Q: First time in two years, you've been in the car for two years, your first time leading the points and late in the season, two races to go for the championship, how much extra pressure are you feeling?
MATT HAGAN: You know, I think there's definitely pressure the whole season. It was pressure to get into the Countdown. It's pressure to try to win every race. So you know, obviously, there's extra pressure. I mean, you've got a camp like Force and my teammate, Jack Beckman right there knocking on the door. Force has led the points all year long and we just got lucky enough to take that lead over.
But these points change so quickly, I mean, one day you're on top and the next, you're sitting second or third or fourth. And you know, so we're glad to have them but right now we have two big races ahead of us and I think that we are just going to treat them like every other race and we are just going to go out there, try to get it past the first round and what will be, will be.
So I will try not to add any extra pressure on myself. Obviously it's there. We just have to step up and do what we are paid to do and that's drive these racecars and have fun doing it.
Q. John, after your devastating accident in Dallas, to be in the position that you are in, right now, how excited are you to be able to have that 15th championship in sight and in reach?
JOHN FORCE: You want to get it, naturally. You know, it's funny but in a light time, I've been real lucky. I've got a lot of chances to win. I did. I took every opportunity, against great drivers like Ron Capps and just over the years, the guys, Hopp and kids that I fought with – and luck is a big part of the game.
But, at the end of the day, the investment that auto clubs made, and Castrol, and 25 years with Castrol, Ford Motor Company, all of the money they spend on engineering studies.
I want to clarify, when we drop the weight on our car, we didn't drop any safety. We looked at the things we could do, driver, as much as I've been in the gym, I tried to build muscle and I built body weight and I'm trying to take some of that back. But at the end of the day I've got an opportunity here because with Mike Neff leading the charge in tuneup with Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly; I may not have a car that's as good next year.
And I'm not young, so I know my day of going downhill, you know, I'm not in the – I can't go out and arm wrestle with Hagan. I can't get in a fistfight with Hagan, and you don't intimidate a cowboy. I know the game. I've seen this kid. I've studied him on the farm with his bulls. I've met his lovely wife, a little gal who plays piano. I'm starting to understand where he comes from.
So I've got a competitor here that I've got to keep my nose clean, do what I do, and take every opportunity, and weight is the only place – and a few mistakes that I think that we are missing. I just can't figure out, this kid's big enough to run full back for the Green Bay Packers, how the in hell is he carrying all that body weight. I can't seem to figure it out. So we are making changes and I just hope we don't go the wrong direction. Hell, maybe my car needs more weight, because he sticks his foot in places, you know, that we can't do, and we are trying to figure that out.
Q: Larry, you've been a champion before, what kind of experience, are you relying on that experience of those championship years to kind of keep you focused and motivated for this time around?
LARRY DIXON: Well, first of all, I didn't get a chance to say it yet, but I just want to – and I probably can speak for all of the drivers on here that our hearts are hurting for the Jeff Berg family. We lost him over the weekend and he's a big supporter of drag racing, you know, running the Bristol track, but before that for years at Winston and he carried the banner for our sport for a number of years. And we're just sending our condolences out from Al‑Anabi and Allen Johnson and the whole team.
But to get to your question, I guess this is what we all, you know, live and dream for is an opportunity to race for not just race wins but championships. You just – you try every week to do your best, and some weeks it works out and other weeks it doesn't.
But you know, for me, I can't try any harder at these next two than I've been trying every week, every race, every year. If you go up like it's the final round and all of the chips are online, and it's only the first qualifying run, you put it all on the line for that run.
So when you get an opportunity to get in that position, it's no different. At least in my head. Everybody has got a different way of motivating themselves. And I've worked with a lot of great crew chiefs and obviously working for Snake and now Allen Johnson, you know, but crew chiefs, too. Dale Armstrong and Wes Cerny and now Jason McCulloch, Dick LaHaie, and working around these guys, there's things that they can feed ya to help ya and guide ya along. I've learned something from everybody I've been around and you hope what you bring to the table is enough to get it done.
Q: You have got 14 titles and you've been in this business for a long time, considering the adversity that you've overcome the last couple of years, do you consider this to be your greatest achievement in the sport?
JOHN FORCE: You know, probably my greatest achievement is my daughter, Ashley. Watching her every day, the explosions, two of them that she went through. She was shell shocked at Redding, and getting out of it, "Where am I in the points, Dad?"
I said, "Boy, you look busy, like you can't even stand up and you're wondering where you're at in the points."
But just to put a woman into that position, that was huge for me. You know, even though Shirley Muldowney had done it and others had done it. I always looked at Funny Car as a different animal. It takes a guy like Hagan, big and strong to muscle that thing, and could a little girl do it, and she does it well.
Me, when I laid in that hospital bed, I just wanted to race again. They kept telling me it was over but when I came back, it wasn't good. My kids were growing up seeing me when I was winning, but now they are in the sport and now dad can't hit his tail end. I have a lot of reasons but the biggest reason is this economy; we are in almost a great depression that Seabiscuit raced in, and at the end of the day, people need to be entertained and I want to be part of that.
If Hagan takes me out, I ain't going to like it, but I'm going to shake his hand and he'll do the same to me, because it's what we do. It's good to have a job in this economy. But if I can't prove that I can comeback and win, then as much as I want to win for my family, for the fans, for my sponsors, and for myself, I've got to be real careful here. If I can't deliver as a driver, I'll be replaced, even though I own the car, because when you take away the money, then you can't drive.
And then when they start thinking that I can't compete, and I was looking real good all year, until Hagan did all the damage on me. So you know, luck is part of it but you make your own luck and right now I'm in a fight right now to keep my job. And I'm going to give that kid everything I've got but I've always played the game straight up. If I can't do it, I can't do it and that's why we addressed everything from tune-up, who has got mental problems, is anybody on too much medication, and where are the problems. And I will not give up my safety because I know a lot of the things that we run other teams don't run, and that's why my Ford's are dump trucks.
They are heavy. So we went back because in the economy we can't afford to put lightweight bodies on it. We run them until they are packing too much weight. I said go home, throw the bodies off, get brand new ones, don't even paint them, put the decals on them and let's send them and see if we can do what Hagan did to me at Redding, and that's get every point that's on the table.
If it wasn't for Cruz, he would have got it all. I show respect where due, and earned that right at Redding, but he's got two races to go and my daughter and myself and Robert Hight, we be in the thick of this.
Q: Larry, how does it feel to be the one who is in line to finally end Tony Schumacher's streak?
LARRY DIXON: I think Cory would have something to say about that. I think I'm no different than everybody else. Tony has been on a run for the past half a dozen years and not just me; everybody in Top Fuel has been trying to take him down a spot or two, and it hasn't happened. But we are going to keep trying and you keep plugging away, and you know, there again, you hope it's enough, but you just keep trying. It hasn't happened yet. He's still got a No. 1 on the car and he will until somebody does and we are going to give it our all in the next two.
Q: Obviously you are paid to win, but you have the opportunity to knock off a guy who is arguably the most popular driver in the whole sport. Have you thought about that? Does that enter your mind? Do you think about that possibility?
MATT HAGAN: Absolutely. We have a job like you said to do with this Diehard Funny Car. But to be able to race John Force, first of all, is an honor and to be able to win against the guy is something else, you know what I mean. He's got a great racecar and he's got a lot of strong cars running against us. Back to kind of what he was saying about weighting stuff, my teammates, we are all running the same stuff and they are all little guys, too. I keep telling Ron, you need to eat some more but I'm just messing around.
Anyway it would be huge to be able to win this championship, and you know, to beat John Force, at this deal, too, it's huge, you run a guy, I look at what he's done for the sport, and obviously fan favorite.
So it's just awesome to run him and we have a great racecar with this Diehard car, and we are just going to line him up and let the cars do the talking. I like how Force is straight up, no games, and that's how I race, too. We just let the cars – the cars will finish it out and it will be what it will be. We just got to go up there and basically just race our race and not worry about who is beside us.
Q: Larry, what is the difference between racing for Snake [Don Prudhomme] and racing for Allen, how are they different as people, and what will it mean in your opinion to Allen, to get this done after leaving Schumacher and starting his own operation and kind of taking a bit of a risk there and to get this done if it happened? So if you could answer those two for me, that would be great.
LARRY DIXON: Well, first, racing for Snake and racing for Allen, they are both very motivated and very driven to win. Second place really doesn't do a lot for them but they are polar opposites from how they go about it. Snake is very hands‑on with the team and each person and the people and Allen, he relies on the guys to handle their areas. So from that standpoint, there's not as much interaction that goes on with Allen. You know, great guy and just there again, I'm very honored to be a part of this.
Sheikh Khalid, he had this goal of his, you know, a long‑term goal to build championship-winning teams, and you know, we almost even got it done in the first year. But second, I think Allen is obviously in a better position as far as being in charge, you know, managing our two‑car operation.
So I think it's – I would assume it would be better, he's more in control like he was when he owned his own teams previously. You know, when Scelzi drove and obviously with his brother, and racing the Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars.
He would be better suited to probably answer that question, but I think, you know, just probably being more in charge and in control.