With only two races remaining in the schedule, less than 100 points separate the first- and second-place drivers in all four categories in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. The first- and second-place drivers in the Top Fuel category, Larry Dixon and Cory McClenathan, and first- and second-place drivers in Funny Car, Matt Hagan and John Force, meet the media to discuss the state of the Countdown to 1.
Q: Cory, how do you and your team battle back from the heartache you felt just two weeks ago and get back into the hunt for a world championship?
CORY MCCLENATHAN: Well, obviously that one round would have certainly made things a lot easier going into the last few races. But you know, 89 points is still not insurmountable. It's still a doable thing for me as far as I'm concerned. If Al‑Anabi, if they slip up at all, you know, or if Larry has a bad day with his car, then we are going to be right there when it goes into Pomona.
Obviously it's hard to go out there and say, well, let's qualify one or two, and we have got to wait until the finals to race each other. It's going to be kind of up to other people to do my dirty work for me because obviously we want to qualify well in the field. We want to get those little points as well as the bigger points; to be the quickest car each session in the qualifying. There's some good points to be had right there and it might make a difference come Pomona.
We are going to go in business as usual, go out, get qualified, go for it Friday night, and then let everything kind of speak for itself on Sunday. Larry and I have had talks a lot in the past, we always like to leave it up to the cars, let the cars speak for themselves and that's what we are planning on doing.
Q: Larry, you're padding your points lead with your win in Redding two weeks ago. How do you keep your composure and winning ways heading into the final two races of the season?
LARRY DIXON: Oh, for me I just try to keep my head down and just worry about the run in front of me. It's great to read the stories that everybody is doing, but, at the same time, I need to just pay attention to what we are doing with our car and our team and just try and make every run as great a run as we can and hope that's enough. Keep it simple.
Q: John, it's been an impressive season thus far. What do you need to do to move back into the top spot and win your 15th world championship?
JOHN FORCE: Well, No. 1, I have got my daughter, Ashley, still trying to shoot, you know, for this championship, and Beckman's still got a shot. But, at the end of the day, we can't count on Hagan to make mistakes. Too good of a racecar with the tuners they have got and the financial backing that they have got from Schumacher. And the driver's good.
So we have to come home and make changes. First of all, you can't allow errors and we had an error on the racecar first round. And we have addressed that.
But we try to look at why Hagan's car would run and our car wouldn't run. And basically, the weight factor is the thing we found as the biggest problem, even though he's much bigger than me, the Schumacher cars are light.
So we put our car on a diet. I guess we have taken like 40lbs off it. So we have got to go into Vegas, scale it, make sure it's right. We have got to do everything we can to gobble up the points like he did at the last race. He did everything right. We did everything wrong. And the fact that Cruz was able to get him in the final, it still kept our hopes open.
So some of the good news, the national event artists, bad for us that we couldn't run for it in that late session. We only ran 450 and we ran the 01. We were trying to get qualified. We have to get in on that first session so we can get in on that session.
The good news is the error is supposed to be a whole different front than we thought in Vegas that we are going to have, even with the altitude – that record is still out there and I need every point I can if I'm going to catch this kid.
Q: Matt, you had a storybook season all year long. What do you need to do to finish that story with a world championship?
MATT HAGAN: We have had a great year all year, and you know, I can't say enough about my guys and Tommy DeLago tuning the racecar. That Force camp over there is a first‑class operation and John, he's a world champion for a reason.
We can't make any mistakes. We have to go out there, do some good, solid racing, go some rounds. I don't feel like we have to set the world on fire but we need to go some rounds and keep kind of matching John round for round, and it will hopefully fall the way we want it to. This drag racing, you never know how it's going to end up.
Q: Cory and Larry, when was it that you guys went to lunch, and who picked up the check?
CORY MCCLENATHAN: Well, you know what, I'll go ahead and do that one. You know, I'm storing my car over at one of Larry's shops, so it was kind of one of those, hey, I'm going to bring the car over, drop it off. And, hey, while we are at it, let's catch up and go to lunch.
It's funny because Larry paid the check, and he said: "You know, I probably made a little bit more bonus money than you did last weekend." And I remember laughing thinking, "OK, you got me there."
So as we were walking out, he said, "You know, we can probably do this a couple more times, I'm hoping to be able to pick up that check." I said, "Well, I'll be trying my hardest to make sure I get to pick up the check for those next two." We'll see how it rolls when it comes down to it.
Q: John, what's it like to come down to championship battle with a driver like Matt who is young enough to be your grandson?
JOHN FORCE: I always try to find a way, try to get my head again, the kid already has me with my back up against the wall. I always say things happen for a reason. A good driver, I saw his emotion when I couldn't make the run there first round, and you know, he ran over to me at the end of the track and said, "Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't want to see it happen this way," and I liked that attitude.
I liked – you know, maybe I watch too many movies but I when see movies about, you know, the warriors in the old days, they have got a dollar in the battlefield, they want to die by somebody worthy. And he wanted to fight the fight. And he didn't want me going home because I had some dumb mistakes. I told him, hey, that's all part of the deal. Hey, we made the mistakes and you gain on it and I'm hoping he'll make mistakes but he doesn't make too many. Not as a driver that I can find, and the car just seems to have the magic.
But I went and saw a movie over the weekend, Secretariat, about a young racehorse that just talked him in the round and I have to look over the years that they called me Seabiscuit because I was so old and it was Seabiscuit that made a run that came from behind. It's just a movie, but my life has been about dreams. Seabiscuit went to California and won the last two.
Well, I've got to make a stop in Vegas, too, first, and that's what I'm going to have to do, I'm going to have to win two races if I'm going to get this guy. The air is coming in and we know there's going to be a shot at maybe the national record, if that doesn't – a week ago, Neff told me no national record in Vegas, altitude is too high and sessions are not at night, but if we get a cold front, I'll get that shot that he got to get that record and gobble up some of them points. And then every round you've got to run hard because he picked up a bunch of points on me there. I think he got points every round, and I got him in one session. So, that's what I'm up against.
Q: With NASCAR, it's a often a question of which two drivers are going to try to crash the other one out. A lot of comments directed toward their competitors are not the nicest in the world. Listening to the four of you, it's a whole different world. You guys respect each other, aren't afraid to say it. You like each other; you're not afraid to say it. Is that just the drag racing community? I mean, you guys seem like you're going into this hunt where you sure want to win it, but, there's positives to be gained if the other guy does. So could you guys maybe comment on that? John, you can go first because you're the oldest.
JOHN FORCE: I've had the media say, you know, and the PR people, this is bad for ratings. You guys got to get in each other's face, and every time I ever got in somebody's face I got a $10,000 fine.
And it's kind of like, you get mixed emotions here. But, at the end of the day, I've seen drivers die out here, you know what I mean. And I've seen people on fire and I've seen Hagan shoot the body into the air and I stand there praying, is he OK, yet I know he's in the points Chase.
At the end of the day, I don't know why they do what they do in NASCAR. But I know in this world, I don't want to see anybody get hurt, you know what I'm saying. I want to race the safest we can, because I care about these people. Probably the only friends I got. I've got a helmet that sits in my museum with a big set of horns on it that says Diehard that comes from this kid.
He did it because he cared. He was doing something, so – I don't know, I just can't seem to find the hate that they seem to find in NASCAR, and if that's wrong, I don't know what to say. But by the way, earlier, you said on a serious note, I was being serious, about going west to California.
Might have thrown in Seabiscuit, but at the end of the day, I dropped 10lbs off myself, I have a few pounds to go to get to where I want to be and still trying to figure out how his car runs and stays light. But we are bringing a racecar with no paint on it. We are putting letters on it, we are going everywhere we can to lighten the load You are not going to see me fight with nobody unless somebody gets in my face.