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NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 17, 2007
THE MODERATOR: NHRA would like to welcome the members of the media participating in today's teleconference which will include the finalists who have advanced to the Countdown to 1, the two-race championship that will determine the 2007 POWERade Series World Championships.
The championship races will be held on back-to-back weekends beginning with the AC Delco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals October 26th through the 28th at the strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The teams will then make the short trip to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona where the championship will be decided November 1st through the 4th at the 43rd annual Auto Club final.
This will be the last teleconference before the conclusion of the season. Should you need to reach a driver directly between now and then, I direct you to the page in our race notes with the contact information for all the driver PR reps. You can always call us directly here at NHRA as well.
I'll begin by asking each of the drivers to make a brief statement about racing for the championships then open it up to the questions. We'll have each group on for no more than 15 minutes.
As you know, the points have been reset for the final four in 10-point increments. From 3,030 for first and 3,000 for fourth. I'll begin with Larry Dixon, the first place driver entering the Countdown to 1 in Top Fuel. He has three wins, three runner-ups and starts with 3,030 points. Larry, a quick comment on these last two races for the championship.
LARRY DIXON: Well, obviously I'm excited about being a part of it. You know all four of us have a shot at winning a championship. I think that's what everybody set out for at the beginning of the season, so with two to go we've got a shot. I think you'll see our team no different than everybody else's team to throw everything on the table and see how it all plays out.
THE MODERATOR: Larry is a two-time POWERade Series champion.
Next in second place is Rod Fuller from Las Vegas. Rod will enter the Countdown to 1 with 3,020 points. He has two wins and three runner-ups. Rod, a quick comment on these last two races.
ROD FULLER: Like Larry said, if you can't get excited for something like this, this is what it's all about. For our sport, to have a shot at this thing, the excitement is generating for our fans, coming to Vegas, the whole town to be able to do this, I consider myself the new kid on the block.
Larry has won championships. Tony has won championships. Brandon is soon to win many championships. It's an honor just to be a part of this thing. It's going to be fun.
THE MODERATOR: Rod leads the category in round wins with 36 wins this year.
Tony Schumacher is in third place with 3,010 points. He has five wins this year, which is leading the category, along with Brandon Bernstein. Tony, a brief statement on the final two races.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think it's going to be outstanding for the fans. I think they're going to enjoy it. The four cars that are in the chase right now, in this countdown, are fantastic cars. If you look at the numbers, we've won well over half the races amongst these four cars in the field. That's exactly why we're going to battle it out for the POWERade Championship.
There are four really good drivers, four really good crew chiefs, and four really good cars. Some of us have had problems early in the rounds, like myself, but we also won races. Each one of these guys have gone out and done a good job. Privileged to be in the group. Great teams.
When you get that trophy at the end, no matter which one of the four drivers stands up there and represents their teams, I think they're going to be well worthy of it. It's been a battle all year long and it's going to come down to crunch time right now, two races.
THE MODERATOR: These four drivers that in the finals in Top Fuel have combined to win 15 races this year out of 21 races we've completed.
Brandon is in fourth place entering the Countdown to 1. He has 3,000 points. Brandon, it's been a big year for you as a career-high five wins. What are your thoughts on these last two races?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: Well, it's definitely going to be very suspenseful. Obviously we have to have our game face on and a be able to perform like we have performed this year. With the five wins, it's great to have a career high like that.
It all comes down to these two races. We have to be focused. Just like all those other guys say, they're top guys out there, Dixon, Schumacher and Fuller. It's going to be tough.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. We'll open it up to questions from the media. Please direct your question to one of the four drivers.
Q. Larry and Tony, has the Countdown at all changed the feeling you have coming down to the championship race now, like under the old circumstances where you would be fighting for the championship? Under the old points to the new ones, has it changed it at all or make it more exciting? Has it not changed a thing?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think last year at Indy when they announced it, I think a lot of it, we weren't really sure how it was going to play out. Some of us, like Hot Rod, leading the points, they're not going to benefit from it. Myself, I don't know how many times we went out first round, but it's way too many. It has benefited us. It looks like a great deal.
All I can ask for, all I can hope for, is at the end of the year is fulfilling for whoever wins it. We're going to get a bunch of money, whichever guy wins it. We're going to get a trophy. But you got to feel -- it's not about the money and it's not about the trophy. It's about feeling like you earned something.
At the end of the day, if we can go out there, it really is crunch time. If we can pull this off, it will be a little more fulfilling. I personally don't feel like we've had the most stellar year. We've gone the last couple years and really run so well that I don't want it to be anti-climactic.
I hope if we can win this championship for POWERade again, it's because we go out and win the last two races, not that somebody goes out -- three cars go out first run and one guy skates by.
But with the statistics we had, for example, 15 races we've won amongst the four cars, I don't think it's going to be that way. I think the fans are going to get what they paid for. I think we're going to get what we asked for because we've won a lot of races.
We've won most of the races amongst the whole Top Fuel field. If we do win this Countdown, I think it's going to be because we earned it during crunch time. No matter which one of these four guys wins it, it's going to be because they earn it. This is not going to be a gimme. These are great drivers. I'm glad to have my name thrown in that pot.
I think it has become more fulfilling than I thought it would be. No matter which driver wins it, I'll be proud to walk over and say, Congratulations. You're the champ. You deserve it. That's cool.
LARRY DIXON: From my standpoint, it's different just in the past points races that we've been heavily involved in, I mean, you're always looking to the No. 1 spot. That starts out at the Winter Nationals. You're counting qualifying points from that point on. With this new format, it's kind of changed the pressure a little bit.
For me personally, I spent two-thirds of the season looking how many points ahead of ninth place I am just so I'm in that first -- the first cutoff period. Then the next part of the countdown you're looking back to fifth place.
I haven't spent any time looking to first place at all. Then all of a sudden now with two weeks to go, only two races to go, now everybody that's left in it, the four of us, it's all about shooting for first place.
So it's been different. I mean, I would agree with Tony from the standpoint the guy -- normally championships have been awarded to guys that have won the most rounds this season. This year so far it's been Fuller. He's had the car week in, week out, most consistent, won rounds in elevation, West Coast, East Coast, all the different swings we've had. That's how we used to gauge our champion.
Now it's different. You race for a while, reset the points, race for a while, reset the points. I'm not going to say it's lottery style, but you have a couple good weeks and you can win this whole thing.
So it's different. I can understand how the fans and the media think it's more exciting, because it's giving more teams opportunities at a championship than they wouldn't have, and I'm one of them. Under the old format I'd be in second place, but I'd be too far out to catch Hot Rod.
So it's given the three of us a shot -- the three others that would be in this deal the chance of winning a championship we wouldn't have had. You're probably going to see a lot of people like it and one team not. I don't make the rules. We just go out there and race under the format that they give us. We'll go out there and hope for the best.
Q. Larry and Rod, with the countdown format, what do you think the long-term effect is going to be in terms of points racing now with this, looking at how much everything has changed during the course of the season?
ROD FULLER: For me, I'm kind of new to the series. I had a hard time honestly at the first of the year really understanding what the details were. All I knew is you wanted to be in the top eight the first set, the top four the second set, just to put yourself in that position.
It's kind of been a learning experience for us because we were so solidly in this thing that it kind of threw us off a little bit. Your main goal is to go out there and win races and to do well. But with this Countdown deal, it kind of changes the focus. There were some races there in the middle that we were actually just testing at the races to try to get ourselves right so we know we could make sure we could win this championship.
In years past I don't think you could really do that, because if you had one bad race or a couple bad races that you could lose some footing for the championship. This countdown has given us a chance to do stuff like that. It's kind of a learning curve I think for us and a lot of the other teams. The thing is so new.
Like Larry said, it's basically a lottery deal. Whoever does best in these two races is going to win the championship. This is the way our system is. Like Tony said, whoever wins deserves to win it.
Q. Brandon, even though the countdown format is new, does the fact that Tim Richards and your father have so much experience in championship situations increase your level of confidence, especially since you're the No. 4 seed going into the last two races? What specifically, if any, advice has Kenny given you about your own mental preparation going into these last two races?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I think it's definitely a plus to have my dad and obviously Tim Richards be in these championship battles before. Dad basically back at Richmond, we had to perform that first round, and he basically just wanted to remind me it's just another round. Try not to let it get to you. Just race it like it's another round, do the best you can do, that's all that's asked of you.
That experience is great because dad's been in those situations, and Tim Richards has, too. It's definitely a plus. It can't hurt. If I ever have any kind of questions or anything about it, then I always go to them and see what their thoughts are. So it's great.
Q. Your father, has he given you any pointers?
BRANDON BERNSTEIN: He hasn't given me any specific advice. He's always just told me to do the best you can do up there. Just try to take it round by round, just like it's another round, not put any added pressure on yourself. You got enough pressure as it is. You don't want to keep putting more and more on yourself. So he's always just said do the best you can.
Q. Rod, would a part of you feel like you were robbed with how good of a season you had?
ROD FULLER: That's the hardest question I've been asked. It's what our system is. First of the year I was all for the system because it gave a guy like me a chance that maybe I can't run as well as Larry Dixon or Brandon Bernstein or Schumacher. Maybe I was the fourth or fifth best car.
But they've given me a shot with these two races to win the championship. Now for me to be in the position being No. 1, honestly -- if you would have told me that, I wouldn't have believed it.
If I don't win the championship because of the system, and I would have won it the old way, I'm going to know in my head that, Hey, people always talk about championship-caliber drivers. My team owner always said that. My crew chief, in my mind I know I'm a championship-caliber driver, but I just didn't win a championship this way. My goal is I'm going to be racing for a long time. Hopefully I win some this way, and it all works itself out.
Q. Tony, the way you won the championship last year in such incredible fashion, does the pressure of that experience in any way help you in the countdown format, not only for your own mental preparation but for the pressure your team faces?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, I think our team -- you know, our team is extremely good under pressure. But the other three cars are, too. Those guys are not going to be easy to beat. Our car is very good and we've proven it time and time again. When the cars are on the table you don't leave anything there, you just take it.
If we pull this off, I still don't feel like we had the most stellar year. It's very difficult after last year's performance to probably ever in my life feel like you did something like that again.
But, you know, we did read the rule book. We did understand what we had to do. Sure wish we would have won more rounds. I'd feel better about it if we didn't go out 12 times first round. I think the fans do, too.
In the old days you had to show up at Pomona and just win Pomona. That was it. Ed McCullough ran all the races every year, was runner-up I think one year in Pomona and wasn't your world champ. That was a hard thing for him to deal with his whole life, too.
I think most of us are very good at understanding where we fit into this thing. We have a great team. We've won four championships. We're good at what we do. We're good at crunch time. We're very good at Vegas and Pomona. We're struggled more this year than we have. It's been tough.
You know, I'm happy to be involved. I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing. I'm happy to be racing for a championship. That's it. It's pretty simple.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to the four Top Fuel drivers for joining us on the call. Because of the number of drivers we're having on today, I'm going to move on to Funny Car, try to get as many of the drivers available to you today as possible. Thanks to the Top Fuel drivers. We'll see you next week in Las Vegas.
Now I'd like to introduce the Funny Car drivers. I have three of the four drivers with us today. I'll begin with Tony Pedregon, who enters the Countdown to 1 in first place with 3,030 points. Tony has three wins this year and a runner-up.
Tony, as I did with Top Fuel, I'd ask all of you to give a very brief statement first before we open up to questions on the Countdown to 1.
TONY PEDREGON: My statement would be that we're here testing. We're in some very good company to be in the top four. It's a big achievement for me. I got my car set up and my trailer here at the track. I glanced over at Schumacher's small army of about 10 race car haulers. Right across the road is Force's. Pretty much looks like he has the whole block taken up. Then it's my rig.
Like I said, we're in good company. I think my team has worked hard and we're real privileged and pleased to be in the final four.
THE MODERATOR: Tony is one of the two drivers in the final four in Funny Car who won a championship previously, in 2003. The other former champion is Gary Scelzi, a four-time POWERade Series world champion.
Gary will enter in second place with 3,020 points. He leads the category with four wins, and two of those wins came in the Countdown.
Gary, opening statement on the Countdown to 1.
GARY SCELZI: I had to get a box of Kleenex for Tony because he's trying to make us all feel sorry for him about racing these trucks. Everybody knows how deadly Tony is. We're not feeling sorry for him at all.
We're doing the same thing. We know that these last two races are going to be big power races. It's going to be big power here in Vegas and big power in Pomona. Tony set the national record in Phoenix, Arizona.
Both of these facilities we're going to are better than Phoenix obviously. We need to come out here, make big numbers, we need to try some things, and then we need to go into Vegas with our guns ablazing. That's our plan.
Todd and Phil are working good together. We got Jack's car we're trying stuff on. Capps just made a great run. Shut off early. So things are good. It's going to be a war. NHRA wants fan excitement. I tell you what, they ought to see what they're doing to the drivers, they're making us a mess.
THE MODERATOR: Third place entering the Countdown is Robert Hight. He'll begin with 3,010 points. Robert has two wins and three runner-ups this year.
Robert, quick opening statement from you, please.
ROBERT HIGHT: You know, when they announced the countdown I looked at it like, man, it's going to be tough to make the top eight. You look at all the cars that are out there this year, how good they are, how many cars can win at any given race they go to. Now here we are the last four. Still to be a part of that four is very exciting for me.
I look at it, it's been a tough season for John Force Racing. Had John not had his accident, one of us would have probably been out of there. Could have been me. Another one was Eric Medlen. He probably would have been in this final four, too.
I am excited to be here. It's not going to be easy. We're on our way over here to test in Vegas. I'm excited that we're going to have Phil Burkhart testing John's car and we're trying to get Mike Neff his license. Lot of things going on at John Force Racing and the NHRA POWERade drag racing. I'm excited to be part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Ron Capps enters the Countdown to 1 with 3000 points. He qualified with his semifinal win at Richmond that got him into the Countdown to 1. Ron, you want to talk about that emotional weekend in Richmond and now your thoughts moving forward with a chance to win the championship.
RON CAPPS: Well, it was kind of the epitome of the Countdown. We were barely hanging on. Of course, with Force being out, that put us fourth going into that weekend. It was an emotional weekend because we were fighting to get in, yet I had one teammate that was barely ahead of us, and then Scelzi was behind us.
As you know, Scelzi and I are pretty tight. I kind of wanted us both to get in. So we felt bad for Jack. But it's tough because we are teammates. We're like brothers. Yet you got to get up there and battle. It's almost like you want to try to even more so because it's your teammate.
It was an emotional weekend to get in. Gary had to remind me that Jack didn't get in at the other end. It was great TV. Got a lot of emails. A lot of fans loved the excitement. Some of them don't like -- they're a little bit old school and they don't like the Countdown. I think it's every bit of what NHRA wanted.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us to be on the call. I'll open it up to questions.
Q. Robert, how does it feel not having John there on the team right now? Do you kind of wish you had him going into the last couple races to be there, you could lean on him a little bit to get some advice?
ROBERT HIGHT: Well, John is going to be at the last two races. He won't be competing, but he will be there. He's having his bus revamped right now so he can be out there and do his physical therapy on the road. As long as he's out of that hospital, there's no way you could keep him out of that last two races.
But trust me, I do want him there because he's won 14 championships. If you look at it, I'm kind of at a disadvantage here. I'm the new guy. Capps has been down to the wire a lot. Tony has won championships, so has Scelzi.
Having John in my back pocket, having won 14 championships, Austin Coil, all these guys, they really help me and take the pressure off. Mostly just go out there and make it run just like it's every other run. First got to qualify. That's a big deal. A lot of Funny Cars haven't qualified this year.
In years past if you didn't qualify at a race you wouldn't even be in contention for a championship late in the year. With the way the Countdown is and everybody not qualifying, this whole season has been a little strange.
Q. Ron and Robert, when you have a couple of former champions in this field, and of course the knowledge that John is going to come back at some point, do you wonder whether this is the time to get a championship now because that window might never come up again, or do you feel the field is just such that you're to get your sooner or later?
RON CAPPS: I think you've been seasoned when you've been through those situations. I know Robert, you tend to forget he was just a rookie not too long ago, and he's done everything that a veteran would do under crunch situations. I kind of don't even take that as Robert being inexperienced. I put him right there with Scelzi, anybody else, in those pressure situations.
Gary's obviously been down that road. You know he's not a guy that's going to make a mistake as a driver. So when you throw everything in there, Tony, I remember watching him clinch the championship in Vegas.
I don't know. It's going to be unique because we went down to the wire in Pomona a few years ago. It's just that feeling you get, the huge butterflies in the morning. You got to kind of take those and use them to your advantage. Anything can happen.
I guess on the Internet they said the top four right now in each category would still be the top four, maybe not in that position, but still the top four in points, which is cool. I just hope in the end the guy that won all the races at the beginning of the year, which would be us, would be the champion (laughter).
You know, as far as the Funny Car class just on its own, I think it's just going to be a whole team that you kind of look at. I don't think you can take any of the four drivers and put them out and say this is what's going to happen or this guy might fold under pressure situations.
I think you got -- no disrespect to any of the other teams -- I think you've got four of the best teams to duke it out for two races. It's already exciting.
Q. Robert, you mentioned earlier being in this select company. What are your thoughts going for this championship, taking advantage of this opportunity while it's there?
ROBERT HIGHT: I'm very excited about it. That's one thing I like about NHRA drag racing, is all four of us here in the final four are all friends. We're all good buddies. When you come up to the starting line, you want to win. One of the questions earlier is, is now a time to get this championship since John's out? Well, I've worked with John so many years and been on his team that I've never rooted against him, so I'm not going to start now.
Last year it was Capps and I and John fighting for the championship on the last day of the season. Obviously I wanted to finish, but next was John.
He's going to be back. He'll be tougher than ever, there's no doubt about that. But it's going to be fun. When this is all said and done we'll all still be friends. That's really what's cool about NHRA drag racing.
Q. Tony, with regard to your mental approach going into these last two races, would it be your worst nightmare to be eliminated by someone that isn't in the Countdown in the early going? In other words, is it really your desire to be facing one of the other three countdown drivers when you get to the final round?
TONY PEDREGON: Well, I think that's a reality for all of us, that the focus is on the top four cars to have a chance to win the championship. But I think there's probably some pretty pissed off drivers that didn't make the final four that would love to, you know, make it so that they could become a spoiler.
You know, really in a sense, I think the final outcome is going to be a little different. But I really believe that going into these last two races, I mean, the approach for any of us that are in the top four, we can't discount the fact there are some other cars and some other teams. It's going to be business as usual.
Really you take away all of the prerace and all the hype, I mean, I think the new points system has without question made it a lot more exciting. But I think for all of us that are in the top four, we've all got a lot of experience. We've all got very good teams and a lot of good backing. I really believe that we're all professionals. I bet when you get that helmet on, if you're thinking about some of those things, you're probably in the wrong place, and that's going to leave you vulnerable to mistakes.
I think before and after is probably when we're going to think about that. I think as individuals and as drivers, our focus is instinctively as drivers, we get in the car and we're competitive by nature. I think it makes it exciting for the fans and for TV that there will be other cars like Force's cars that are going to try to help influence the outcome for Robert, as is Beckman for his drivers.
There's Cruz. I've got Cruz. We've got to try to utilize him to the best we can. When it's all said and done, I really believe we're going to all race, we're going to race heads up, and I think that's what's going to make it exciting.
I hope I answered your question.
Q. Robert, with everything that you and your team have had to go through this year, what is the mood within the team right now? How would you characterize it? Is the attitude sort of that the new countdown format is just one more hurdle that we have to overcome?
ROBERT HIGHT: No, none of us have ever been against the Countdown or any of that. Actually I think the Countdown gives everybody a little chance to test throughout the year. It makes the first part of the season not quite so nervous. But the mood of our team definitely is different.
Our main motivator isn't with us. He's not over here testing. He wasn't with us at Richmond. When we started the year out with four cars, last race we were down to one, it's definitely taken a toll on us.
But we are still in this position, and we want to make the most out of it, not just about going out and doing whatever it takes to win, but also to make these cars safer and avoid some of the problems we've had throughout the year.
I believe we are still in this deal. I think we have a great shot at winning. I've got a lot of backing behind me, great sponsors. With the brain trust we have over here, if I do my job, I think we can be right with any of these guys at the end. That's what our goal is right now.
Q. Robert, being so close now coming down to the last couple races, are you starting to get a sense if you do pull off this championship it would really mean maybe a lot more to the team than the other 14 that John won? John said if you won one it would mean the most to him out of everything he's done.
ROBERT HIGHT: There's no doubt about it. You know, having overcome what we've gone through this year, if we could be lucky enough to win this championship, that would put kind of a good note on a bad year.
But I will say that it's not going to be easy. These other three guys out here, they're just as hungry. They've got great teams. It's definitely going to be exciting. But my biggest motivation is John gives all the money that we earn to all the teams and they split it up.
I think what's motivated him all these years is going out there and not screwing up. That's these guys' winter paychecks and bonus money, puts food on the table, all that stuff. That's the stuff that motivates John Force. That's what I want to learn and be able to do here because I don't want to have to look at all these 65, 70 employees and say I was the one that screwed it up.
A little pressure, but I'll have a great race car, and that takes a lot of the pressure off. Just go out there and make runs like I always have. John told me a couple weeks ago, Don't change the way you drive your race car. Go out there and do it just like any other run, test run, qualifying. You know, I think we have a shot.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys, for joining us today. We're now going to move on to Pro Stock.
Let's start with Dave Connolly. Dave Connolly is in first place in Pro Stock. He'll begin the Countdown to 1 with 3,030 points. Dave had eight wins this season which leads the category, and he's won five straight, including all four races during the Countdown to 4. Enormous momentum coming into the last two races. Talk about trying to maintain it to win the championship.
DAVE CONNOLLY: We're still out here at Farmington this weekend testing. We're going to continue to test all the way till we get up to Vegas. We're going to try to have the best race car possible when it comes down to that Countdown to 1. If we have the success we did with the Countdown to 4, we're looking pretty good.
We're going to take it one round at a time just like we have all season. With the pressure of Las Vegas, there's going to be a little added pressure, but we're going to deal with it the best we can, and whatever happens happens. It's definitely not going to be lack of effort by no means.
THE MODERATOR: Second place in Pro Stock, Greg Anderson. Greg has 3,020 points entering the Countdown to 1. Greg, you're one win behind Dave this season, one round win behind him, 49-48. If you look at the aggregate for the season, those two cars couldn't be any more even.
GREG ANDERSON: You got a point there. If you look at momentum, Dave's definitely got that going right. We've got to find a way to slow him down. He's doing a heck of a job. That team is fantastic. He's on a heck of a roll.
Not only I, but obviously Jeggy and Allen have to find a way to stop him. That's a He-Man chore right now. We're out here in Vegas testing right now to see what we can learn. We're looking for something, just trying to find a way to get around David.
Obviously it would probably be ridiculous for Dave and I to just think it's going to come down to he and I. There are two other guys in this chase. There's a whole lot of other guys in this class that would love to send us packing early and spoil this deal. We can't just look at each other right now and think about that.
There's certainly four cars very capable of winning this deal. I was thinking about it yesterday. I would just about bet the farm on the fact that any one of these four drivers this year have probably had a two-race stretch where they made more points than any other car in the class.
We've got a two-race deal. It's all we've got. It's certainly not a stretch for any one of them to put together a two-race run and win a championship. There's no telling what's going to happen. I'd hate to be the oddsmakers picking the odds on this deal.
THE MODERATOR: Well, in these two races, the two most successful drivers are the veteran drivers: Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin. Greg has two wins at Las Vegas Two and three wins at Pomona Two. Right behind him in that category is Jeg Coughlin with one race the Vegas Two, and three wins at Pomona Two.
Historically the most successful drivers at these last two races in the category. I'll turn it over to Jeg Coughlin who enters in third place. Jeg is a two-time champion. Jeg will start with 3,010 points. Quick opening statement before we move on to questions.
JEG COUGHLIN: We'll, we're definitely excited about the Countdown to 1 heading into Vegas and Pomona. Everybody here has heard a lot of the dialogue from the Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers. Much of a similar story with the Pro Stock cars as well. There's four of us. All four of us are capable of winning.
I think that's exciting not only for NHRA POWERade drag racing, but it gives us the drivers, the teams, the media, the opportunity to get out and promote the heck out of this sport that we know and love, and that's great for all of us, the sponsors, great for the teams, the team owners and for the sport.
Exciting times. We're glad to be a part of it. Obviously it's been a fun stretch to this point. As Greg pointed out, any one of the two of us probably have had a good two-run stretch, although it's tough to argue with Dave's success here the last five. But the other three of us are ready to mix it up and put our name in the books as POWERade champion.
THE MODERATOR: The fourth driver in the category in the Countdown to 1 is Allen Johnson. Allen will begin the Countdown to 1 with 3,000 points. Allen, we talked to Robert about what an emotional season it has been for John Force Racing. Same thing with your team. Do you want to touch on that quickly, what it would mean for you to put a great two-race streak together and win this championship.
ALLEN JOHNSON: It would mean a lot. I'm in very humbling company with these guys. They've kicked everybody's butt for years, Greg, Jeg and now Dave. I'm sitting here thinking, I'm probably the veteran of these four. I think I may have about five or six races on Jeg. I think he started at Memphis in '96. I started in Phoenix. I think that's right. They can correct me if not.
Yeah, there the first of the year when dad had his problem at Phoenix, man, that was a close deal. I'm as glad to be in this deal for dad as I am myself. He's been wanting to do this his whole life, and I was able to put together the opportunity for him. I always knew he would excel at it. He's just now getting his feet on the ground the last two or three years with the motor program and doing awesome.
We feel humbled to be here. We've got a very good chance. Like Greg said, starting at St. Louis, I think from there to Sonoma we kicked butt and probably won more rounds and points than anybody. Now we just got to do it for two races instead of four. We just got to have a break, a little luck. Of course, Dave's used up all of his the last five, so it's gone.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, gentlemen. I'm going to open it up to questions now.
Q. Allen, do champions have common traits and abilities? If so, can you identify a few?
ALLEN JOHNSON: You know, I would think the main common trait and ability with champions is their competitive nature. I think everybody in our class -- I know the four sitting here -- they're competitive as the devil. We go bowling, we go drinking. Whatever we go do, we try to outdo one another. That's a real, real strong trait, I think.
The other one is being able to motivate people. I know, of course, me and Jeg own businesses with hundreds of employees, so we learned that. Greg has put together a team of people over the last few years that is probably the most awesome in drag racing, period, bar none. He's a good motivator.
I know Dave has been around the bracket racing deal and all that for years and has put together this program he's got. I think his competitive nature brings the motivation. So those two I think is probably the most important.
Q. Greg and Jeg, it's about the difficulty of winning a second championship. Can you identify what it takes and why?
JEG COUGHLIN: Without question, winning the first one is always the most gratifying because it's something new, something you've strived to do your entire life. If you're fortunate enough to win a championship, very, very soon thereafter your goal has now changed to win a second, third, fourth, whatever the case may be.
The common trait question, I think Allen hit it on the head, everybody's got to be extremely competitive. I think, again, not to circle this thing back around to our Countdown to the championship format, but this year's champion is going to see a new -- is going to be the inaugural champion under the new points format. For some they're going to look at it as bittersweet.
But I can tell you from sitting in the No. 3 spot, if we win this championship, it will be as special as the first one we won and equally hopefully as the next.
It's going to be exciting. We appreciate everybody's support on this whole subject.
I'll turn it over to you, Greg.
GREG ANDERSON: I think on that deal, there's no doubt, that first one, I'm certainly not going to say it surely was easy. It wasn't. There's no question that second one got a lot tougher. You're just flat not going to sneak up on anybody anymore, and you probably could have said that during your first championship campaign when you weren't expected to win.
Everybody guns for you extra hard when you come out the next year because you're the champion. You got a huge target on your back. For that reason, you've got to find a way to perform better than you did the year before or you won't win again.
It definitely gets tougher with every one, without a doubt. If I could somehow pull this one off it would be my fourth. There's no question each one has gotten more difficult to get. This one certainly will be by far the most difficult one yet if we can achieve that goal.
Q. Dave, obviously with a streak like this, do you wonder if what Allen is saying is true about your luck running out? Have you had a chance to really grasp what you've been doing here these last few weeks?
DAVE CONNOLLY: Not exactly. But Allen does have a point. We've used up some luck in these last five races, there's no doubt about it. And in the same sense, I never dreamed of winning three in a row or four in a row, and before that the first and second one had to come.
To win six or seven is definitely going to be extremely tough. Like Greg said, each championship comes, it gets tougher and tougher each one. That goes the same for each event and each race. It's getting tougher. Especially these last two, I mean, because not only us four in the Countdown, but we also have 12 other guys out there that are wanting to be some spoilers in this whole deal and take us out.
I'm real thrilled and excited about what we've accomplished in the past. But yet the job is definitely not done and championships are on all of our minds right now. We're going to do everything in our willpower right now to go out there and pick up the sixth or seventh in a row and try to win this championship for everybody involved.
That's kind of what's cool about our class, you know, it's such a team effort. There's so many other guys that are working forward for this whole program, too. There's so many people that get enjoyment out of each win you get. We're just going to go in there and see how it plays out in Vegas. Hopefully Allen is wrong and I can still have a little luck left in me and use it up these last few races.
Q. Obviously with two races left, if the streak ends at Las Vegas, you just have to win one of the next two and figure you're in good shape in the big picture.
DAVE CONNOLLY: No, no, definitely not. I mean, you look when they made the cut down to four, it was me and Greg both in the last two final rounds. Jeg had a couple minutes. A.J. has got on hot streaks, too. The way I look at it, in my shoes, I got eight rounds to win to secure it and lock it up.
If something happens differently then you just have to see what each race brings you. Vegas being first off, you have to see how everybody does, how it pans out, see where the points lie of after that.
I think Pomona is going to be real exciting. Whether you get an early exit at Vegas, you're going to have to play the ladder, catch who you can to win this championship. But by no means, no, it's not going to take one race to win. There's four great cars in this Countdown. I think it's going to at least take six, seven, eight rounds to win.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to the Pro Stock drivers for joining us on today's call. Best of luck to all of four of you at the next two races.
Lastly I'd like to bring in the Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers. I'm going to begin with introducing each of the riders and ask them for a short brief statement on the Countdown to 1.
First off is Andrew Hines, who is in first place. Andrew has a category best four wins this season and he'll begin the Countdown to 1 with 3,030 points. Andrew, defending champion. Thoughts on these last two races and trying to defend the championship?
ANDREW HINES: Well, I can't wait to get back to Vegas. We won that race last year. It was really our turning point in the season. We were quite a few points back heading into that race. Luckily got past Antron Brown in the second round, who was the points leader, ended up leaving that event with the points lead heading into Pomona.
This year's a little different with the Countdown to 1. Right now I have a 10-point lead which I feel I'm sitting better than I was last year. It's all different now with the countdown, the way the points were last year. But our team's real hungry for the fourth championship.
No Pro Stock Motorcycle rider has ever won four in a row. Our team wants it more than just myself. They've done so much research over the last five years trying to get this bike to where it's at now. They're really striving for it. They're actually working on the dyno right now. I'm sitting in my dad's office trying to get away from the noise.
Hopefully they'll be able to find something and hopefully we can have a quick bike, because the qualifying points are going to matter in this field more so than ever in the past. I won the championship last year by 23 points. That was just by qualifying.
If we can get a couple over Chip or Matt and Peggy, it's just going to be better for us. So we're just going to go out there and get that V-Rod down the track as quick as possible.
THE MODERATOR: Second place is Matt Smith. Matt arguably had the most consistent motorcycle all season: Three wins, five runner-ups, 31 round wins, which leads the category. He'll begin the Countdown to 1 with 3,020 points. Matt, an opening statement from you on these last two races, trying to catch Andrew and hold off the two riders behind you.
MATT SMITH: It's going to be a good deal. I mean, we've had a good bike all year. We've battled Andrew, Chip and Peggy all year long. Andrew has beat us every race so far this year that we've ran them in elimination. Chip has had the best bike the last two or three races of the year.
I think we just got to get our performance up a little bit more and run with Chip and Andrew and Peggy. I think we'll be in good shape.
Like you say, we've had the most consistent bike. If we can do it, we can win four, five, six rounds, I think we'll have a good shot at winning this championship.
THE MODERATOR: Chip Ellis is next. Chip begins the Countdown to 1 in third place in Pro Stock Motorcycle with 3,010 points. He's made five semifinals. Chip, talk about the importance of going rounds on this year Sunday. You've had five semifinal finishes this year.
You're the one rider in the Countdown to 1 of the 16 drivers who has yet to win a race. Talk about how important it would be to get that first win in Vegas or Pomona.
CHIP ELLIS: As Matt said, I had a great bike for the last few races, and as a driver I just haven't been doing my job. I'm really looking forward to Vegas. We went and raced the All-Harley Drags over the weekend in Rockingham. The bike ran flawless. I had good lights. That was a good confidence builder for me.
You know, with this new points deal, I was kidding Matt at Dallas and I told him, Dude, I ain't won a race, ain't even made it to the finals, but I'm only 10 points behind you. Now would be the time for me to take that great S & S Power Buell and do what I've been supposed to do all year: Just go out and have fun.
Vegas has been real good to me the last couple years. I won two out of the last three races. I got my first NHRA win there. I wish we were leaving today to go there, but unfortunately it will be next Monday before we leave.
THE MODERATOR: Chip has five career wins, two in Las Vegas.
Fourth place in Pro Stock Motorcycle is Peggy Llewellyn. Peggy will enter with 3,000 points. She has one win this year on four semifinals. Of course the one win came at the final race for the Pro Stock Motorcycle in the Countdown to 4 in Dallas. She needed every round that day to get into the Countdown to 1. Peggy, do you want to talk about that emotional Sunday in Dallas, getting into the Countdown to 1.
PEGGY LLEWELLYN: Yeah, because all this is new to me and new to our team. It's something that George and I had been working on from the first race of the year when we were in 29th place. It's just taking each round at a time. I know I'm still a work in progress. That kind of doubt had crept into my mind each of those rounds. I took them one round at a time and just focused on my process. That has helped me throughout the whole year and that's what I'll just continue to do these last two races.
It's going to be exciting for the fans. It's exciting for me. I'm just humbled to be in the company of Andrew, Matt and Chip.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the riders.
Q. Peggy, do champions, NHRA champions, all motorsports champions, do you think champions have common traits and abilities? If so, could you identify a few?
PEGGY LLEWELLYN: I think they do. It would be that we're competitive, just to be able to focus on getting the job done. So I would say competitiveness and focus.
Q. Andrew, the difficulty of winning a second championship, can you identify what it takes to win back to back or even a second championship and why?
ANDREW HINES: It's all a blur now (laughter). The second championship was definitely tougher than the first. Like Greg Anderson said a little while ago, the first one you can kind of sneak up on the people. When you're going out for your second one or your third one, like he said, you have a big bullseye on your back. You can't go out there and expect to win every round.
It's tough because everybody's gunning for you. You've got so many great bikes out there this year you don't know who's going to win one round to the next. A lot of rounds have been won on whole shots, a lot of rounds have been given away on red lights. There are so many different that have played in to different people's hands.
I mean, we had a good bike in the middle of the season, but we had a horrible bike at the beginning. Hopefully we have a good bike at the end here. That's what we're shooting for. But we know got three Buells behind us that are that are going to be tough.
THE MODERATOR: As a matter of statistics, Andrew won here in 2006 in Las Vegas, and Chip won here twice, as I said, two of his five wins have been at Las Vegas in 2004, 2005. So you have the last three winners of this race among the four finalists.
Chip, what is it about Las Vegas that's been so good tow in?
CHIP ELLIS: I really don't know. I like the racetrack. When I rode for Kawasaki on their funny bike, that was actually the first place I held the bike wide open. I won lot of races there on that funny bike. I've been 229 miles an hour there.
Like I said, I got my first NHRA win there. I heard a rumor that they're going to change the name of the track from The Strip to The Chip, so I'm going to go down there and just focus on getting good lights. As Andrew said, there's been a lot of races that have been won on whole shots. The class is so competitive now. It's right up there with Pro Stock cars where you got a few hundredths of a second separating 1 from 16.
I'm just ready, man. I feel more ready right this minute than I have all this season. The guys at the shop, they've been doing a great job with our horsepower. It's up to me, and I'm up to the task.
Q. Why have there been so many red lights in this class this year?
ANDREW HINES: I think the level of competitiveness by all the Pro Stock Motorcycle riders, it's really evolved over the past few years. It's so tight now that everybody is trying to do everything they can to get the advantage on the starting line.
When you're pushing it that close the motorcycles react so quick compared to the other cars. We don't have any stagger in the front wheels because we only have one. It's so tough now. We have to find a way to slow them down. You still want to try and get every advantage you can. So you have to find that little happy window where you're not red and you're not too late.
MATT SMITH: Real quick, I just think it deals with the horsepower-to-weight ratio on the motorcycle. You look at the difference in the tire size that we run and the horsepower and the weight of the bike. The bikes just react quicker than any of the other three professional categories out there.
CHIP ELLIS: Matt summed it up, as well did Andrew. The Pro Stock Motorcycles are the fastest reacting vehicles at the racetrack for the first foot. I know when I go test I can go red every time and see yellow plain. Touching again on what Andrew said, it's all about finding that happy medium.
I think Matt has done that the best this year. He's been consistent on the tree. Although he hasn't had the fastest bike at every race, he's been consistent when it counts. That's what it's going to take to win this championship.
THE MODERATOR: Peggy, thoughts on the red lights?
PEGGY LLEWELLYN: No, I'm going with Chip, Matt and Andrew, with the bike. They react quicker and I'm usually a sleeper (laughter).
Q. Since it's such a problem in the Pro Stock Motorcycles, is this going to affect your strategy? Chip, are you going to try to be a little more conservative because all the marbles are on the line?
CHIP ELLIS: Yeah, what I'm going to do is just do what I did over the weekend. I just kind of changed my train of thought, my thought process around a little bit to try not to think about the lights so much, because that's been my struggle.
I ride the bike really good once I leave the starting line. I hit my shift points on time, I can go straight, I can tell my crew exactly what happened. But that fear of red lighting, man, it's a bad thing. For me it's either been I red light it or I'm late and I haven't found that happy medium. I did find something this weekend that worked for me to find the happy medium and I'm just ready to go apply that.
THE MODERATOR: To all the Pro Stock Motorcycle riders and to the rest of the drivers who joined us on today's call in the media. Thank you.
We'll have one final teleconference on the Monday or Tuesday after the season with each of the four champions. Each of our final two races will be televised at 7 p.m. eastern on ESPN two and ESPN-2 HD. Thanks, again, for joining us on today's call, and we look forward to seeing you along the way to the 2007 POWERade Series championships at Las Vegas October 28th and Pomona November 4th. Thank you and have a nice afternoon, folks. ESPN-2
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