On Wednesday, August 20, Pro Stock racer Erica Enders-Stevens, Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher, and Funny Car racer Jack Beckman took part in a teleconference with assembled media discussing the NHRA Mello Yello Drag racing season so far. It was a lively discussion at times, and gave everyone who had the honor of listening in a glimpse into the minds of some of the top racers in professional drag racing today.
THE MODERATOR: Erica joins us after leading the Pro Stock points for the majority of the season. She'll head to Indianapolis where she'll be looking to get her No. 1 spot back before the playoffs begin with an untimely second round upset in Brainerd, she lost the point series lead, unofficially, to Jason Line. You have had a strong season. You kind of come into Indy knowing that after completion of the Brainerd race you'll lose that No. 1 spot. What's your mindset coming into that event?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: My mindset is going to be the same as it has been all year. I'm extremely blessed to be in the position I am in with, with a great team at Elite Motorsports standing behind me. But it's been a dream season up to this point. And we're hopeful to carry that momentum and that confidence through the end of the year, and I'm very optimistic about what's to come.
Q You did have that early round exit in Brainerd. Did you and your team diagnose what happened there?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Yes, we immediately found our problem. It was a parts failure, and we threw it in the trash and we're heading to St. Louis early next week to test prior to the U.S. Nationals. So everything will be fine and back to normal. It's just one of those fluke deals that happens occasionally. We've been fortunate enough to not encounter things like that very much this season. So I guess every once in a while it's everybody's turn to go through that. And it just so happened at Brainerd it was our turn. It was unfortunate. It certainly wasn't the comeback we were hoping for after taking those two races off in Sonoma and Seattle to get our engine program up to speed as we're bringing on two team cars starting in Indy in addition to our team driven by my husband, Richie Stevens and Shane Tucker is returning from Australia as well. So just one of those deals. But we figured the problem out and we'll be ready to go in Indy.
Q Erica, with the momentum you had throughout the season and to kind of lose it, having to take races off, that kind of thing, now you're coming back, it wasn't really magic that you and your team had. You had a lot of effort, a lot of work. You can put all that back together. What's your take on just getting that feeling back again heading into Indy and then into the playoffs?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Sure. The feeling that you speak of is not something that was lost. It was like I mentioned a second ago, just a fluke parts failure. I mean, there are a million and one things that have to go right in order to get a Pro Stock car to go down the racetrack and just an unfortunate situation in Brainerd. But you're absolutely right. There's a ton of effort and a lot of money spending and just blood, sweat and tears that go into our program. And we're right on track. We'll be just fine.
Q And as far as how do you look at say Indy and how do you look the Countdown? Indy has such an aura, but perhaps the Countdown, you know, has a little bit more for you?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Yeah, absolutely. It's how we finish the season that's going to be important. Indy obviously is the most prestigious race of the year, the Super Bowl of drag racing. So I'm very hopeful to go out there and just have a really great weekend and get our No. 1 spot back from Jason Line to go into that No. 1 seed into the Countdown into Charlotte. I don't believe any woman in a professional category has ever gone in in the No. 1 position so far. It's certainly at the top of our list of goals, but it's not detrimental if it doesn't happen, by any means. We'll just have to start out swinging in Charlotte as hard as we can and go from there and remain positive and continue to have fun as a team. And, like I said before, I'm very optimistic of what we'll be able to accomplish.
Q What does it mean to you to know that you are on the last step to what could be an extremely historical moment, not just in drag racing, but in all forms of racing throughout the world?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: You know, it's really surreal to be in the position that we're in. But even if we aren't able to finish like we hope we can, it's been an extremely awesome season and I'm blessed to be in the position I am to drive for (team owner) Richard Freeman and Elite Motorsports, but, too, we've led the points for I guess 13 or 14 races of the year, almost the entire season. And we have four wins. We own both ends of the world record ET and speed wise. We won the K&N Challenge. So our accomplishments this year have just been awesome. It's a very surreal position to be in. And I know that we'll finish strong. I know that everything's going to be fine. And I'm very excited about the end of the year. It's hard to believe that we're already approaching the Countdown as it's gone by extremely fast. But I'm looking forward to it.
Q And entering the U.S. Nationals, what is it, if you even can name it, about that one facility that just gets everybody excited, every driver so excited about being there and having a chance to win?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: It's just got so much history. And the legends that have raced there in the past. As a kid, I grew up watching all of these people that I looked up to, Shirley Muldowney and Bob Glidden and the ones after them, and it's just been one of those races and one of those facilities that's so awesome and holds so much history. NHRA held the first Junior Drag Racing League National Championship there in 1994. I was part of that. We run it off at that race in the eight and nine year old category and just holds a lot of really special memories there for me. In 2001 we got down to three cars out of 174 in Super Comp. And then in 2012 we were runner-up in Pro Stock as well. So I feel like I've got a lot of unfinished business there and I'm hopeful we can get it done this year. But just an awesome facility and it gives you goosebumps when you walk in the gate there. It's one of those deals that's hard to explain unless you've been there and experienced it yourself.
Q You talked about the specialness of the event. Is there that little bit of added pressure or do you kind of get hyped up knowing that it will be a Chevy car during the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: I guess so. We certainly want to do well there for our time and for GM and Chevy Performance. But it's just a prestigious race. And I don't try to put any more weight on one race than another. They're all as equally important. Everyone is worth the same amount of points, but the U.S. Nationals is just one of those ones that would just be an added bonus to be able to put a "W" in the win column for our team. But very excited to go back.
Q You set out the Western Swing obviously for a number of reasons. But are you at all concerned about the future of Pro Stock, Pro Stock class being that Larry Morgan said it costs him roughly $3 million a year to run his Ford. Is this becoming a lot more than a rich man's golf game, and are you concerned about the survival of the class?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: There are a lot of questions swirling around about Pro Stock as a class. You know, my team owner has, Richard Freeman, has brought a lot of things to the table, shedding light, if you will, on some of the issues that Pro Stock has. As a team that leases engines to other customers, we try to make it as affordable as possible. I mean, the engine leasing program is the most costly part of a Pro Stock program ranging from probably $800,000 to a million and a half dollars a year just to lease an engine, and of course you've got the cost associated with a race car, all the parts, your employees, travel expenses up and down the road. So I guess in the whole grand scheme of things there's a little bit of a concern about the future of Pro Stock considering we don't have full fields at some of these events. And that really stinks. I only started in 2004. So 10 years ago. And it's definitely taken a turn with the economy. So there are some issues that need to be addressed and worked through. But as a class, I mean, we have such a solid group of guys and then myself out there that are really working hard to make the class what it is. And I think we can have a really bright future. We just gotta keep working at it.
Q Have you looked at other classes like Pro Mod and any options besides Pro Stock for your career?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: My heart and soul is in Pro Stock. I'm heavily invested. I really enjoy the challenge of driving a Pro Stock car. I love that all the pressure's on the driver's shoulder. Yes, you have to have horsepower and a really tremendous crew chief. But the cars are hard to drive. And I just love that challenge of it. I mean, I've driven a nitrous Pro Mod car and driven an alcohol Funny Car, top dragster, Super Comp, Super Gas, I've driven a lot of different classes. And I just absolutely love Pro Stock. So I'm a partner with Richard Freeman in this deal, and I feel confident that this is probably where I'll finish my career. I mean, given the attitude, I'll probably drive anything, but I absolutely love Pro Stock.
Q Erica, with your dominating performance from Elite Motorsports in the horsepower part, how much will heat and humidity come against you at the U.S. Nationals?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS: Being that Pro Stock is naturally aspirated, they like cool, dry weather. They run better in those conditions. The past few years at Indy has been kind of a roller coaster as far as weather is concerned. 100 degrees one day and the next day a storm came through and we're racing in 50 and 60 degree temperatures. You never really know what to expect in the Midwest, but I'm excited to go back. And I've never had crew chiefs like I have right now. (Crew chiefs) Rick and Ricky Jones are just brilliant and very methodical and analytical, and I'm really proud to be teamed up with them this year and I have all the confidence in the world we'll be just fine in Indy. And no matter what Mother Nature gives us, I'll be excited to drive and I know that they'll do a great job for us.
THE MODERATOR: Next up: Tony Schumacher is the most decorated Top Fuel driver in NHRA history. He'll head into Indy to try to win the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for the 10th time and break a record he currently holds with Pro Stock great Bob Glidden for the most wins here at the Big Go. The seven-time Top Fuel world champion also has his eyes set on winning another world championship. Tony, you've had a very special relationship with Indy. What makes this facility so special for you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, man. Back in '96, I was hired to drive Top Fuel by the Peek Brothers, and licensed in Denver, Colorado, and got licensed on Sunday and on Monday we left for the U.S. Nationals. Showed up, qualified 16th, and that was the same year we lost Blaine Johnson and Elmer Trett. But we went to the final round. And I mean it was very special. It's been that way for nearly 60 years. A lot of people have been able to live some great moments here. And fortunately for me, we're one of the teams that have been blessed with some of the best moments.
Q Tony, athletes always talk about they never look at the stats during their career. They always look at them afterwards. But does it give you pause, when you see your name's next to Bob Glidden or next to Don Garlits. Do you ever just think, wow, and kind of revel in that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: No question about it. You're right, we don't look at the numbers. Definitely the media points them out, over and over. And I think there's no doubt that we know coming into this race that we have a chance to do something that no one's ever done. And I think it adds to the pressure. And I like that. I enjoy the pressure. But to be named with guys like who as a kid who would think your name would be listed with those kinds of names and to be in a position to have a chance to even beat some of those records. It's just… I really firmly believe I've had a very blessed life and some great teams and capable of being part of the situations and moments that we're just spectacular.
Q Tony, certainly of course you mentioned it already, certainly tracks, some tracks have more tradition than others and Indy is certainly one of those. And so many classes come to this particular race, which means there's so many drivers there. What mindset would you recommend to all competitors heading into an important race at this very important track?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I think just show up prepared. You know, we're not coming here to have a great big party. Let the fans do that, and prepare for the moment. And it's not just the drivers and teams I'm talking to. It's kids all over the place. For the media, when I do 200 speeches a year to kids. And I ask many of them: How many of you had a test this week. All of them have their hands up, because they're in school. I say, how many studied so hard you were going to get an A? They all put their hands down, laugh and giggle. I say ‘That's fine,’ But what day will you stop not preparing. What day will you show up 100 percent prepared so you leave nothing on the table and get an A plus? Because in school, like basically based on a curve, but once you graduate, that curve goes away, man. Teachers have been teaching for way too long that everyone wins and everyone gets a trophy. I will guarantee you, that is not true. That is not life. It's not how life works. I get to the finish line and my win light comes on I get a trophy. If I get there, there's no win light, they don't also give me a trophy. Even though I was pretty close, and it was a heck of an effort, nothing. You just lose. I say you show up prepared. You eat right. Get the sleep you need. You try to win Indy. You make sure if you get beat, and you can, 15 cars are going to get beat in every class, you can walk away with your head held high that you brought everything and left nothing on the table. I think it's something that people forget. They show up and it's overwhelming and it's too big, and no, it's not. Somebody's going to win. Force the issue. I heard Erica earlier say we've got a good car and I hope, I hope. No, don't hope, force the issue. It's always been my opinion. Leave nothing on the table. Show up prepared and be a machine.
Q As far as getting that record, you've got a lot of records. You get the possibility of coming away with another record at Indy. What's that mean to you, knowing that that's on the line?
TONY SCHUMACHER: It's fantastic. I thank God it's on the line because I'm a better driver when the pressure is big. I always have been. The easy races I tend to make mistakes on, the ones that don't matter. This one matters. And I know that people go oh, they're all the same. Well, this is Indy. And this is a chance. And you're not going to have that many chances. I get to drive another 10 years maybe. You're not going to have that many chances to go out and win it. People fight their whole life to win Indy once. There was a long period where we were the only car that was fast. It's not like that anymore. It's going to be difficult to win. And knowing it's going to be difficult to win is what makes us good. We'll have to try that much harder. I don't know where I'm going to find more, because I feel like I give everything I’ve got every time, but we always seem to come up with it when we need it. Always seem to find, whether it's the pressure, the rise of the heartbeat, the energy that comes with it, I don't know what it is. But we get better in these big moments.
Q I wanted to ask you about the current state of competition for a number of years we had streaking champions. You put together a long run of course, and John in the Funny Car. Last several years, though, the championship's been swapped around in practically every class. Is there something that stands out to you as a primary reason for the change there?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Most definitely. For a long time there was just me and Alan Johnson or even Alan and (Gary) Scelzi before that. There was one car that was extremely good and a lot of people trying to catch up. We developed a few extra teams. They got our knowledge. Alan Johnson left and formed a few teams that had the same knowledge. And all of a sudden we had five or six teams and then seven or eight, it really became almost up to 10 teams now that are great in all the classes. That being said, if I was going to pay money to go to a race in any sport, I would choose this right now. It is better. It is better because the drivers who came from Junior Drag Racing League, something NHRA started not that long ago, circle track racing, they've had go carts and these kids come up get better and better. Drag racing didn't have that. I waited until I was 16 and got a car and went to the local racetrack. Now we're racing these kids that are trained since they're eight. And now I think they just brought it down to six years old where they're going to learn to go down a drag strip from an early age. By the time they work their way up into the pro classes they're going to be outstanding drivers. It's what we hope for. And I hope my kids are better than me. That's what as a dad, that's what I aspire to raise my kid to be great. I hope people remember me for a good race car driver but a great father. These kids are getting better and more well trained and you're seeing them be great drivers. Garlits was a great driver. But Garlits was a great mechanic. He drove his car around. He's a great innovator. I don't know if he drove against the kids now if he would be as good as a driver as he was all around the machine. He did everything. And over the years, football players have done the same thing. You get bigger and stronger and you're trained well and you have agents and you have people showing you how to do it and doctors and mind doctors and body doctors and chiropractors, all this stuff making your body in shape ready for this intense race. We all have it now. And the driving level has gotten so good. These people are fantastic. And it makes the older guys like myself have to step up and work out more and try harder because these young guys are just prepared.
Q What about the technology, has the best technology been spread more around the sport, too?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, absolutely. And, again, with Alan Johnson, he worked with Mike Green, my crew chief. They worked together and Alan left and Mike came to my car. Now we had all this technology, and then he started two new cars and it spread. And it not only spread, but it educated a lot of crew chiefs who were already very smart but helped along the way and made a number of great crew chiefs. And over the years last year, the season the year before, you expect this guy leaves, this car leaves and they've stuck together. And we've had teams two, three years now that have worked well together. And they learn each other and they get better as a team. And I show up on race day, last week qualified sixth, racing the car of Leah Pritchett, and it's not going to be an easy race. This is a car that doesn't run every race but look at how fast they can run. There's a lot of guys with some great knowledge and it makes the trophy that sits on the shelves valuable. It's hard to earn it. It's more difficult and it makes it more gratifying. And for the fans paying money, they're getting a show. They're getting their money's worth. We are entertainers. As much as I would like to think I'm a professional race car driver and athlete and all this stuff, we're entertainers. If we can entertain, we can fill the stands. If we can get that across to people, they're going to come out to these races that's what we have to do. And nobody wants to see an easy game. Nobody wants to see a one lane racetrack and I think lately it's been outstanding. At Brainerd, I lost by 5,000th of a second. Doug Kalitta put a strapping to me. And he worked me. And it's like, man, these races are great. They're not good, they're fantastic. I think for us, NHRA and Mello Yello drag racing, trying to sell a ticket to show people to come out, you're going to see something exciting, that's what we're doing. We're giving outstanding racing. And I know fans complain about 1320 and we drop it down to a thousand feet; I think you're seeing better racing than you ever did by far at quarter-mile racing.
Q Interesting comments you've already made. I'd like to know who taught you how to be so intense and to gain what you want to gain and do your children understand now the importance of what a tenth win would mean to you?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I don't know that they understand yet. My oldest son is 12. I don't know if he understands how important this one is to me. I don't know that at that young age you can even… I mean, you're still having fun. They're still having fun. They play baseball and they win and they lose, and they're reaching the age where winning is important. Up until now they were heck, I played musical chairs with my kids not that long ago, and the teacher had six chairs laid out and there were six kids. So I moved a chair and she goes oh, no, no, they all win. I was like wow, no, they don't. I think I was daddy's helper that day. I was kind of an angry daddy's helper. You're raising weak kids. I'm sorry, that's not true. I wish I got As in school but the teacher didn't give them to me just because I showed up. You have to earn this stuff. And I have that attitude. And I've had it for a long time. I can say that when I was younger I probably didn't have it. I don't know where I learned it. My father's a fantastic leader. My team, my crew chiefs have been outstanding to work with, each and every one of them. And I think really they've taught me. Being gifted in one way that I drive for the Army has been the best gift I've ever had. These are people that I'm surrounded with every day that can't lose. And that attitude rubs off. It rubs off on me, my crew chief, Mike Green, and Neal (Strausbaugh, asst. crew chief) and my guys. We all talk about how important it is to be surrounded by great people. And when you're around that good of quality people, you learn a way to figure out how to win. Whether it's through the adversity of losing, which we have seen through the last year, you get beat, you realize you don't like this. This is not how we are. And you figure it out. Smart people with education get together and figure out how to win. And I get to watch this. And it's just whatever rubbed off on me, I won't say at a young age, but at a medium young age, I'm glad it happened. I'm glad I went through the trials and tribulations of all kinds of tough things to get to where I'm at. Because buying a race car and going fast isn't what it's about. It's figuring out how to win. I won't race forever. Whatever job I take next, whatever I go off and do, I'm going to have to figure out how to be good. And all these years of difficult situations, like racing, is a test. School ended for me years ago. Learning never has. It will always continue to go on. I need to put myself around the right people to keep myself in the right direction. I think it's part of the lessons I teach during my speeches. Surround yourself with the right people. We always have centers of influence around us. The Army does and steers people in or out of the Army, away from it. And it's important to be around people that influence you correctly, that give you the right mindset to go into the game. Our battles are very intense. Very few sports do you sit at the starting line and you can see the goal, 1,000 feet away. The cone. That's the win. When you get there first you're going to be the champ. And being able to prepare for that moment really comes down to the people you surround yourself with every day.
Q You always answer so definite and so awesomely. So one last question for you. Every drag race out there, every location seems to be the same. It's a thousand foot or it used to be a quarter mile and such. What is it about Indianapolis, about the U.S. Nationals that makes it so much bigger than almost any other facility used by the NHRA?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I wish I could give you that. I think it's you guys. I think it's the media that builds it so big. And we appreciate that. We need that. Because you're right, the racetrack, I could be in Iowa. Makes no difference. A thousand feet is a thousand feet. You're told so often how big it is that the fans believe it. And when the fans believe it they show up for a race and over the years, you know, there would be so many cars that would show up to race, it became more difficult. It was a harder race to win. It pays more money. It makes you just, makes you want to win it. And I probably have more people that want to win it because we've won it so many times, the Kalittas and Dixons and the guys that we've beaten in the finals, we've taken those away. They're just aching to win this race. I watched Langdon last year, as excited as they get when they win this race it seems like they're winning a championship. If you can't be the world champ they've always said this is the race you want to win to almost make it a little more, to ease the pain a little bit of not having that championship.
Q I think you figured out your future. When you get out of the seat, I'm ready to strap in and squeeze the trigger. That's very motivational. How big is the win at Indy in starting to the run for the championship, how big is that win, putting that one, another notch in the belt, looking down the road to that big trophy at Pomona?
TONY SCHUMACHER: Oh, it's huge. And it's always been a question, should it be included in the Countdown. Is it a great place to end the battle. To me it doesn't really matter. It's such a massive race. You need this momentum. You need it. You need to go to the first race knowing you won the last one, you've got six to go. And I love golf, but you don't get to drop a ball, you can't kick the ball back on the fairway. You get beat, it's over. It's so quick and so nasty. No 500 laps. No other chance. And I think showing that you can win these four rounds, get that win at Indianapolis and go on with six races to go with absolutely no mistakes to be made, not one, you can't even think about making a mistake to win the championship. You have to be a machine, the whole team has to be perfect and flawless and having that momentum coming out of Indy is absolutely…it's possibly the most important thing you could see in the Countdown.
Q I expect you to have that trophy.
TONY SCHUMACHER: I do too. But getting beat last week by (Doug) Kalitta will help me win Indy. He put a whooping on me. He did a better job driving a race car than I did last week. It will make me step up this week.
THE MODERATOR: OK, thanks for your time Tony. Now we are joined by Jack Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car world champion, heading into the final race of the regular season on the outside looking in. His primary mission at Indy will be to earn enough points to secure a Top 10 position and advance into the Countdown playoffs. Armed with a new crew chief in Todd Okuhara, Beckman will be one of the drivers to watch coming up next week. Jack, talk about that. You have the new crew chief with Todd. The car seemed to respond and run well in Brainerd. Are you close to kind of getting everything back together to make that one last run into the top 10?
JACK BECKMAN: I think. That's the plan. I feel we painted ourselves into the corner. We win a lot of races just kind of being mediocre, and the fact that we're not in the top 10, I'm in a position I've never been in in my entire nitro career this far into the season without a guaranteed spot into the Countdown. Even though the Countdown is relatively new, we've been only doing it since, what, '07, I think, it's just something that's unfamiliar to me, and it's been very frustrating. When I was a kid I thought I would give anything just to drive one of these cars. But I think once you've been to the top of the mountain you've won races, won a championship, you set your expectations a lot higher. So I think that we've made changes to go in the right direction to get this car into the Countdown. We just need to hope it's not too late.
Q You did have success at this event last year, winning the shootout in spectacular fashion. Does that give you a little bit of confidence coming back into this track?
JACK BECKMAN: I just think it's how you take it. It can if you want it to. And it really makes no difference because it's a different year and it's different weather. Yes, it's the same racetrack, but right now it just started raining. We just made our run in testing. I ran up to the media tower and they shut off the next pair because it's raining. So the weather does so much to a racetrack with what it does to the rubber sticking there, that we won't even have the same racetrack next week that we're testing on right now let alone the same one as last year. So I'm always confident going in. I don't think because I've won two shootouts here it necessarily makes me more confident coming back to Indy.
Q Jack, you understand the elements of drag racing both as a driver and as an instructor from your past. And you mentioned how important it is for you at this point in the juncture of the season. Is there a better time to be digging deep and could you explain what really digging deep is, a place like Indy?
JACK BECKMAN: That's not my saying and that's never been my saying. I don't know what the hell it means. I think digging deep can put you in a deeper hole sometimes. I think the drivers that say that, I think their intent is meaning finding something within yourself over and above what you've been displaying. Boy, I'd like to think that I bring my "A" game up there even in qualifying. So to say we'll just try harder because this round is more important, to me that's basically admitting you haven't done your best every other round before. I just want to continue doing the best that I can each time I go up to the starting line.
Q As far as getting some momentum like having a good race at Indy, do you think momentum is as easy to achieve as it is to retrieve?
JACK BECKMAN: You know, that's a great question. And not to be sarcastic, but parachutes take away all the momentum at the end of the strip. You know, I think momentum in nitro racing means that you find that niche with your tune up where it's responding well to everything and you have enough clutch disks to get you 20 or 30 more runs without having to run out of one and replace it, that's what tends to put us in slumps or throw us a curveball. And to stick with that term, "momentum," yeah, we just haven't had any of that this year. We'd have a good car for a few runs and then it would hiccup. It would throw us a curveball. We thought we were going in the right direction and then it wouldn't. We'd either get outrun or smoke the tires. I think that bringing Todd Okuhara back, and when I say back, when I started driving at Schumacher racing in 2006, Todd was my crew chief. So it's very familiar to be around him to me even though we haven't been in the same trailer for several years. I think the intent of all of this is to give us back some direction. And what you need to do is be able to get your car to the finish line and make it predictable. Once you make it predictable, then you can lean on it and make it quick. And a quick, predictable car is pretty damned hard to beat. If you want to see that, look at what (John) Force and Robert Hight have been able to do this year. That's what two quick and predictable cars will do. They take home a lot of trophies. We've been one or the other, but not both this year. So I think that's where we're trying to get back to, is quick and predictable.
Q You had great success in 2012 when you had a crew chief swap then. You've had another crew chief swap recently. How close are you to getting all the pieces put together to really mount that campaign in order to get into the top 10 but charge hard for the championship?
JACK BECKMAN: I don't mean to sound glib with you guys, but if you can fault us drivers in our interviews, we tend to be so cliché, it gets predictable. And we tend to put such a rosy spin on everything, that you really… I wish most of these interviews were conducted at lunch over food. So you really got to understand what we were thinking and why we were thinking it. The reality is I don't know the answer to your question. With nitro in the tank and 10,000 horsepower, it's very difficult for me to tell you that we are back on track and we're going to be great. So what I'll go off of is track records. And everything I've seen Todd Okuhara do in my entire nitro career has been to take cars and make them run fast and make them run consistent and turn them into race winners. So with just knowing that, I feel much more confident about our ability to be able to go rounds here at Indy and get into the top ten. I would be surprised, I'd be devastated, and I'd also be surprised if we don't make the top ten. Tim Wilkerson's in tenth right now. It's a single car. Tim runs it on a pretty tight budget. Tim owns the car, finds the money for it, tunes the thing and drives the thing. I'm a hired driver on a seven car team for Don Schumacher Racing. And the amount of resources we have are very impressive. We have a lot of smart people over here that are able to put their heads together. If we can't get this Valvoline car into the Countdown, I'd be devastated, but it means that we didn't earn it.
Q Number one, let me say I applaud you in your answer. You're so very respectful. So my question to you is quite simple. Have you ever faced such a challenge during a racing season and what did you do at that time to overcome the issues?
JACK BECKMAN: That's an interesting question. It's an interesting term when people say "overcome." I would say more to deal with it. I had a student at the school ask me one time, well, how do you do it? You never get nervous. I said I'm human. I get nervous. They said but you don't show it. Okay. It's how you manage it, how you deal with it. You don't necessarily overcome it. You manage it. You try to control it more than let it control you. Yeah, I've had some big moments, going up there. There's a lot of races where you're not qualified going into the last session and the bump spot's pretty slow. And you know if you get in trouble and you do a good job pedaling the car, you can get the thing in. And let me tell you that's a Mount Everest, when you're looking against it. Pomona 2012, we're leading Ron Capps by two points. First round, they go up there, they win. They're now ahead of us. We have to win. We do. We go back ahead by two points. Second round, they run in front of us. They go out there and win. Those were huge moments. And again one of you had mentioned digging deep. I just think that that's a cliché that some coach came up with. You know, you should be bringing that level every single time you step up there. Every single time. So there's times that I don't have a very good light. There's times that I have tremendously good lights. Is that because I dug deeper? I don't know. Something in my thought processes, my eyes weren't focused as well. In other words, I'm capable of doing really well and I'm capable of being mediocre up there. What I have to do is not think about that. I just have to do the things that are necessary for me to be the best I possibly can every time I step on that throttle and for four seconds while I'm guiding that thing down the drag strip and hope that everything that the crew did back in the pits, that everything that Todd Okuhara, Chris Cunningham and Terry Snyder did made that car quick enough to be better than the car in the other lane. It's a ruthless sport. You know I was listening to your guys questions to Tony and he had mentioned this is one of the few sports where you can see the finish line from the starting line. So it's kind of a lot like a 100 yard dash, except there's not eight people. And there's not a second place. If you're not the winner, you lost the race. Our sport is very cruel the way it defines each heat and then the ultimate winner. NASCAR, they're delighted for a top 5 finish. You never see a drag racer who loses second round jumping up and down because he finished top 5. It's very tough on emotions out here. And when you do this a lot of time have a lot of those big moments, you just learn to temper them a little more. The highs may not be so high, and the lows not so low. And I'll stick to my last comment: If we don't get in the Countdown, it's not because of dumb luck. We had a throttle cable break on us. We were staged in oil in one race. But the reality is those two rounds didn't put us in the position that we were in, it was the course of 17 races that have got us here. So we've painted ourselves into a corner. We've put ourselves into a position where we have to be damn near flawless at Indy to get in there. Now that's just the battle. But that's the only thing I can think about right now is Indy. Our goal is to run for the championship, which it isn't possible if we're not in the Countdown.
Q Sounds to me like you just described not just drag racing and running for a championship, but life in general. So I applaud you and we'll see you at Indy?
JACK BECKMAN: Thanks to all you guys. Tony made a comment that you are the guys that make this race big. You guys are the ones that keep this sport alive. If it's not for the reporters and the announcers and photographers, we really don't have anything to present to people except the ones in the stands. So thank you guys for caring and doing great jobs.