A season of celebrationThursday, December 06, 2012

It’s been busy since our championship weekend in Pomona back in early November. Seems like we’ve been going to one party after another. My wife Pam and I spent a day and night with our Pro Stock friends, the Humphries clan, and they had us a big party up there, and invited their whole family over. Virginia, Walter, Justin and Gina had a big get-together at Justin and Gina’s house in Frederick, Md. Following that, the Chamber of Commerce in my hometown of Greeneville, Tenn., had a big function last week, and invited all the businesses that are part of the organization to come out and help honor our championship run. I think half of Greeneville was there! That was huge deal, with a huge turnout.

Then last Sunday I was Grand Marshal for a local Greeneville parade, and earlier this week Dad and I were presented with an honor by the town of Greeneville at a city meeting. So the J&J Racing team has definitely been getting some local recognition. The reaction from my hometown has been amazing. The entire region — the county of Greene, the city of Greeneville, all the people who live here — has really embraced our team and our championship season. It’s been a dream come true.

I also managed to get some hunting in with a bunch of friends. It used to be an annual excursion, but I hadn’t been able to join the boys in recent years. This year I was able to reunite with the gang, and we went deer hunting in the mountains near my home in Tennessee, and had a great time. The boys gave me a plaque with photos honoring our recent championship, and it made up for the fact that we got skunked — no one bagged a thing! Oh well —maybe next year.

Of course, it’s also time to go back to work. I’m already feeling the pressure to continue our success next year. I’m the type of person, I’m not going to dwell on what we’ve accomplished; I’m more worried now about what we’re expected to accomplish moving forward. We have to get to work and make sure we maintain that championship level of performance. That being said, the championship trophy now sits in my office — and I only look at it about ten times a day!

With our recently announced deal with Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his team, we are starting to get that set up. Jeg’s car and crew were at our shop last week and have been there this week, and we’re getting everything fitted in Jeg’s car. We’re actually going testing in Bradenton next week for two days.

It’s an exciting deal. Jeggy is a class act, and his whole organization is a class act. We’re awful big on the family aspect of racing, as he is. We’re going to try to set this thing up as a two-car, open-pit area type atmosphere. It’s not just us two, of course, as Vincent Nobile will also run with Mopar/J&J Racing HEMI power. Hopefully, we’ll have three Mopar cars in the top-five every run down the track, duking it out for wins and the 2013 championship.

Holiday-wise, we visited family on Thanksgiving. We were able to split up the family parties so we didn’t have to eat three times in one day! We spent Thanksgiving Day with my daughters and Pam’s family, and then on Saturday we went to my mom and dad’s and hung with my side of the family. It’s great — there’s always a lot of turkey, and you gain about five pounds.

We’re squeezing in a wedding between the holidays — Pam and I are actually in Houston today to help our friends get hitched, Richie Stevens and Erica Enders. Pam and I are both standing up in the wedding, and we’re honored to help them celebrate their big day. We have a festive house to return to — my mom gave a bunch of pictures of us at the track, even pictures from when Dad and I used to race in the Sportsman class, to the lady who helps us on our Christmas decorations for our home. She gave our Christmas tree a nice “Mopar” blue theme, and trimmed it with the photos, Mopar hats and copies of Mopar Magazine. Very cool! We’ll be staying home in Greeneville for a country Christmas, and we’ll soak in the remainder of what’s been a magical year for us. We have been truly blessed in 2012!

A dream come trueFriday, November 16, 2012

Seventeen years is a pretty long time. That’s how long we’ve been racing a Mopar-powered Pro Stock car and after all of the blood, sweat and tears we are finally able to say we are NHRA Pro Stock World Champions. That has a pretty nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  It’s been such a long and extended battle and to finally reach this pinnacle is beyond words. I can’t really even describe it, but I’ll try.

We always thought we could do this and this year we learned how to win, and that was the main ingredient we had been missing. It’s magical when you learn how to win and I guess you could call it a dream season. It feels awesome. To do this with my dad and this entire team is such an amazing feeling.

Heading into Pomona, I was more nervous than I think I have ever been going into an event. I knew that all we needed to do was just qualify for the race and we would clinch the championship, but I kept thinking of every scenario possible that might pop up. When qualifying was complete on Saturday at Pomona and our Mopar Dodge Avenger was in the show, we knew that we were officially the champions. But this team is so competitive and so focused that we really wanted to win to put an exclamation point on the season. By winning the last race of the season you give yourself some momentum going into the off-season and the following season, and we were able to do that at Pomona. That was the first win for us at Pomona and that’s a place I’ve had on my “bucket list” of tracks that I wanted to win at for quite a while.

The racing was actually the easy and relaxing part, as next came the banquet and having to make “The Speech.” It was a day full of nerves leading up to that. There were a lot of butterflies in my stomach and emotions from everybody. It was a fun day, but it was also a very, very stressful day. It ended up being a very touching evening at the banquet, as I had dad up on stage with me. I also got to introduce our entire crew and family members, as well as many of the partners of this team. It was very touching for me and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Everyone on the team is on cloud nine right now. To see all of your hard work all year turn into a championship is pretty special. The crew is very proud of that and I am extremely proud of them. They worked their tails off day in and day out, whether we were at the track, at the shop or testing. To be honest, the crew is already thinking about next season and what we can do to be even stronger than we were this year. That’s the type of dedication it takes to be successful in a class as competitive as Pro Stock.

We approached this season in a totally different way than we ever have in the past. We had an analytical and scientific-type approach to how we did things. We made better decisions and that really paid off. I stressed consistency all year, and we really had that after the first couple of races. We made a few mistakes early in the season and went testing and figured out how to not make those mistakes again. It was a total team approach in decision making and that way of thinking really paid dividends.

I really couldn’t have asked for a much better season. The racer and competitor in me says we should have probably won a couple more races, but to set career highs in wins (7), No. 1 Qualifiers (10) and round wins (55) was pretty amazing.

Earlier this week, our friends at Bristol Dragway, Wes and Lori, had a luncheon to celebrate the title with us. They did an awesome job with it. Bristol is such a great partner around the area and have done a lot for us over the years and we’ve done a lot for them as well. They had television and radio stations and newspapers out there and we did a lot of interviews with the media. The spread they had for everyone to eat was great and everyone enjoyed that. They also presented me with a couple of plaques and a really nice picture to commemorate the championship. It was so kind of them to host that event and do all of that for us.

Even though the season is over, we are busy as ever. This weekend our backup car will be on display up in Baltimore at a Chrysler Group LLC Fleet event. I’ll be there on Saturday signing autographs and greeting folks. When I get back from that, it will be Thanksgiving week and we’ll spend some good, quality time with our family.

I’m also working on something big to reward the team for all of their hard work. Then before we know it, it will be time to go and test. Not too much R&R for the team or me, and that’s a good problem to have, being in demand and busy. That means we did something right this season.

It’s been a great ride this year and the perfect way to help wrap up the Mopar 75th anniversary celebration. It’s definitely an honor to have Mopar on the side of our race car and I thank them from the bottom or my heart for all that they do for our J&J Racing team.  Thanks to all of the fans as well for their continued encouragement and support.

Now that we have one title, our goal is to get another. We’re already working hard toward that goal and look forward to defending this year’s title in 2013. Pomona will be here before we know it.

The Waiting is the Hardest PartFriday, November 02, 2012

When you are battling for a championship and are the points leader, you really don’t want to see any downtime, especially when you have momentum like we have. But we had a little break after the NHRA event at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., before Las Vegas and also have a weekend off now before we head to Pomona next week.

My wife Pam and I spent some time the weekend after Reading at our vacation spot in Sanibel, Fla. We had our friends Erica Enders and Richie Stevens come down and join us. We hung out at the beach and also visited Key West. It was a great time as always at Sanibel and great to spend time with Erica and Richie. They are dear friends to us.

After that, I went back home to Greeneville and took in a few of my grandsons’ football games and played a few rounds of golf. I always have to make it to a few football games of some sort during the fall. The break was nice and really helped clear my mind, but I was ready to get right back at it and continue our fight to bring home our first-ever NHRA Pro Stock championship. We took our Dodge Avenger testing for a few days in Las Vegas, about a week before the actual race, to make sure we were prepared.

Prior to the race in Las Vegas we got to have a little fun. During the NHRA Press Conference Erica Enders and I rode the Big Shot ride at the Stratosphere and that was quite a rush. When we are in Las Vegas, I always have to make it over to Lawry’s as well and have some prime rib. We got to meet a lot of fans as always in Las Vegas, and it’s such a great atmosphere out there.

Come race time, the testing the weekend before definitely paid off. Anytime you can test at a track you’re getting ready to race at, that just pays dividends for the team and the crew chief. In qualifying for Vegas we had the quickest car in three of four rounds, earning us a bunch of crucial bonus points and also the No. 2 spot on the starting grid. Every point we get now is a step toward the championship, and those 11 markers were 11 more big steps to the title. To start off Sunday eliminations at Vegas, we took the win over a fellow Mopar Dodge driver, Deric Kramer, to set up yet another Mopar vs. Mopar battle, this time with Jeg Coughlin Jr. It’s always a tough battle with Jeggie and we were able to come out on the winning end.

In the final round it was me and my teammate Vincent Nobile, in another all-Mopar match-up. Vincent did me a huge favor in the semifinals by taking out Jason Line, who is second in the points and our closest competitor. Jason lost to Vincent on a red-light foul, and I’m sure the fact that Vince is quick off the starting line helped that to happen. It was the second Vegas race this year with Vincent and me in the final, and just as we did in the spring race, our Mopar Dodge Avenger took the win.

There’s a bunch of facts and stats behind the victory: it’s our sixth win of the season, 15th of my career, and 35th final round appearance ever. But the biggest stat is the 126-point lead in the standings we will take to the season-finale in Pomona. All we really have to do is qualify, and the Mopar/J&J Racing team can celebrate our first Pro Stock championship.

After the race in Las Vegas, I stayed a few extra days and attended the SEMA show where I got to see a lot of the new and exciting products that Mopar has in the pipeline. I also was able to spend some good, quality time with the Mopar executives and many of the other people who are instrumental to the success of our race team.

We’ve preached consistency all year and we’ll continue that heading into Pomona. My crew is doing an awesome job, and to have a cushion in the points lead is great, but I want to go to the final race and close it out with a win. For my dad and me, it will be a dream come true to celebrate that championship. We’ve done it all from our little race shop in Greeneville, along with a bunch of help from Mopar. To work side-by-side with my dad for 17 years, and to be so close to accomplishing a championship with him is something special. Pomona here we come!

It’s been a wild rideWednesday, October 10, 2012

Wow, it’s been a wild ride the last few weeks, with six straight weekends of racing. You really see what you’re made of in these kinds of situations, and the Mopar Dodge Avenger crew came through the six-week gauntlet in awesome shape. We enter the last two races of the season at Vegas and Pomona with an 82-point lead in the standings.

Since I last checked in, we scored a runner-up finish at St. Louis. The venue was back in action after a one-year layoff, and it was great to return. The whole St. Louis area was fired up to have drag racing back, and there were great crowds. St. Louis has always been one of my favorite venues, and I love the city, which is very nice and clean. My wife Pam and I, along with our good friend Erica Enders, went to a St. Louis Cardinals game at Busch Stadium on Saturday night, before eliminations. Awesome stadium with a great design, and a great atmosphere.

Come Sunday at St. Louis, it was a bit crazy. Against my teammate Vincent Nobile, we both had trouble and had to get off the gas. I was able to get back under control and then beat Vincent to the finish line. We made it to the finals, where we raced Erica for the second weekend in a row. This time she took the win, but it was a good event overall for the Mopar/J&J Racing team, as we left with a 109-point lead.

Next up was the NHRA Reading event, and while I can’t say we got the result we were hoping for, we still have a good size lead with two events left in the Countdown. I made it to the quarterfinals where I lost to Dave Connolly, but even though I didn’t win, the Dodge boys had my back! V. Gaines, another Mopar Pro Stocker and great guy, ended up winning the whole event. I was very glad for V., and also glad he took out Jason Line, who is second in points. Jeg Coughlin Jr., another Dodge boy, took out Erica, who was in third-place, so that was also a big assist. Aside from the help it gave us in the standings, it’s always great to see our fellow Mopar Dodge drivers go rounds.

Just yesterday, Pam and I, along with my mom and dad, went to a Dining in the Dark event in Charlotte to help raise funds for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Very cool event for a good cause, with folks like Kasey Kahne, Mike Helton and Richard Childress also in attendance. Now with a break before Vegas, Pam and I are finally going to get some R&R at our second home down in Sanibel, Fla., this week. We haven’t been to our house down there in about eight weeks or so. Erica and Richie Stevens will join us, and it’ll be great to chill and enjoy down time.

Vegas will still be on my mind, though. We won there in the spring and have excellent notes. The Mopar Dodge Avenger team is close to our goal of a first Pro Stock title, but there’s still a lot of work to do, as all those folks behind us right now are great competitors and want the same thing as us. We look forward to the challenge!

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