THE MODERATOR: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.