for and dreaming about. Just knowing that it's time to, like I say, lead, follow or get out of the way. It'll be a lot of fun at the next couple events just to see how it all shakes out. I've really enjoyed doing what we're doing, so it's a lot of fun for me.
Q. You've talked a couple of times about the Chip Foose paint scheme, design. It's like when girls get dressed up in a new outfit they feel a little different. Does a new paint scheme on the car, like in this particular case, something from Chip, who's done your stuff before, does that really give you an extra sense of, like putting on a new suit or something? Does it make you feel better?
DOUG KALITTA: You know, the car looks great. Obviously Mac Tools and Chip work together very closely with a lot of their projects, so we're just honored to have him part of our deal, for me personally. He's a pretty amazing guy. He's quite an artist. He would definitely be proud to see that car in the winner's circle. It’s just a little extra motivation really for me and all my guys to try to accomplish that with Chip being involved. I'm not sure if he's going to come to that particular race or not, but he'll be watching and rooting us on. Just appreciate the opportunity that Mac is giving us to work with Chip again.
Q. Looking ahead a little bit, do you look ahead and go, oh, my gosh, it's hard enough to get to where I am right now, let alone next year is going to be even more competition in sheer numbers but also good quality there, too?
DOUG KALITTA: Yeah, well, there's definitely plenty of competition out there throughout the years that I've been driving. Obviously you get these younger guys, and I'm probably one of the older guys out there, so they definitely are making me realize I've got to step my game up, and I am certainly trying to do that. Yeah, the more the merrier as far as I'm concerned. There's 16 spots on Sunday, and you certainly hope to be in one of them is kind of usually the way I look at it. And then obviously just trying to get that win light each round and trying not to get too nervous about who you're racing or whatever you want to call it. We're pretty much on our side of the lane and hoping the win light comes on. I've never really tried to get too nervous about who you're racing against or who might be showing up. I appreciate the opportunity.
Q. You mentioned that some of the newer competition, some of the younger guys really make you stay on your game and realize that you need to step up your game. What do you do to step up your game?
DOUG KALITTA: Yeah, obviously just trying to get the focus level and the consistency with your reaction time. As far as driving the thing, keeping it in the groove and all that, that's the easy part for me, really. It's just getting the consistency on the line, and I've certainly been working at that. So a lot of times you try different things. They're a lot of little things, but obviously very highly secretive information amongst all the drivers, whatever it is that works for them. But I don't really have a lot of lucky things I drag around with me, but just trying to improve on the focus, and it seems simple, but just go when that light comes on and being able to do it consistently is the name of the game, obviously.