The 2009 NHRA season was an interesting one. As I've written in this diary this year, it was very much a roller-coaster ride for our NAPA team, in particular.
For the NAPA team to win the most races this season, lead the points for most of the year, then fall short and end up third in the points, reiterates how important it is to peak at the right time, especially now that we have the Countdown to 1 playoffs for the last six races.
I want to point out that Robert Hight's getting into the Countdown at the last minute and then winning the championship surely seemed to have a side note. And a lot of people have talked about the fact that there probably should be an asterisk next to his name because of how he got into the Countdown.
What I want to say about this is, at the beginning of the year everybody sits down and counts on their fingers the 10 teams that they think will be in the Countdown and who they think they're going to have to battle with for the championship right down to the wire. And everyone I talked to always had Robert Hight and his crew chief Jimmy Prock at the top of their lists. But, and you can talk to any racer in any of these sports on this website who have been through similar seasons, it's going to happen. It's a profession that has so much competition and so many talented people in it, for someone to think that he or she is going to walk away with it would be pretty cocky.
You're going to have seasons where you just absolutely struggle, and that seems to be the kind of season Hight and Prock had. And, while we on the NAPA team had a great start to the season, won five races and led the points for most of the year, the fact that there's controversy as to how John Force helped get Hight into the Countdown at the very last race in Indianapolis is unfortunate. I've talked with Robert and he is very uncomfortable about it. I really believe that Robert is going to make a great champion and will represent our Funny Car category as a champion extremely well.
Their John Force Racing team has run good enough and has been competitive enough to be a championship team. It's just unfortunate that the way they got into the Countdown seemed to have left a bad taste in a lot of the competitors' mouths.
I can tell you, there's a lot of times during a race season that you just can't wait for a vacation and the holidays, just to get your batteries recharged and get away from the racing for a bit. It draws so much out of you, you're just physically drained by the time the last race in Pomona is over with.
We had such a great season with our car that, to be honest with you, I'd love to be back racing in another week. We had a car that was competitive all year and the competition level in the Funny Car division has just been incredible.
Looking at everything, such as the economy, with questions out there like whether or not we were going to have fans showing up, it turned out to be a great season. To do a burnout on a Friday afternoon in a qualifying session and look up and see the grandstands packed at almost every racetrack reminded me how lucky we are to be doing what we do as racecar drivers.
We're already thinking about what we're going to do about testing in Florida in January to kick off the 2010 season. We already have requests from our sponsors to do photo shoots for next year. So, while the 2009 season is just barely over, we're already thinking about 2010.
The holidays are always nice because you can reflect on how good a season you had and you can start looking forward to the next season. The great thing about being a part of Don Schumacher Racing is having smart and talented people around me, personally. And I don't mean just our NAPA team, but everybody at DSR. I have teammates like Tony Schumacher, Cory McClenathan, Antron Brown, Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan. These guys are viewed as the best at what they do and it's very cool for me to feed off of these guys.
And the same goes for our crew chiefs. My crew chief Ed McCulloch is obviously a legend in the sport. He's won races in Top Fuel and Funny Car, and he's been voted as one of the top drivers in the history of NHRA. What's great about that is that he's a gamer. He's already thinking about what we can improve on from this year.
But, I can tell you, knowing that the Countdown was looming and that we were leading the points at the halfway point and it looked like it was a lock for us to at least be in the Countdown, we felt that we could do some testing during the race events and try some things out that would improve our performance in the Countdown. We would have liked to have stayed in the points lead going into the Countdown, but that didn't happen for us.
Like in any form of motorsport, you start playing with different small things that will gain you a fraction of a second here and a fraction of a second there, and in our sport a fraction of a second is a difference between first and ninth.
In hindsight, looking back at 2009, had it been a normal season like a decade ago when there was no Countdown, we would have kept pounding the pavement and running the way we were and we probably would have won four or five more races. But the fact that we did have a Countdown is the reason we went into a little bit of a testing mode and didn't win as many races as we felt we could have.
The way that the season went was a direct product of the Countdown that the NHRA implemented, and that is just the way it is. This is two years in a row now that a team that entered the Countdown not even in the top half has gone on to win a championship. Robert Hight is now going to be sitting around the Christmas table with a championship ring on his finger.
For me, for as many years as I have been driving, it's frustrating because I felt the teams that I've been with have earned a championship and we've been close to winning one. But that frustration just has to be corralled and used as motivation for next year.
There is frustration for a lot of us to see Robert win the championship, but I really feel like they played the game the way the Countdown should be played. All you have to do is get into the Countdown, and if you're in there you have a shot at it. So, congratulations to Robert, Jimmy and John Force on winning the championship.Ron