It’s time to get behind the ropes for a third and final time in this up close series. Getting really close to a NASCAR or NHRA team at work, obtaining a behind-the-scenes experience, is not easy even if you have connections.
Getting close to NHRA drivers and teams in the pits is easier for fans because every ticket is a pit pass. In the NHRA pits, fans lean up against the ropes or tape barriers to watch crews work on cars and engines during runs down the drag strip. They are not permitted beyond the ropes, however, unless invited.
In NASCAR, very few fans receive hot garage passes, and those who do aren’t permitted in garage stalls or haulers.
Racetake.com invited Facebook friend Jayson Huggins, a financial analyst for NASCAR, to accompany them beyond the ropes during the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida. Huggins lives in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he works at the International Motorsports Center—NASCAR’s headquarters—across from Daytona International Speedway.
The third behind-the-ropes experience for Huggins came with a visit to Don Schumacher Racing with Top Fuel dragster drivers Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown. Spencer Massey granted an interview prior to race day.
Jayson Huggins eagerly asked Tony Schumacher a question: “At the beginning of every season, how do you get yourself into that championship mindset?”
“I love racing cars,” Schumacher said. “That’s it. I’m serious. You can’t say…I want you to try harder and here’s a million dollar raise, because I got nothing left. No one can look back at my career and say I gave it up. It’s always been that way. I love that car. That’s it. I love what I do. It’s so easy to get into the right frame of mind. In a couple minutes I’m going to drive that car. It’s hard not to be good when you love what you do.”
When Schumacher was asked what a novice would experience getting into a top Fuel dragster, he was quick to point out the dangers.
“Get out,” Schumacher said. “Unless you’ve driven a lot of things first, drag cars. You can’t get ready for that. If you’re going to get in that and hit the throttle, I wasn’t ready, no one’s ready. but I had driven enough cars that I knew how to stage. I knew how to race. I just had to figure that machine out.
“If you’re not prepared with all those other things to get out of your head, how are you going to hit the throttle? You’re going to go 100 in under one second whether you like it or not. You’re going to go zero to 100 in .8 seconds. No one is quick enough to give it the gas and get off and not be going 100.”
Schumacher’s sense of humor was displayed when he explained how important having a good team is to a good driver.
“This is something the fans always crack up on,” Schumacher said. “You are as good as the people you put yourself around, right?
“Every one of us has about five friends, when you really think about it. We have the smartest of those friends, and then you have the idiot. I always joke if you look around the table and can’t find the idiot, there’s a good chance you’re in the hot seat, my friend.
“Surround yourself with the right people, with the right attitude—that’s always the keys to success, strength like no other.”
Jayson Huggins had this to say about Tony Schumacher:
“His positive outlook just automatically transfers to you,” Huggins said. “He makes you start thinking of how you can change your outlook on things. He could be a motivational speaker.”
DSR Top Fuel pilot Antron Brown also displayed his upbeat personality when asked about confidence.
“That’s what life’s all about,” Brown said. “That’s something that’s hard to teach people that drive. What stops us from being great or elite is ourselves. We put our own human barriers up and say this is all we can do. We’re all capable of doing so much more. Once you realize that and you get after it, that’s when you make those unbelievable things believable and achievable. That’s what we do out here with great teamwork and build confidence in each other and making a strong team.”
Huggins asked Antron Brown what it was like when he went from bikes to Top Fuel on his first run.
“The cool part was it was not something that I had to different,” Brown responded. “When I stepped on the throttle, I thought I had a grasp on it, but what the Top Fuel car does differently than any other car out there. It uses the whole racetrack. So it’s constantly accelerating all the way through till we let off. It’s already doing 250 mph and it’s pulling more G’s then from the standstill start. We go from 3.8 G’s and when the clutch goes one-to-one, it goes to over five-and-a-half G’s. So when you already go faster and faster, and the G-meter should be falling down, it’s going harder, because it’s still accelerating.”
Brown summed up his explanation with a common saying in drag racing.
“Keep it right and tight,” Brown said. “Left is for NASCAR, but here we keep it right and tight so we go straight and fast.”
Huggins commented on Antron Brown after the interview.
“He is also extremely focused, extremely polished,” Huggins said. “He knows what he wants to achieve, and nothing is going to stop him.”
Huggins wasn’t available for a Spencer Massey interview just prior to eliminations, but the DSR Top Fuel dragster driver shared thoughts similar to those of Schumacher and Brown.
“I’m real low-key,” Massey said. “I don’t get excited. I don’t need to have my space before I get in the car. It’s a race car. It’s what I like doing. It’s what I love doing. It’s just another run. Be it first round, be it qualifying, be it testing or the final round in the U.S. Nationals—it’s just another run in my book. It just needs to be me, the racetrack, the Christmas tree and my foot. If it’s the same every time, I don’t need to let anything else bother me.”
Massey seemed to have the right approach to winning at top levels.
“I’ve always prided myself to do, prided myself to be the best at leaving the starting line—the best at trying to keep my car in the groove,” Massey said. “In my book, I’ll never be the best, so I’m always trying to make myself better. That might be what it takes to be a champion.”
Huggins was surprised by his fortunate experience.
“You really have to get it in person, the eye contact, the body language,” he said. “It’s totally different in seeing it in person than seeing it on TV.”
Huggins also had a final comment on NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing.
“Drag racing is loud, raw, and in your face,” Huggins said. “When you come home with soot on your face from burnouts and clothes that smell of nitro methane, you have to be thankful there are still venues around like this that offer such a guilty pleasure as drag racing.”
FYI WIRZ is the swift presentation of pertinent motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com.