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NHRA Mello Yello Countdown To The Championship Teleconference Transcript
Posted by: newsla on Sep 04, 2014 - 06:23 AM
2014 NHRA: NHRA Mello Yello Countdown To The Championship Teleconference Transcript: Andrew Hines, Jason Line, John Force And Doug Kalitta

The following are excerpts from a teleconference featuring the four No. 1 seeds entering the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs. Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Jason Line (Pro Stock), John Force (funny Car), and Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) were the guests on the call today with national media.


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THE MODERATOR: Andrew, what is your mindset going into the six-race championship playoffs with that No. 1 position in the Countdown?

ANDREW HINES: Right now my mindset's just to maintain what we've been doing all year long, and that's just going out there, getting round wins on Sunday. The biggest thing is trying to keep your head calm and have faith in your team and motorcycle. Luckily, I've had that all year long. The guys here at Vance & Hines have been working on our Harleys nonstop to get us back to this point after the season we had last year. Last year I missed the cut completely. I didn't even have a chance to run for the Countdown to the Championship. Quite a turnaround to this year. I've been in this position in the past and came up just short right at the end of the year. So we're obviously in a really good position right now. I hope we can keep the momentum we've had going. I don't think I've ever had this many wins heading into the Countdown, nice place to be sitting with my V-Rod up front. Those 20 little extra points we get for being the No. 1 in points heading into the Countdown can be crucial given the way all motorcycles are running in the field. All the points can add up, the qualifying points and so forth. But right now it's just going to be business as normal, go out there and give it our best shot every single week in, week out. It gets a little tough here with four in a row. You've got to have everything in place to go out there and make a killer run at it. And we're already in the process of making everything top notch for the next four coming up.

Q How much did last year chew at you? It's a long offseason to sit there and think about it. Does it give everyone in the organization not just extra but that much more motivation going into the year?

ANDREW HINES: Yeah. You know being just out of contention last year, finishing 11 after Indy, was a tough pill to swallow for me and everybody here at the shop. We had put forth so much effort to get to the point where we were able to win a few rounds here and there. We had a few parts failures along the way last year that ultimately kept us out of the Countdown. Everyone in the shop, over the winter, they wanted to make sure we got back to 2012 form as we call it when we won 15 out of 16 events. And they put in the hours and the effort that we required of them. Nobody hemmed or hawed and they all went out and did whatever we asked. They worked the late hours and helped us fabricate new parts and throughout the entire off season it was just a whole lot of production stuff rolling through all the mills and machines here at the shop. And guys burning midnight oil. You hear that a lot, but there was mills working here around the clock. Luckily, with some of the programmers we have here, they can throw parts in the mill and walk away and come back the next day and it's done. We racked up a lot of parts in the offseason and come February we started getting after it and made almost 300 dyno pulls during the offseason to try to get back to the performance we used to have. And it ultimately paid off. We started off the season really strong. Brought up the morale of everybody here at the shop when we went out winning rounds, confident we could go qualify at the front of the field. Everybody here loves what they do for our team. It's a total team effort. It's not just the five, six guys you see on the road at the racetrack. There's 15 other guys at our shop to make sure we have perfect equipment to go up and down the racetrack. Everybody got a bad taste in their mouth when we only had one V-Rod in the Countdown last year. That's just a product of how good we've done in the last decade, especially just on our Harleys. So we've pushed through it and got back to the point where we could win on Sunday again. And it's been great for us, been great for the Harley-Davidson fans, and we're really, really excited to have a No. 1 bike going into the Countdown.

Q Eddie (Krawiec) talked about it a little bit during the course of the weekend, but how important is that dyno to be able to do that, is that kind of overtaking your on track testing program in a sense?

ANDREW HINES: It has. We've done less testing on track the last couple of years than we had in years past, just because we were behind on miles per hour at the top end. And you can go to the track and run all you want and get your 60-foot numbers down and everything. But if you don't have the horsepower to run with everybody else it's hard to go out there get win lights. That was our main focus over the winter. Like I said, almost 300 dyno pulls, 260 of them were in February before we left for the first race. So it was a lot of work. A lot of time and, believe me, making 260 dyno pulls on a dyno is stressful. I was sitting there pushing that throttle forward 20, 30 times a day at times, and you never know what's going to happen. Break a valve spring or push rods, rocker arms, whatever it might be, gets stressful; you break parts and push through it. The bad thing about being a dyno operator is 90 to 95 percent of the stuff you try doesn't work. There’s a lot of stress in that area too. But we were able to pick up about 25 horsepower over the winter and that put us right from running mid pack last year to running back in the front.

Q With the season that you guys had last year, struggling with the new engine combination, did you really think that you would be in this position at this time of the year after all the trouble that you had last year?

ANDREW HINES: Going into this year, I was just hoping to make the Countdown and be in the top 10 to have a chance to run for the championship and get a number plate on the side of my bike again that doesn't start with my division number. You know, to be No. 1, it totally exceeds every expectation I had of this year. When you're doing all that development work during the winter, you're not sure what results you're going to see on the racetrack. You're just hoping that everything's going to come back to like we had it in 2012. And you go testing and you hear people testing and doing different things all across the world there. And by the time you get to Gainesville, everybody has their own ideas. But once you get them all in the same place at the same time you find what everybody else has. Once I knew we had some decent horsepower and saw the performance of everybody else and we were able to get some decent qualifying rounds in, it obviously makes it a little easier to win rounds on Sunday when you're not qualifying in the middle or back of the field. We had a good run at that this year. Eddie has a lot of No. 1 qualifiers. He's been doing pretty good. It's been pretty good. Being in the Countdown, four wins, and a battle (MiraMonte Records NHRA Pro Bike Battle) win, to boot, can't get much better. The only thing that can get better is to seal the deal and have a No. 1 at the end of the year.

Q Start off the Countdown, we go to Charlotte, does that give you a little bit of added spring in your step knowing you had success there earlier this year?

ANDREW HINES: Yeah, that's one of those tracks that's been hit or miss for me in my career. When we started going there back in '06 or whatever it was, it took me four years to get a single round win at that track let alone four-wide or the fall two-wide race. Lately, I've been pretty decent there. And we have a pretty good handle on what the starting line needs with the little nuances it needs with the downhill track. And air has been all over the place. Don't really have consistent air year to year not knowing what to expect. We've been running in all different types of air conditions this year. We are starting to get a handle on it with one motorcycle. Eddie's running pretty decent. Mine's going to come back. I figured out some problems yesterday and I've been running C25 (racing fuel) all day long trying to get my bike running back like Eddie's. So I feel that we can go in there and run like my bike had been the beginning of the season and battle with Eddie for those qualifying bonus points. It's going to be huge coming to the end of the year.

Q What's it like knowing that Eddie is basically your main opponent for this title? He's a world champion and as you noted, probably running a little bit better than you right now. What's it like knowing that he's your biggest rival for the championship?

ANDREW HINES: It's tough, but it's a good deal because he's the other motorcycle in the pit area. But like any team, you want to have the better bike, better vehicle in the pit area. It's the nature of the beast. Every drag racer out there is ultra-competitive. That's why we run in this sport, and we want to be the best. When your teammate is the best in the field right now, it makes it tough to get around them. I know I have the same equipment, the same motorcycle, the same tuner, same everything, it's just we haven't found the tuning box that my V Rod needs to be in. And we got a little bit behind here in Indy, and Eddie's performance was in his window. So we feel we know which way to go now. I'm going to run the same engine in Charlotte that I ran here in Indy. And I obviously, I ran Eddie there second round of Indianapolis. And I had nothing to lose at that point. I feel I had won the first round, locked up my No. 1 spot for the Countdown, took a stab at a tune up and went way in the wrong direction. I already have some of the parameters loaded in for Charlotte, and if I can give Eddie a run in that first qualifying session, I'll feel really good about my chances.

Q And does this feel like 2012 swagger wise for you guys knowing that you do have the field covered pretty much every weekend?

ANDREW HINES: Not necessarily covered. We've been fortunate just to knock it out of the box here every now and then. Like the one run Eddie made in qualifying when he went .682 (seconds) to go No. 1 in Indy, it was pretty strange. It was really fast for the conditions. We're still not sure why and then the bike slowed right back down. But we feel that if I can go up there, make a nice clean straight run, there's no reason why we can't be in the top 3 every single pass.
So it's the determination of our team to put our V-Rods up front. Our guys have given us flawless motorcycles all year long. It's just been a tuning struggle, trying to learn what this new motor wants. Even compared to last year we still can't compare a lot of the notes because the motor was so far down in horsepower last year it wanted a totally different tune up. This year is kind of different, new learning game every racetrack we get to. And take it as it comes kind of situation. We have a base deal we start every weekend with. We go one way with one bike and one with the other. And hopefully by Sunday we get it figured out. And that's what we were doing earlier in the year trying to get both bikes in the final round.

Q You've mentioned overcoming the horsepower slump. What are your thoughts on carrying the momentum that you have had all year into the Countdown when it really starts to count?

ANDREW HINES: Keeping momentum is a key thing. Big thing for me is I like to be out front with having people chasing me, because it's less pressure on me because I just know I have to maintain where other people have to overcome. And if I can go out there and get a lot of qualifying points, qualify in the front where it makes race day a little easier, that's going to be key for the whole thing. In 2012, Eddie and I ran for the championship. I was No. 2 seed going in. And I had actually ended up winning Charlotte. Beat him on a hole shot. Beat Eddie on a hole shot in the final round. After that, same deal, lost the handle on my motorcycle. His stayed in his window. And the big thing is once it gets in that window, keeping it there. I've been notorious for trying to micromanage everything that happens on my bike. And sometimes I just need to leave it alone. So I'll be letting Matt do more of the keyboard strokes there trying to tune the V-Rod and keep it consistent without trying to blow everybody out of the water. That's the big thing. I'd rather go out there have a fast bike than go out there have one that's totally dominant. We can count on trying to go out there win rounds and maybe not tune ourselves out of the show.

Q When you guys overcame obviously that horsepower thing, when you overcame that, were there points during that transition that you really thought that you wondered if it was ever going to work?

ANDREW HINES: We did. There was all kinds of new components that had to fall into place for everything to work right. And it was just a matter of making sure the dyno was putting out the correct number. One thing we did is we had our dyno upgraded beginning of last year. So when we also made the switch from our old style engine to this engine, we changed all the parameters in our dyno so we were way off at that point and couldn't compare apples to apples anymore. So this year we had a little more confidence because with the motor combination we had last year and then continuing to develop it, we were able to pick up the power and we knew we were making horsepower. You could hear it in the way the motor sounded on the dyno, the way the bike idles on the starting line. Everything was getting better and better. And it was just a matter of managing that horsepower, getting it to the track. And since we're making more power, we're not even 60 footing as good as we were last year. So a little bit tougher. But Matt's got a good handle on it right now. And he's come up with some good ideas here just in the last couple of days to get my bike back up to snuff and going to go back out there and give them hell.

Q If I could look a few weeks ahead. I know the sport is uniform in terms of your competition area, but are there special challenges that you face when you come to Texas?

ANDREW HINES: There's something weird with the air down there by you guys. I don't know. It's struck us twice in three out of the last four years. We've run on Sunday in eliminations and we just go out there and our bikes only our motorcycles will lose like six, seven, 800ths of a second from one run to the next. No tune up changes. According to our weather stations, nothing changed. We weren't able to figure it out. And last year everything went fine. So it must have been something with our old motor combination, it must have been on the edge, either on timing or fuel. It didn't want to be in that type of condition on the next run, whether the motor got hot or whatever it was. Last year, everything seemed to work fine for Eddie. He went out and got the cowboy hat. This year we're just hoping for more of the same. We've got more power. We've run decent at that track in the past. It's just a matter of going back there again, seeing what kind of weather we've got and work on it from there. But one thing that's high on my list is running out there at Texas Motorplex, getting a cowboy hat at the end of the day. I've been in two final rounds there and come up short both times. It's been tough. I lost to a 20 year old and I lost to a girl one time. So it's pretty rough.

THE MODERATOR: Next up we have Jason Line, driver of Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. Jason, what are your thoughts going into the Countdown as the No. 1 contender?

JASON LINE: I think I'm starting in a pretty darned good spot. Obviously a month and a half ago I was going to be happy if I was in the top five. So the last month has been pretty darned good to me. So we definitely got our Chevy Camaro running a lot better. And it feels really good. I don't know if I've entered the Countdown No. 1 before, I'm not sure if I have or not. But there's no better place to start.

Q Jason, you mentioned having a strong finish running into the Countdown. Can you talk about the kind of momentum just about everybody really wants to get. Could you talk a little bit about that, how that feels for you and your team?

JASON LINE: Yeah, that's the kind of thing you only dream of. So it's a hard thing to achieve. And it's fun to watch when you see a team get a car and a driver in sync. And it's a hard thing to achieve. But it's fun to watch when somebody does, even if it's not you, because it's a pretty rare thing. And right now it feels really good. This is the best stretch I've probably ever had. So it gives me certainly a lot of confidence. We have great guys and we have direction right now, which is something we lacked for quite a while. So I think once you have direction, you know we're all smart enough to carry on and go forward. So it feels really good right now.

Q And what was it like to get Greg (Anderson) back after his physical problems to get him back in a car?

JASON LINE: Well, it was a little scary at first, actually, for me anyway. But it's been a crazy year with all the stuff that's went on especially with him health wise, as you get older you start to realize you're not going to live forever. At the same time it's been a big motivator for me because I realize that I may not have forever to do this. So I'm trying to make the best of the resources that I have and trying to really make it count. But it is disappointing obviously not getting Greg into the Countdown. That's our own fault. We didn't do a good enough job there. But it was sort of a long shot anyway. But we gave it a good effort. Just didn't come out good enough.

Q Jason, you touched upon that. What is kind of Greg's mindset now going into these final six races in a position that he's probably never been in before?

JASON LINE: Well, he's not standing on the roof right now. So he's really focused, I think, on trying to help me win the championship, which means help our team win the championship. So there's no question about it, we're all back at the shop Tuesday morning and back at work trying to make things better and understand where we went wrong. So his goal is the same as mine would be, trying to help our team win the championship.

Q The last few years it seems that Pro Stock has just been an unbelievably level playing field competitive wise. What is it that makes this class so competitive and the parity between manufacturers so close?

JASON LINE: It stinks, doesn't it? (Chuckling). We're doing everything we can to try to stop that. But it's just really hard. You have a fairly tight box to work in. And there's only so many roads to go down and eventually you all end up in the same place. And that's kind of where we're at now. And the devil's in the details. To try to separate yourself, it's difficult. So we're working hard on that, and I still believe we can separate ourselves a little bit. We showed moments of that at Indy this year. And my car has been very good the last four races here. And there's more to come and I hope we can put a little distance between ourselves and everyone else.

Q You talked about the last four races and how good your car has been. What did you find that has really stepped it up? Was it setup, engine, or a combination of both?

JASON LINE: I can't really tell you because you'll tell everybody else. It's never one thing. It's certainly a combination of things. But obviously the engine being the most accurate piece on the car is certainly the most important thing. It's definitely a combination of everything. But we just, like I said earlier, we have a direction now. We didn't have that earlier and kind of went around in circles. And now we've got good direction. So it's all going forward and I really feel like we're going to get stronger as the Countdown progresses.

Q Down here in Texas, I'm just wondering, when you all get here, is there any special challenges that the track here presents that you don't face anywhere else on the circuit?

JASON LINE: Crickets. A lot of crickets there. That's what we blamed on our starting line malfunction last year. But Gabrielle (Stevenson, track president) and the crew down there, they've done a nice job. They've made some improvements to the burnout box last year which we appreciated. We like coming to Texas. It's been a good racetrack for KB Racing and Summit. And I look forward to coming there.

Q We start off the Countdown in Charlotte, which has become your guys' home away from home for Minnesota natives like you and Greg. But does kicking off in Charlotte give you that little bit of extra confidence at a track that you guys are very familiar with?

JASON LINE: I don't know about that so much. But for me what it does it means an extra couple of days of work. So I think it's really it's an advantage to start here because I can work all through Thursday, and if I need to do something in the evening I can come back and work on something. So it is an advantage. And it's also pretty darned nice to be able to sleep in your own bed at night. That helps the brain a little bit. So I look forward to the Charlotte races and certainly look forward to this one.

Q Can you comment a bit about the season Erica Enders-Stevens has put together? She's really ramped it up this year. And right behind you as far as points.

JASON LINE: They've got a great team, obviously. Obviously if they hadn't skipped the two races, there's a really good chance you'd be talking to her right now and not me. So they've got a great team. And I said it before, I'll say it again, I'm glad I didn't take Richard Freeman's advice and skip two of them. So it's worked out good for us. But she does have a great race car right now. She's a great driver. She's certainly going to be tough to beat. I think there's no clear cut I guess leader as far as who is going to have the best chance to win the championship. It's going to be a tough grind right to the end.

Q I'm assuming you're putting Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin in that group, too, right?

JASON LINE: Absolutely, definitely. Allen is tough. And Jeg's always tough. They've got great power as well. Certainly can't forget about (Dave) Connolly. He's tough and Vincent Nobile. They're all tough. That's going to be a tough road. But that's what makes it satisfying when you win.

THE MODERATOR: Next up we have John Force, except for a few races this season, your car has been so consistent, one of the strongest ones within the field. How hard is it to keep up that high level of consistency all season long?

JOHN FORCE: We work as a team. If you look at my Traxxas Ford with Courtney (Force) and Robert Hight in the Auto Club Mustang, and me with Castrol, we work as a team. I think we've been in the last seven or eight final rounds. We won a bunch of them. Robert has won this Charlotte race, you know, the four lane. And then he won the regular two lane at the beginning of the Countdown the last two times he's been there. I got hot at the beginning of the year. I struggled. We got hot again. And something happened at testing. We tried some stuff, got off our game. I had to run the three in one against (Ron) Capps, and he took me out. And then we got back on our game with the Traxxas (Nitro Shootout), got the win there. And the (Alexis) DeJoria girl, doing a great job, took me out in the final at Indy. I didn't like it, but her dad did. So I've got girls, too, and I was excited for her. I didn't like losing. But now that's all gone. Indy's over. It's all about the Countdown. I need a championship as much as the other drivers out there want it. And my focus is going to be dead on.

Q In one of your post run interviews you made a comment that Castrol, you're still working with Castrol on maybe putting something together and extending the sponsorship. With having the fantastic year you've had, going in as the No. 1 seed, does that help you in your bid to make that happen?

JOHN FORCE: Understand something: Castrol and Ford have been nothing but good to me. We don't know if it's over. It's a matter that they allowed me to go looking. I've been talking to every manufacturer in Detroit, all the way to the other ones outside. Castrol, you know, a lot of things we're looking at, maybe not a car but maybe as the official oil. But we're talking to other companies about it. The ones that you know. We're just trying to stay in business. Yeah, I made a statement on TV, I oughta get out of the seat and I oughta be chasing money. I owe my kids to find the money. I work with JMI (Just Marketing International). They're a great group. Jon Flack, these guys work night and day to keep me in business. And we've got a lot of deals on the table and we've signed some. But we're not where we want to be. What I was getting at is I was entertaining all weekend at Indy, and I was running around with sponsors when I should have been focusing on my car. And I still went back and my daughter Ashley had to warm the car up. I got back in the car, of course and won the Traxxas (Nitro Shootout). I made the statement in emotion in winning against Robert Hight. It was like I ought to be chasing money. I didn't mean I was quitting. If I don't get the money to race, I will have to quit because my daughter Courtney has a deal with Traxxas. Robert with Auto Club, they're all strong. Brittany (Force) and I don't. And Brittany is going to race ahead of me. I made that promise to her, to her mother, and that's where it's going. But we're working to make it. And it's our job, our responsibility. We're big boys. We're going to stay in business and right now the focus is to win this championship to show them that John Force Racing is strong. We were lucky enough to get around Robert Hight. We got the lead. But always remember this: I won from the cellar going into the Countdown and so has Robert. Having a few points lead, nothing, makes you feel good. But right now I don't feel good any day of the week I wake up. I have a job to do. I owe my children. I owe the fans and I owe the sponsors that are with me to stay in business. And I owe NHRA. And I'm going to do it.

Q I'm just curious, how do you balance the concerns of being a competitive racer and the other stuff you're doing with the business? Are there enough hours in the day for you?

JOHN FORCE: There's not. That's the problem. I haven't been home in six weeks. I went home for one day to do a fishing trip with Tom McKernan of Auto Club. Robert was right back here at Indy. I leave here tomorrow, I head to Canada. I'm in Indy right now. I'm not going home. My laundry guy is a joke. He's shipping my clothes ahead of me to cities, suits and ties and stuff I gotta do, because I'm generating revenue in other markets. I'm trying to move back into Canada. I was up at London, Ontario. I'm looking at Edmonton and Calgary next year. On the West Coast, I'm going to Montreal this week for four days. I'll be at the racetrack doing press conferences for Canadian Racing League. So that's up there just trying to build money, trying to get back in a market to have people look at it because we've gotta go global. It's just not enough; every sponsor says do you do anything out of the country, anything in Mexico? We've gotta do it all. That's why I'm working. It's keeping me overloaded. But Robert has taken over as president of the company. And he runs the day to day business and I chase the money.

Q John, I've been fortunate to ask questions to great stars like you. Earlier this year I got to ask Larry King a question, and I mentioned to him probably nobody knows more about asking questions than him. And I got to thinking, it's like almost nobody knows more about winning than John Force. Could you talk a little bit about that?

JOHN FORCE: Did you say Larry King? A guy that's got bad hair like me. The boxing promoter, is that who you're talking about.

Q No.

JOHN FORCE: That's Don King. Larry King, the TV guy. The talk show. He's got bad hair like me, too. What was the question?

Q Like Larry King, probably nobody knows more about questions than Larry King. Probably nobody knows more about winning than you, and your comment on that.

JOHN FORCE: Like Larry King, I don't do religion. I don't do politics. I don't go to places that I don't know. I talk drag racing. And bottom line, winning, there's more to it. You gotta have good sponsor money, which we have. Peak Antifreeze came onboard this year. I've got new people joining us. Mac Tools re-signed with us. You have to have money and then you buy the right people. But the key to that is being a team effort. Everybody has to work together. And that means they really gotta work together. If a car's in trouble and like us looking at budgets, got 115 employees, I'm having to cut some people and some of them are from the race teams. But the other teams, we can't all be in the final. So the other teams will have to join to make up for the people that we lose off that team. We won't lose them if we generate more revenue. But if we don't that's why I'm taking these shows around the country. And the point is once you get to a point where you've got a machine with a guy like Jimmy Prock and Mike Neff and John Medlen, Dean Antonelli, Ron Douglas, the list goes on, Todd Smith. When you get the best, then you gotta have a driver that can drive the race car, a driver like me. I'm teaching my daughters. Robert knows the game real good. But I study the other drivers. And I watched this DeJoria girl evolve. I was really excited about her, even when she whooped me, because the sport needs the women. My daughters, I want them to evolve the same way. The kid, it was her day. She did everything right. God bless her. Her dad loves her, just like I love my kids. And you can't be mad because somebody beats you and got the job done. But I'll be ready for her next time, even if she beats me again, but I'll keep driving. But the point is you gotta have heart. You gotta love getting up every day. You gotta love the need for speed to sit on that starting line. I'm stressed all day and I'm at a point where my wife says you look like you're going to pop. And all of a sudden the body goes down on that race car, the motor fires and there's another human being inside of me that all the world, all the pain, all the stress is gone because finally for those few minutes out there you do what you love to do. It's all about heart. It's all about winning. It's all about the fans. That's what it's all about. And I've never lost that. If I retired, I would go get me a car and I'd go racing. Even if it was a hobby, because when I drove a truck, I worked all week. Here's my 40 hours and then went and raced all weekend. Never slept. I lived it. I loved it that much. You gotta, if you are going to be a champion. Nobody knows winning more than me. I surround myself with good people. I treat them with respect. If I have a bad day and I get mad, I apologize. But at the end it's from a love of what I do. I'm the luckiest man on the earth that I can drive these race cars and now I get to be with my family and my grandkids at every national event. It's awesome. Does that answer that?

Q At the Shootout, with the fans, you walked over and you shared that trophy with the fans. Talk a little bit about that. That's a nice gesture.

JOHN FORCE: So many fans will call me or they'll e-mail. I don't e-mail, but my people will tell you, they've never seen a championship ring up close. They've never seen a trophy, an NHRA win trophy or a championship trophy. Never seen the Traxxas trophy. I won the first Traxxas Shootout, got the 100 grand back then. We were towing back. We were going to go to the stage, do the typical deal, and all of a sudden, it was: ‘No, stop right here.’ I gotta admit it, what motivates me and I walked into the gym in Indy the other day and people were clapping yesterday, like what's going on, because they were at the races. And man, just my energy went up. I was Superman. I got on the treadmill. I got working out. That's how I keep myself to race with the kid. But I'll tell you, even though I was calm and cool and everybody is like: Were you upset because you lost? No, I was proud of that kid because I got girls like DeJoria. But what I didn't want to do was jump up and down and make it look like I didn't care if I lost. It was all I could do to hold in the deal. I wanted to hug her and hug her dad. I went back over to winner's circle because I like winning. When I watch somebody circle like they have and watch them win, I'm excited about that, because that's what the game's all about. And there I am with this big old giant trophy. I just wanted to whip it out and show it to the fans. I held it up over my head. I'm in pretty good shape for an older guy. And they screamed. It gave me goosebumps on the back of my neck. I could have stood there for an hour. And later the calls we got: Thank you for sharing; you made us part of that Traxxas win, and that's what it's all about. That's what does it for me.

THE MODERATOR: Next up we have Doug Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster. Doug secured the No. 1 seed in the Countdown with two wins and seven runner-up finishes. He was also a No. 1 qualifier at five events this season. This is the first time Kalitta has been the No. 1 qualifier for the Countdown and he is gunning for his first Top Fuel world championship. Doug, your car has been really dominant during the course of the season. Does that give you any extra confidence going into this six race grind?

DOUG KALITTA: Oh, absolutely. I'm super proud of my guys, Jim (Oberhofer, crew chief), Troy (Fasching, asst crew chief), just all of them working together incredibly. We've got a good, consistent car. So, yeah, we're really excited about taking this thing to Charlotte and starting this countdown thing off and hopefully repeating the performance that we've had pretty much all year.

Q I wanted to look a few weeks ahead. When you come down here to Texas, does the facility present any unique challenges or opportunities you don't find anywhere else?

DOUG KALITTA: Well, we won there last year. So I'm pretty excited about going back there. Having hopefully the same success as what we had. So the Motorplex, Billy Meyer has that thing in as good a shape as it's been in from what I can remember. Every year he makes improvements. Just looking forward to going down there. I don't really see any major challenges other than just trying to qualify good and win the thing.

Q Doug, you've always been a really good competitor, year in, year out. And you've gotten wins before, but this year it just seems like just like everybody almost kind of expects to see you pulling off another great event. And talk a little bit about that, what that's like for you and your team to be able to the guy with the target on the back now?

DOUG KALITTA: It's what it's all about. Listening to the last part of what John was saying there, it's all about the heart and then winning these things. And just wanting it just as bad or worse than anybody else out there is what keeps you out there. So our class is incredibly competitive. Just any one of the cars can win the thing, the top 16 on a Sunday. So like you say, though, my car has been more consistent this year than it's been in a number of years, it's probably the best year that I've had that I can remember. So that's our mission for sure is to go to each one of these things, qualify good, be consistent and be ready and going rounds on Sunday. We definitely plan on continuing what we've been doing.

Q As far as your team goes, how has that affected your team this year, to be able to have those good results?

DOUG KALITTA: It's definitely brought the confidence up. And obviously with Alexis winning her races. We've had J.R. (Todd, teammate) winning there in Denver. We've got a lot of positive stuff going on within our organization. And we're all feeding off one another. And obviously with Alexis winning in Indy, that was huge for all of the four teams. And we're going to be definitely ready, hit the ground running when we get to Dallas and really the next six races, the excitement, just what the Countdown format has brought our sport. And for the fans, too, it will be fun to watch and be a part of.

Q You talked about J.R. Todd, how important was that to get him into the top 10 there?

DOUG KALITTA: If you're in the top 10, you've got a shot at winning the championship. So he's super excited. He's doing a great job driving the thing. And obviously Connie (Kalitta, team owner), it's a big relief for really everybody at Kalitta Motorsports to get all four of our cars in the Countdown this year. But particularly for the guys on that team and Connie and J.R., I mean it brings life to the team knowing you've got a shot at it. And they'll be ready, I'm sure, just like the rest of our four teams or three teams, I guess.

Q To that point, that's an accomplishment in itself to get across the Top Fuel and Funny Car to get all those teams in there. Is Connie really starting to get the right pieces and not physical pieces, but kind of moving everybody around, getting everybody kind of where they need to be to get that success you're having?

DOUG KALITTA: Yeah, I think you can see it in the results that we're having with all of our teams. So we've definitely got Tommy D. (Delago). We've got Del (Worsham) and Jon O. (Oberhofer), just the whole Nick Boninfante. We've got some great people like you say Connie and Jim and everybody there worked real hard at putting the people in the right places. It's a good effort. We're pretty proud of what we've put together.

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