The following are excerpts from a teleconference featuring Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon; Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin; and Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award winner Brittany Force.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you on behalf of the NHRA, the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for joining us. Today during this call we'll be joined by our newest Top Fuel world champion, Shawn Langdon, and Pro Stock world champion, Jeg Coughlin who both clinched their championships at the season ending Auto Club NHRA Finals last weekend in Pomona. Also joining us will be Brittany Force who was the winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner, which is given out to the top NHRA rookie at the end of each season. We'll start today's call with Shawn Langdon. Shawn, thank you for joining us today. Shawn clinched his season long championship at the following qualifying on Saturday at Pomona with the strength of the category best seven wins, including the season ending event in Pomona. He also raced a three runner up finishes and seven number one qualifying positions. Shawn, now that you've had a couple of days to kind of sit and reflect on it, has it sunk in what you were able to accomplish this year winning the championship?
SHAWN LANGDON: Well, I think it's slowly starting to sink in a little bit. I'm still up on cloud nine. I think going to the banquet and being able to watch the video that they put up on the screen to kind of reflect back on the season and how everything progressed and just to watch all the different tracks that we went to, just thinking back. And I'm just so proud of the team and everything that they were able to do coming out of last year where it wasn't quite up to their expectations and we finished fourth. They were very determined this year to get that No. 1 on the Al-Anabi car. Just to see the hard work and dedication that went into it and to watch the guys. There wasn't a guy that left work early. Everybody stayed late. Everybody put in an A-plus effort throughout the year. So I'm just so proud of the team. But I think it's slowly starting to sink in. Every time I look at that trophy, it's just a great feeling.
THE MODERATOR: Where is the trophy? Do you have it with you?
SHAWN LANGDON: Yeah, we actually have it with us. We're up in Santa Maria, California right now, getting ready for the Blaine Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament. So we had it at dinner last night and then over at the Hitching Post, and then we went over to Elmer's after that and took it over there. So we're having fun with it. A lot of people are taking pictures with it. So we have it out here today at the Memorial Golf Tournament. It's just a great feeling to be able to enjoy the championship. But it's even better to be able to enjoy the championship with a lot of great family and friends.
Q. Winning an NHRA Top Fuel championship has a lot of aftermath. What do you feel now, and what do you expect in the coming weeks and months that you'll feel after attaining this level?
SHAWN LANGDON: Well, I think there's obviously a lot of things that come with winning a championship. I hope I'm ready for it. I watched what Antron Brown did last year and you kind of see his rise to stardom, and now he's just a superstar of the sport. I still, I still just kind of look at myself as that little kid that's racing junior dragsters, and I don't really, I guess, think of myself as a superstar of the sport. I'm just very thankful to be out there, and I just enjoy what I do. But there are responsibilities that come with it, so I think it's going to be very important to keep pushing the NHRA, Mello Yello Series and keep the sport alive and the next generation is coming up, and I'm a part of that next generation, I'm just going to try to do the best job that I can and try to be an ambassador of the sport and try to push our sport and show all the fans across the country and across the world just how great the sport is.
Q. You kind of touched upon it, but how long do you and the team get to celebrate this? You're obviously a fan of other sports and they talk about the next one is always the hardest. What is kind of the plan the next couple months here for you and the team?
SHAWN LANGDON: I think just go back to the shop and regroup a little bit. Right now we're just enjoying the California weather. We're enjoying spending a little bit of time up here in Santa Maria with the Johnson family and giving back to the community up here, also celebrate everything with the Johnson family, with the Blaine Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament. We're just going to enjoy it up here for a little while. We'll be up here for a couple days, and then we'll get back to the shop to start coming up with a game plan for next year. I don't think we're going to test in December like we have done the last couple seasons, but we're just looking forward to going down to West Palm Beach in January and making a couple hits down there and getting everybody back in the swing of things. We'll give everybody the much needed time off. It was a long season. There were a lot of weeks that we went back to back weeks. So it's pretty tough on some of the crew guys. They don't get to see their family and wife and kids. So we'll be able to go back to the shop and work hard, but also give these guys an opportunity to have a little bit of family time as well.
Q. Obviously, I know this was an ultimate goal to win a championship. How do you approach next year in terms of the pressure that's involved to try to repeat? Obviously, you proved yourself to be a great driver even before you won the championship, but is there more pressure now that you've won this one with this team? I know you don't want to stop at one championship, but is there more pressure for 2014 for you from that aspect?
SHAWN LANGDON: Yeah, I really like that a lot of pressure is off. I really think that this year this team was able to make a couple statements out there. I think for me as a driver getting that first championship out of the way, the way that I look at it is I'm so fortunate to be doing what I'm doing. I'm so thankful. I was able to get the championship in the junior Dragster category. I was able to get it in the Super Comp category, and now in the Top Fuel category. So it's just the way that I look at it is for right now every goal that I've set, I've been able to achieve it with the help of some great people and anything for the rest of my life is just an added bonus. I've really fulfilled my life-long dream, and I'm able to live it right now. So obviously we're looking forward to next year, and we're definitely looking at defending the Mello Yello World Championship. But I don't think it's going to be any added pressure or anything that we didn't see this year, anything that we didn't feel this year. There was definitely a lot of pressure for me being the first time where I've been able to be in the countdown and really be in these high pressure situations. I think it's going to help because now I know how to handle it. Now I know what to expect. That was the biggest thing that I was a little worried about is the fear of the unknown. I didn't really know how I was going to perform under the pressure. I know how the teams are going to perform. They've proven that in the past. But for me as a driver, I think now I just know what to expect. So I think now we can go out, have fun, and extend this championship for the years to come.
Q. You mentioned several times during your interviews over the weekend that the team Alan (Johnson, team manager) and the Sheikh (Khalid Bi Hamad Al Thani, team owner) took a chance on you when they hired you because you hadn't won the race. I think a lot of people wondered the same thing, why you got hired for that job. I'm wondering, did you ever ask yourself back then why am I getting this job?
SHAWN LANGDON: I did a lot. I've asked myself that for years, even growing up in the sports and ranks when just people gave me so many opportunities to drive their cars then when I got opportunity in my first year to drive a Top Fuel car. And, yeah, when I got the phone call from Alan Johnson and Sheikh Khalid to drive their car. I look at the sport and I look at how many talented drivers there are out there, and there are just some people that, man, you can put a mic in front of them and they could entertain people for hours. You put them in the racecar, and they drive it like they own it. They can wheel these things. Then for me, I'm a young and up and coming driver and it's all new to me, the media, the pressure and everything. So I get up in front of the microphone, and I don't always know what to say. My jaw, it's on the floor. I'm in awe of the opportunity that I have just to be out here. For whatever they saw in me, I'm just very thankful to get that opportunity and to have a great team like this believe in me as a driver and believe in me as a person to represent their team for Sheikh Khalid to represent his country. It's just a great opportunity. Whatever it is I'm glad I did it for them to notice it. Like I said, it's just a great opportunity.
Q. If I could follow up, you talk about up and coming drivers. Obviously, Brittany (Force) is the Rookie of the Year. How would you assess her season? Because everybody bases them on wins and losses, but how would you assess her as a competitor?
SHAWN LANGDON: I think she did a great job. The first year is very tough because there are a lot of eyes on you, especially for her with her name, with her dad being a legend of the sport, obviously, she's going to have twice as many eyes on her. But I feel that she's handled it very well. She's handled the media very well. Her interviews have gotten better throughout the year, and she started off the year doing great interviews. But the way they do the media over there at John Force Racing, they do an excellent job. They bring a lot of attention to the sport. She's still learning as a driver inside of the race car, but she's doing a great job. You saw the car performing well at the end of the year. They're making great runs. There were times where they had a top five car, and it's just the first time ever having a dragster over there. That is definitely a Funny Car team. For them to come out the way they did, I really feel that they're going to be a top 10 car next year, and they're going to be in the Countdown.
Q. Talk about the weekend a little bit. Shawn's from the Pomona area and that is his home track, winning the championship. Then going on to win the race. Sunday, you're going rounds; how did you stay focused?
SHAWN LANGDON: Once you get into that race mode on Sunday, I feel it gets easier. The beginning of the week is always tough at your home tracks, just getting everything in order, getting your scheduling for the week. Thankfully (team PR director) Rob Goodman takes care of a lot of that for me. But it's getting everything in order for the week, getting the tickets, getting the hospitality right, and just making sure your schedule is right to where you can meet all your sponsor's obligation that's they have for you for the weekend. But as the weekend rolls on you and get into that race mode and you get that focus going, it definitely gets a lot easier. It was just a great feeling. Last weekend was one of the highlights of my life. That was probably one of the best weekends of my life. To do what we did, to have to go out there and perform and we were able to clinch the championship and we were able to win the race and do it with all of our friends and family out there, you just could not ask for anything more.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Jeg Coughlin who is now the five-time Pro Stock world champion after he earned his first title since the 2008 season. Jeg also won championships in 2000, 2002, and 2007. This season he raced to four wins and four runner-up finishes during the course of the year. Jeg, you touched upon a little bit on it Sunday night, but how satisfying is this championship after missing that 2011 season and then coming back and last year not having a season probably with what you were accustomed to?
JEG COUGHLIN: It's an extremely special championship for us for many, many reasons. It is our ultimate goal when setting out for a new season is to challenge for those valuable round wins, valuable race wins and that ultimate Mello Yello prize, and that is the world championship. I think it would go without saying that it was such a team effort, such a family effort between Allen and Roy Johnson and everyone at J & J Racing, and everyone at JEGS, JEGS.com in on the race program. Because no one person made this happen. We certainly thank Mopar for their dedication and their passion and their drive to win as they've now won back to back Pro Stock World Championships. That is really cool. That was probably the neatest thrill for me was to see the smile on Allen and Roy's face when one of our teams was able to secure the championship and the same on the likes at Mopar. I think that's, at the end of the day, what made me the happiest about it all.
Q. I want to start with family at least. For me, the Coughlin name and the JEGS name is so synonymous in drag racing. Now Allen and his father Roy have accomplished and the merging of those two families. Was it as seamless as it seems on the outside putting these two together and obviously the success was there, but was it a seamless marriage?
JEG COUGHLIN: It really was. It was almost as seamless as it sounds. And look, Allen and I had a conversation prior to that at Pomona a year ago, and our goal at the end of the conversation was, is this a fit for us or not? We both had an idea of how this merger could go. We both said how we felt that it should go, and we both agreed with it, I would say nearly a hundred percent, and I think that is exactly why it worked. Allen and his team did a fantastic job orchestrating the transition, getting the cars ready, working with the JEGS personnel to be able to get the car ready, the transporters ready, get all of our back up stuff ready. Of course, Roy and his team at J & J at Greeneville, Tennessee, were hard at work preparing the arsenal of engines that they were going to send to the races. Not only the Mopar Dodge of Allen's, the JEGS.com Dodge of mine, but also the Mountain View Tire Dodge of (Vincent) Nobile. I think when we came out in testing, we were very well prepared with all three cars, from both car standpoint, car management standpoint and engine standpoint. I think that showed really well as we came to the very first race and got a 1-2 finish in the finals. As I echoed, I think the transition was very smooth. I think all parties kept all hands on deck and they were able to communicate and race as a true team. That was something that's hard to find in any form of sport or Motorsports. I think, I know I commend Allen and Roy and our families for being able to merge so seamlessly.
Q. Jeg, congratulations. Winning five NHRA Pro Stock Championships shows you know a lot about winning titles. What recommendations would you share with drivers and teams who had the drive to win a championship?
JEG COUGHLIN: Thank you. Good question, and it feels fantastic. The drive for five came to fruition, and I think what it takes is much of what we just spoke of. If you're in the Pro Stock world, there are only a couple of ways to go about it. You can own the whole team from start to finish, meaning the engine development side of things, which is extremely important in Pro Stock. Horsepower is king. There is no mistaking that horsepower is very, very important. Secondly is having a good car and car management program, which includes suspension management, includes the driveline management. I think when you couple those two things together, then in comes the driver from a driving standpoint. That is all good for one run. Now we've made a run, and we need to make the fine tune adjustments. That's where the crew chiefs continue to do their work. I think the thing I would say the most is depending on however you put your program together or however you put your plan together, it is all about people and communication. We certainly don't want to teach any of these multi-car teams anything because it's already a tough class here in Pro Stock.
Q. Does it get harder to win multiple championships?
JEG COUGHLIN: Absolutely. We won our first Pro Stock Championship in 2000, had just a dominant season. That's when we were in the traditional format of a 23 or 24 race series and the points accumulated from one end to the other. That was unbelievably special being our first professional world championship and to do it in the fashion we did was amazing. When in comes the Countdown to One effort, we really ignited the whole championship season again and created a playoff for it. It's quite simple, and I think the efforts are certainly paying off for the NHRA and many other major sports in this world. So I think getting back to your question, this last championship is probably as hard or harder to win as any of the other ones, probably more from a mental standpoint because in all but one championship we've won before the final race. In 2007 we won the championship coming into the last race just over two rounds behind. Kind of felt like the underdog. We were swinging for the fences and going for that championship. Don't get me wrong. But almost had that couldn't lose attitude and were able to pull through and win that first year of the playoffs with that effort. This season here we had three or four really good teams that mathematically had a shot at winning the Pro Stock title leaving Sunday night at Las Vegas. Weirder things have happened, and we felt confident that we were going to be qualified and winning rounds and winning the race. But for some reason this one was probably a little more difficult mentally, not just on myself, but on the entire team making sure our Is were dotted, our Ts were crossed, and we got out there and performed as flawless as we could. Fortunately, that's the way it went down.
Q. I don't know if you can speak on this, obviously you guys formed that power team with you and Allen and Vincent, and it obviously paid dividends very well for everybody involved. Is that the plan next year to stay with you three? Is that moving forward for 2014? Have you guys made any final plans for that yet?
JEG COUGHLIN: I haven't spoken to Allen on a hundred percent of the plan. I know our plan is to continue to run with Allen through the 2014 season and potentially beyond. But I have not spoken with Mr. (Nick) Mitsos or the Nobiles on what their plans are as well. So I'm not up on all the info, as you would say. But I hope so. I enjoy the Mitsos family and the Nobile family and also obviously the Johnson family, and the Ingersols. They're all in this together. So I feel like we've had quite a 1, 2, 3 punch and between the three of us all together we've had a season that no other team had.
Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think your last championship was won with a Chevy. I'm wondering when you came back with Mopar, how much of a difference was that especially after having a year out?
JEG COUGHLIN: It wasn't too big of a transition for me moving into the Mopar brand in 2012. Yes, the engine power band was slightly different but we utilized items like a shift light to help us prepare for that difference a little bit. Probably the biggest change and it may sound odd was the sight line looking out of the car. In the Dodge Avenger you sit extremely low in the car and the dash line was a little bit higher than most and had to kind of tailor my behind the wheel driving just a touch from the sight line. Other than that, it was seamless. I'd say the biggest opportunity was being able to work with the engineers at SRT Engineering on the aerodynamics of the car, on the chassis side of the car, and on the engine side. So that was quite a bonus as we formed our alliances with Mopar moving into the '12 and '13 seasons, and we've got some great stuff as a team coming down the pike early in 2014.
Q. In other words, it was really an easy decision after '12 to go with Allen, right?
JEG COUGHLIN: Yeah, I think so. We started our own engine program and started it with some extremely talented people. But for whatever the reason, the chemistry just didn't make its way to the racetrack on our program. At the same time we did build some GM engines and they're running very well out there. In fact, one of them just for the most part won the finals. So it was a different game for us, and we weren't able to transition at all in that package. I think when we made the transition with Allen and the J & J Racing program which included world champion Jim Yates and world champion crew chief Mark Ingersol, Allen himself and his family. It was a lot of little fine tuning things that brought our program to life. It felt great, I can tell you, from behind the wheel.
THE MODERATOR: Brittany, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to join us. We are joined by Top Fuel racer, Brittany Force, who was named the winner of the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award Monday night at the champions banquet. This award recognizing the top NHRA rookie of the year, and is voted on by national members of the autosports media. During the course of the season, she won ten rounds of competition, including a season best semifinal performance at the season ending event in Pomona, and she also led qualifying on Friday and Saturday at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. She is the fifth member of John Force Racing to win the award, joining Robert Hight, Ashley Force Hood, Mike Neff, and Courtney Force, her sister. Those four names right there are impressive enough and the other winners of the award through the years is very impressive. What are your thoughts, Brittany, on winning this award and taking that home on Monday night?
BRITTANY FORCE: I was so excited to take home the rookie of the year award. It just proves that my entire team and everybody involved in John Force Racing, that all our work really paid off at the end. I mean, bringing a Top Fuel car into the John Force Racing pits, it was not easy, and it was a challenge. But I really enjoyed it. We had our ups and downs and we went out and struggled some weekends. But we also had weekends where we did really well. To be able to end in Pomona where we finally made it to the semis for the first time, and the Castrol Edge team made it to the semis, and we had our career best ET. We ran a 3.78. I was so excited about that. That just put me up for next year. Now after seeing that our car could run that way and making it to the semis, I don't want time off. I want to jump right back into Pomona, because I know our car and team are capable of going rounds. Really just to be able to go to the banquet and bring that award home just meant everything to my team, myself, and I was so proud of that. Bringing that home and so proud of my entire team.
Q. Your father has obviously been very instrumental in your successes this year. How proud was he, and what did he say to you after winning this award?
BRITTANY FORCE: He was really proud. He pulled me aside right after the banquet and after I saw him. He actually called me last night and left me a long voice mail and I called him back and we talked. He just said he was so proud that we won that award and then he was also so proud of my speech. He was like, your speech, I was so nervous even just having to get up there. I like to be prepared for things, and to get up there and not know if you're going to have to give a speech. I was just nervous about the whole thing, just getting up there in front of all those people because it's something I've never done before. But I was nervous. He said he was proud of my speech. Proud of our year and our team, and he's looking forward to next year.
Q. What's the plan for 2014? Obviously, the sponsorship situation at John Force Racing has been well documented. Is there any more pressure? You've obviously got things going forward in 2014. Is there any more pressure on you to try to right the ship so much to get the Top Fuel Dragster and keep it in the fold so you can improve your career and do bigger and better things? Or do you worry about anything like that?
BRITTANY FORCE: Obviously, there is that added pressure just because I only have Castrol and Ford through next year. I have all of next year with them. I'm going to do the best job that I can, and I know my team's going to put everything into it. We just want to do everything we can. We want to qualify at every national event. We want to make it into the top 10, and we want to go after and win our first race. That is our plan much that was our plan this year, but it was a little more difficult than we thought it would be. We're going to go after it next year. There is obviously that pressure just because right now I just have all of next year. I'm just doing the best job that I can do, and hopefully we can pick up sponsors. The way we're already talking to people, looking into it. But I love it out here so much. I couldn't imagine not being in the car and competing.
Q. Popularity counts. Talk about your efforts and the time spent with fans, team members, sponsors, your dad, the work you do and did to get to this point?
BRITTANY FORCE: Yeah, there is a lot more that goes into that Rookie of the Year award than just your performance on the track. I'm still very proud of the performance that the Castrol EDGE team had on the track. I'm proud of my crew chief, Dean Antonelli and Eric Lane and my entire team. But there is so much more, like I said, that goes into that award, everything from doing NHRA press conferences, doing media events, all of that stuff I actually learned from my dad. My dad taught me how to drive a race car, but he taught me everything about drag racing, how to work with the fans. Every chance I get, I'm out there hanging out with my fans which is so exciting. It's a joy for me to be out there because most of my fans are little kids, and that's so awesome. I love being able to work with kids and have little girls and little boys come up to me and tell me they want to be a race car driver, that makes my day that much better. Being able to work with the fans and being able to have your mood turned around if it's been a bad day, you went out in the first round. They could put my mood right around and get me right back on track or they could do the opposite. They could pump me up for a run and get me in my car for the first round. So working with the fans is so easy for me. But like I said, there is so much more that goes into it. I tried to keep myself as busy as I could this year. I wanted to be involved in every single direction. Every time it worked to my schedule and I could do a press conference or a media tour, I did a bunch of them. I did Houston. I did Sonoma, Pomona, Indy. I tried to stay involved as much as I could. We even ended in Las Vegas doing the downtown Vegas signing which was so much fun. I'd never been to anything like that. So that was pretty exciting. The Las Vegas Fan Fest is what it's called. That was awesome. It was just a ton of drivers there, and it was pretty cool. I hope I get to do that at the end of next year. But like I said, I tried to stay involved as much as I could. Put myself out there, get noticed and stay involved with all aspects of drag racing.
Q. What do you like best about carrying on with the Force name in drag racing?
BRITTANY FORCE: For me, I have the best teachers around me. I can go to my sisters Ashley and Courtney. I can go to my dad. He knows everything about drag racing. He's been out here the longest. He sometimes gets a little crazy and overwhelming at moments, but I really do have the best teachers around me, my brother in law Robert Hight and Mike Neff. So I'm very lucky I have all of them, their support, and anytime I need their help, I can always go to them.
Q. You obviously had a lot of teaching and coaching going into the season, but what was the one thing that surprised you the most that maybe came out of left field?
BRITTANY FORCE: For me I spent a whole year testing, an entire year testing in the Top Fuel car. But I learned that there is nothing you can learn more from gaining experience and jumping right into competition. This year, jumping out in Pomona and going to race after race, that's where I gained the most experience. No matter how many times you talk to people or sit down and ask questions, yes, it's helpful, but there is nothing more helpful than when you experience it in the car and you know what it felt like, know what it did. So the next time it happens, you either fix that problem if you
screwed up, or you know you're on the right track and doing the right thing. So, for me, it's just being able to be out there as much as I was, I just picked up and felt like I've come a long way as a driver. Starting out with what I did in Pomona. I feel more comfortable in the seat. I feel like on certain runs when it goes up in tire smoke or shakes I know how to react correctly. I'm proud of how far I've come since the beginning of the year, and I can't wait until next year to keep improving and learning. Every time I jump in that car I learn something new.
Q. When the season began I'm wondering if your sisters kind of goaded you or reminded you constantly that they won Rookie of the Year and it's up to you to complete the circle?
BRITTANY FORCE: No, they actually never brought that up once, not the entire year. It was just towards the end of it they were rooting me on. Obviously, they wanted me to win. They supported me. I was backstage before they pulled us out on stage at the banquet and Courtney was talking to me and I said I'm so nervous going out there, and she was giving me a pep talk. She said it's so much fun. I did it last year. They called my name and I was excited and I got there up and didn't know what to say. I just started talking. So she's always there to support me. So that's awesome that I have both of them. But it was pretty cool to say that all three sisters brought home the Rookie of the Year awards.
Q. Earlier Shawn Langdon said when you're a rookie there are a lot of eyes on you. The fact that you're John Force's daughter there were probably twice as many eyes on you. Did you feel all year that you were being doubly scrutinized?
BRITTANY FORCE: I try not to pay attention to that. I know there are always going to be eyes and people that say great things about you and people that say terrible things about you. So I try not to worry about that. As long as I know that I'm doing the best job that I can for my team, for myself, for my dad just the best job I can do driving and everything. Like I said, working with media, working with fans, that's all I need to know. I just need to do my job like I do it. Do the best job I can, and I know that's fine. I think we had a good year. Yeah, I made some mistakes in the car and maybe stayed on the throttle too long and ended up hurting the car, but I learned from every single run, and I feel like I've come such a long way since the beginning of the year. That's all I really need to know. It doesn't matter what people say. Obviously, that is important, but you can't let the negative things get you down. I just stay focused on everything my dad teaches me and try to do the best job that I can for myself and my team.
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