The 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is nearing its conclusion with the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals Oct. 25-28 in Las Vegas and the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals Nov. 8-11 in Pomona, and the points battles are heating up. Top Fuel title contenders Spencer Massey and Antron Brown took part in a national media teleconference to discuss the championship battle.
Brown, the points leader, and second-place Massey are teammates at Don Schumacher Racing. Brown has six wins, which ties a career record and five runner-up finishes and is the new national e.t. record holder following his 3.701-second pass in Reading. Massey has four wins this season and five runner-up finishes.
Q: Antron and Spencer, you've both had pretty impressive seasons to date. The main prize is still sitting out there that will be handed out Sunday night in Pomona. What is your mind-set going into these final races?
Brown: You know, we go into those final races where there's still two races left but with a lot of racing to go, and in one race, like the points lead that we have can disappear. We're basically going to the last two races keeping our head down, and we want to stay on the offensive side, keep attacking. We have to keep attacking if we want to have the hopes to actually bring this championship home. And that's the way we're looking at these last two races is that they're do or die. We've got to go in here and not leave one "i" undotted and one "t" uncrossed, and we've got to go in there and just keep digging and digging, and hopefully we can be there at the end and contend and try to bring this championship home.
Massey: Obviously, Antron and that entire Matco Tools team have been kicking butt, especially in the Countdown. When they go to final after final or win after win, it's hard to compete, and they did it again by showing us that they can run and that they're serious. They set the national e.t. record. Our team was that close to doing it last year by four-thousandths of a second, and we've been close all season long, and all three of our Don Schumacher Racing cars have been bad to the bone, close to the top, one, two, three in points.
Antron, you were just saying how you were going to keep on the offensive side and keep it going and anything can happen. But boy, when you have over 100 points, it's going to be tough to do. But like you said, anything can happen. Right now, obviously, my team is not going to, we're not going to change what we've been doing. We're going to get out there and try to get as many rounds and try and get a Wally or two before the end of the season. With only two races left, it makes everybody hungry to at least get another Wally with only two of them sitting out there.
And if stuff happens to fall for guys where it changes to where it makes it close at the Pomona race, we'll see. But right now, obviously, our goal would be stay No. 2 in points, and if it happens to be, we can try and get the No. 1 spot. But let me tell you, with Antron doing how he's been doing, it's a tough one.
Q: Antron, I've been interviewing you since your early bike days, and I've always thought you've had a champion's attitude. Can you share what you believe is a champion's attitude?
Brown: Well, you've just got to stay humble, and you've just got to appreciate the guys that make it happen because you can look at our team, Tony [Schumacher], Spencer, and myself, that, yeah, we have confidence in ourselves that we go out in a car and get a job done, but all three of us would be nothing if we didn't have the stout teams that we have. I mean, Tony has been there, he's won numerous world championships, Spencer's car last year was the car.
It just goes through drag racing luck where sometimes things don't fall your way, and trust me, I've been there numerous times on the bike, and I've been there in Top Fuel where you can be there, and you've got a great feeling inside like, "We can get this championship," and it doesn't go your way.
Just go out there, you've got to stay humble, and you've got to stay poised because our sport is the most humbling motorsport there is out there because we don't have another lap to make it up. We have no mulligan, and you go out there, like you take, for example, Reading this last weekend, Spencer lost a really, really close race that could have went either way that first round, but he lost by less than like four-thousandths of a second, but if he would have won that round, I guarantee, you look at the way that [Khalid] alBalooshi got to the final, Spencer's car would have been in the final with me again, and we would have been racing in the final against each other, and he probably would have beat us. We didn't make it down the track in the final. It could go either way just by one round of drag racing determines a whole bunch of stuff.
And we've just been very fortunate, and I'm just staying humble. And to go out there and try to have that attitude, you've just got to be humble because if not, the sport will humble you and make you cringe sometimes. You go from hero to zero in our sport, and that's why I just keep the same attitude I always have because the more stuff that you talk, you more stuff you have to eat in the long run, trust me, because it will come back around in this sport.
Q: I ask this question a lot in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon says it's one race at a time. For both you guys, can you talk about it being your round? If you don't make that round, you're done. Is it just one round at a time or do you think ahead at all?
Massey: I guess I talk about that. I try to go one round at a time. You can try and think about, "Boy, I need to make it to the final" or "I need to win this race" or "If I could race this guy" or if, if, if, there are so many ifs in drag racing, there's no sense in even thinking about it like that. You get up there and take on your job that's sitting right in front of you, the job in hand, and you do it as best as you possibly can, and then the next round, you sit there and focus and gather as much information as you can, and you try and give that 110 percent. So in my mind and my entire crew's mind, and I believe Antron's, too, you take your job, your driving ability, your racing one round at a time, and with each win, with each round equals race wins equals championships.
Brown: Absolutely, like everything that Spencer just talked about is that when you get people that tend to look in the future, like "If I could be in this final round" or "If I could be in this semifinal round," they're taking their focus off the task that they've got to do at that given moment, and we've learned that. And I mean, that's why I think our teams at DSR are as strong as they are because Don has that philosophy that we go up there, and he says, "Hey, we're going to go to the next race, and we're going to worry about the first qualifying round. We're not going to worry about where we're qualified at, we're going to worry about getting in first," and that's the approach all of our teams take, and as drivers, we take that one step at a time and say, "OK, we need to stage this car." Then we're worried about pointing the car to make sure it's perfectly straight, then we're worried about making the right moves and hitting the Tree hard. Then we worry about taking it down the racetrack. We worry about every little increment a step at a time, and any day you can look back and say, "Hey, I did every step to the best of my abilities, the whole team has, and this is where we're at now." And I think that's why you see a lot of our teams in those final rounds, and we're all running for these championships.
Q: You talked about the teams, and you talked about your teammates, and I know Antron and Spencer, you guys are obviously close, but what does it do for the crewmembers, the clutch guys, the bottom-end guys? Is there a friendly rivalry between camps?
Brown: Spencer and myself and Tony, we find each other pushing each other because we're trying to go to another level, and we actually help each other push each other to that level. I'll get out of the car, and I'll tell you something, it's very seldom you can count on two fingers that I left on Spencer, probably twice in my whole career, because every time we go up there and run, I'll push the envelope, and I'll have a .40 light, and that joker will have a .30 light.
We go out there, and we push each other, and our crew guys do the same thing. The thing about it is they don't want to lose. We don't want to lose a race no matter who we're racing. But when we do lose to a teammate, it makes it a little bit easier because you lost to a teammate because you know what they're capable of and how great that team is.
If you look at it this year, at all of our stats, we lost to each other more than we lost to anybody else this year. And that's saying a lot, and we support each other, we push each other, but at the end of the day, when you're in this Countdown right now, we're all trying to beat each other like those books and the runs are closed, like we're not going over each other's car or helping each other out, we're trying to beat each other.
Massey: Exactly right, and not only on the racetrack, I'd also say the crew guys, all our crew guys working, we even race back in the pits. We obviously have 75 minutes and sometimes only 65 minutes between sessions or between each run, and when we get back to the pits, I know my guys, we're racing trying to beat everybody else out there just trying to service the race car. If for instance, if Antron and Tony were two and three pairs in front of us running down the racetrack, that maybe they might have had a five- or 10-minute head start, if we can get back and service our car and have it fired back up, meaning that we're warming the car back up, getting it ready for the next run, if we can try and warm up the car before any of the other teams, that means we won as a team being able to service the car, and usually at about 30 to 35 minutes. Not only are we racing on the racetracks, we race in the pits, as well.
Q: Spencer, in your opening statement, it sounded like you're almost conceding to Antron. I know that goes against the grain, but is that the reality you're facing right now, second place?
Massey: Well, I mean, obviously, it's not that I'm going to totally concede or say, "You know what, it's his race or his championship to win," but man, we're 104 points out. Really, if you think about it, we'd have to win both races, which is totally capable, this car is capable of winning the last two races of the season, but also Antron is not going to be able to go too many rounds. If he goes I believe a total of three rounds in the next two races, even with us winning it, it's still going to be his.
I mean, obviously, racing gods are racing gods. Hopefully, they fall in the favor of the Prestone/FRAM car, but a lot of things are going to have to fall our way. But if you think back, you can look back at years ago when Tony Schumacher won the championship with his run in 2006 that was kind of the same situation. So anything can happen, but in reality, I mean, it's going to be tough. But I am going to keep my same focus like we have been and try and win both races. If the racing gods, meaning if Antron falls out early or whatever the situation happens to me, then that's the situation. But let me tell you, it was a lot easier to win this championship a week ago before Reading, I'll tell you that.
Q: You guys raced each other in the finals at the first Las Vegas race of this year, with Spencer coming out on top. Can you talk about that track, and just talk about going back to a place where you've already been earlier this year, and Spencer as the winner, we'll start with you.
Massey: Well, obviously, when you go back to a racetrack that you've done well at, you like going there. I mean, it's generally not because of the racetrack itself; it's just the way the race gods fall on you.
I don't mind Vegas. I mean, I tend to do kind of well there. I got my second win ever there with Don Prudhomme Racing, and obviously, the final round there a year ago for the fall race against Del Worsham and then winning in the spring, so I like racing there. Obviously, it's Vegas, we all have a good reason to like to go there, from hanging out on the Strip to actually racing on the dragstrip. It's always a fun place, and it makes it that much more special whenever you're racing for so much meaning, meaning that you're racing for the championship, for the Countdown.
I can't wait to get there. Now we have two weeks off, and I came back to Texas, and I'm kind of twiddling my thumbs right now wanting to get back out to the racetrack because I've been on the road, well, I guess all the teams were on the road for six or seven weeks straight. I just can't wait to get there and go on down the racetrack again.
Q: Antron, talk about going back to Vegas, where you've had success.
Brown: Well, you know, the thing about it is when we go to Vegas, it's like when you go there, it's a real crapshoot, trust me, because I have like a love/hate relationship with that race because some years I can do really well, and some years it just gets our number. But the good part is that we made it to the final round this year against our teammate Spencer, and Spencer took that race.
So we're going back there again at this time of the year where the track is going to be really good, and you're going to see some really good e.t.s. I don't think we're going to have the e.t.s that we're running already because those conditions were just incredible, and you're at sea level. So when we go back there, the stakes are high when we go to Vegas. That could be a turning point for like Spencer and for Tony and [Shawn] Langdon who's right there; also, where if I go out there and our team like if we mess up or something goes wrong, I mean, they can gain 60 points on us in a heartbeat. And if you gain 60 points, then you go into Pomona with a 40-point lead, which things can happen, and how tight the competition is right now in our class, in Top Fuel, when you looked at it I went out there, we ran a .75 with an 8 at Reading. That qualified us seventh. Seventh.
I mean, before, that would have been like one of the top six runs in history or something like that, and that qualified us seventh. So that just tells you how stout this competition in our class is right now.
So going into Vegas, it's going to be a monumental race for everybody. So we've got to go in there and just keep our head down. We've got to go there and race it hard. And like I told you, we've got to go in there in an offensive position and just give it everything we've got, not go in there in defensive mode. We want to go in there, and we want to attack it.
Q: Antron, you kind of answered my question there about mind-set. Are you guys going to play any games between each other? You've got two weeks to mess with each other in the head. Anything going on for two weeks?
Brown: No, absolutely not. I mean, Spencer is as straight as they come, and same thing with Tony. I mean, when we race each other, there's no games going on; man, it's all business. When we line up, I mean, it's kind of hard, you've got seven seconds to come in when you stage and stuff like that, and my deal with Spencer is I've got to work on being quicker. I get up there, and I'm trying to inch in and put the bulb on and blink the bulb on, and he'll get up in there, and he's ready for business. Like he rolls it in and is like, "Come on, let's go." That's how Spencer is. He's no joke.
And the same thing with Tony. With Tony, sometimes you know what you're going to get. Sometimes he'll come in easy, and sometimes he'll pull in like Spencer does. Sometimes you never know what Tony is going to do, it all depends, but you'd just better be ready when he comes in because he means business also. All our guys are top-notch, and they're straightforward, and that's the way they race. There's no games when you're running the way we're running right now. You've got to line up and race, and the winner is going to take the straight regardless.
Q: It has been a pretty brutal stretch with the rainout of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus through now; a lot of the teams have been on the road week in and week out. What are your plans; Spencer, you said you're twiddling your thumbs, but what are your plans? How do you get ready for these final two events?
Brown: Well, one thing is that we stay busy. For me personally, I'm going to take some time off to breathe a little bit with the family, but I'm going to still hit it hard in the gym right now to get my fitness level back up. We actually, if you calculate it right, this whole stretch started at Brainerd. The last weekend that all of our guys had off was the weekend before Brainerd, and they went right from Brainerd to Indy to test, and we tested for two days. Then they had a couple days off on that weekend, and then we hit the stretch full speed ahead with the U.S. Nationals. So our guys have been working hard eight weeks straight. So they're definitely going to get all of our parts supply back up, check everything on the race cars to make sure they're right, and I'm going to be in the shop checking on them and making sure they don't need anything from me.
And then also I'm just going to get myself right. I'm going to physically prepare, get my wind back up, get back in the gym, get my physical fitness back where I think it should be, and then take about three days off before I go out to Vegas to let my body regroup so I can hit there with full, fresh steam and energy.
Massey: I actually came back to Texas for my first time other than actually racing here back a few weeks ago. My last time to actually be home and have a weekend off just to relax was actually back before the Western Swing or actually by the Topeka national because I actually stay on the road from the Western Swing and between Seattle and Brainerd, Minn. I've been on about a full or half a year swing it seems like.
It's kind of nice to be back in Texas kind of relaxing for a couple weeks, but I'm also going to be going up to the Texas Motorplex on Saturday and Sunday to test some of the Alcohol Dragsters because they're planning on racing in Vegas and Pomona, and they need to get their tune-up back together and get as much as they can done getting ready for the race.
You know how I am; I can't get away from these dang race cars or racetracks. Even in my off week, I am still playing with them and going out to another racetrack. Either way, it's going to be nice just to be back in my hometown and being able to hang out with a little friends and family and just getting to relax, even playing with a race car even though it's not my car, it's still relaxing.