By Susan Wade

Drag racers and tuners talk about horsepower and about applying power to the ground. They work with power tools. The NHRA series even was sponsored by POWERade.

In the past week, during the Western Swing that snakes through high-tech Seattle, California’s vineyard-lush Sonoma, and country-cosmopolitan Denver, what has been striking is another kind of power — the power of words.

Consider a few of the recent comments that have reflected the many moods of this summer.

Words of humor:

“It’s ‘Bizarro World’ at Bandimere [Speedway, near mile-high Denver] because everything you normally do to get a racecar down the track gets turned upside down when you’re a mile high. So for us that means the things that have been wrong for us at sea level should be good there, right?” — Larry Morgan (Pro Stock)

Words of joy:

“This win is big. It’s huge,” Langdon said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. With the Top Fuel car, we’re trying so hard and just haven’t gotten the breaks to get a win, so to be able to come out here in this Lamb Motorsports Super Gasser and bring home the Wally is just awesome. I’ll race anything I can get my hands on. It doesn’t matter to me. And I want to tell my Top Fuel Lucas Oil crew boys that we’re going to get one of these soon, I promise!” — Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), about his victory at Sonoma in the Super Gas class as he did double-duty all weekend

Words of humility:

“It means I lost 44 times. That’s exactly what it means to me – it just means I lost a bunch. But this year we’ve won a bunch. When you’re all done with your career, you hope it balances out.” — Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), about his 100th-final-round milestone

Words of praise:

“He’s calming until you stage the car and he beats on it. And he starts to walk away and turns around and beats on it again like a little kid. And he gets me so excited. I think, ‘Man, he’s having fun. I’ve got to have fun, too.’ It carries over. It’s just been nothing but smiles in our NAPA pit. His approach to racing is ‘Let’s win, but let’s have fun.’ I can’t even tell you how exciting it’s been for me. He’s such an asset. I feel like I can conquer the world in the car right now.” – Ron Capps (Funny Car), of crew chief John Medlen

“The car was flawless. It was just an unbelievable job by everybody on the Al-Anabi team. They weren’t leaving anything in their back pocket, that’s for sure. You just know when you’re racing Tony (Schumacher) — he’s obviously won a lot of races and the last six championships — that he’s going to keep you honest. That team doesn’t stumble very often, so you’ve got to go up there and fire your best shot and hope it’s enough. I enjoy racing him, because when you win, you know you’ve earned it. It makes it that much more gratifying.” — Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), about his class-leading eighth victory of 2010, at Sonoma

Words of confidence:

“With the way my bike is performing right now, I can win the championship. I’m not trying to brag on it, but I have a real fast bike and I just have to stay on my game. That old bike I have is actually one of the best bikes in the wind tunnel, and it works out there on the race track. I wasn’t worried about the record, I was just trying to get the win.” — Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle), about setting his class’ national speed record (197.65 mph) in the semifinal and securing it in the final Sunday at Sonoma with his victory over Andrew Hines — on the motorcycle he bought from Hines’ used stock in 2003

Words of self-criticism:

“We are our own worst enemy right now. It goes back to poor judgment-making and not solving problems as they need to be solved. God gave us a chance when we dropped a hole in Q4 and he gave us an opportunity to fix it before the first round, and we didn’t. We got some really good advice from someone out here and we obviously didn’t take it to heart. We just need to quit making excuses and start doing what we need to do to fix the problem.” — Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel)

“As I’ve said before, it takes all three parts of the puzzle to win in this sport. The driver, the car, and the engine must all work in sync, and in the second round, only two out of the three performed the way they should. Somehow the connection between my brain and my leg got shorted out, because I felt like I had left the starting line when I suddenly realized my leg hadn’t come off the clutch. I don’t have an answer as to why that happened, but it did. I felt like I was on the light, but obviously I wasn’t. Certainly, we’re disappointed, but we’re not going to dwell on it, because between Jason [Line] and myself, we have two really fast Summit Racing Pontiacs, and both of us having secured our spot in the Countdown. I feel bad about what happened today, but the good news is that we get to race in Denver next weekend, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make it up to them.”
– Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), about his driving gaffe at Sunday’s FRAM-Autolite Nationals at Sonoma

Words of whimsy:

“We’ve pretended that we’re already in the Countdown and we’re trying to win races and do away with mistakes. That’s what I’ve challenged the guys to do. This Western Swing has been like a mini-Countdown.” — Allen Johnson (Pro Stock)

Words of strategy:

“I’ve been working with some NASCAR guys on just playing with the carburetor, and that’s actually where my bike picked up. I started working with the guys last year at Memphis. Kevin Hamlin stepped up and he wanted to help me. There were a couple of other things we did to the bike that they looked over and found that should have been done to the bike. Ever since then, the bike has been running crazy mph.” — Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle), about why he has become a contender for the championship this season

“We both came up with how we would run the car. We put a good, solid game plan. Our approach was slightly more aggressive than we’ve been in past races. We’d usually become a little soft and by Q4, we’re a gang of hell and ready to go on race day. We’ve had some queer luck, so this weekend, we just wanted to be a little more aggressive. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud about. We made very few changes in the car throughout the whole weekend. That’s what it’s about: just taking what you’ve got and massaging it and making it better. We were able to be quickest in the couple of the sessions and the last man standing. So I guess we did good. It was good race car, and that’s what you need in Pro Stock. When you’re separated by 10-thousandths of a second, there literally is no room for error. We’ve certainly had our races this year with errors.” — Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock), about how he changed his approach to his pursuit of a fifth Pro Stock championship in a talk with his father at Lake Tahoe before winning the Sonoma event in his 100th career final round

Words of friendly rivalry:

“It was close. It kills me inside because I want to beat his #$% so bad I can’t stand it. He’s beat us every time we’ve been up against him (four times in 2009). And I want to put a curse on him (laughing). They have a great car over there on the NAPA team, and we have a great car, too. That’s two semifinals in a row now, and two finals in a row for them. Congratulations to Ron on his first win! — Matt Hagan (Funny Car), about Ron Capps’ victory over him at Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway

“The bike I’m riding is Andrew’s old bike, and he had been whooping me pretty good. That’s the first time I’ve beaten him on that bike. I just never could get him. He just kept beating me. I would holeshot him and he would find some way to get around me. Pomona last year, I got a holeshot on him and the carburetor jumped off my bike. I just finally got the monkey off my back with him.” — Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle), about his Sonoma victory, his third of the year but first ever against Hines, who entered the showdown with a 13-1 advantage in the career meetings

“I have tried for 14 years in Top Fuel to not say squat and just do what I do. This is really the first opportunity where I’m going to be able to poke a little There’s certain times people say stuff where they just make it too easy and you’ve got to throw one out there. I’ve asked myself: Is it going to make the world a better place if I pick on Hot Rod? I don’t know. Will it make it more fun? Probably. I have a bag of things I can throw at him that I’ve been saving up for a bunch of years.” — Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), about verbal jousting with Hot Rod Fuller, a one-time relentless rival and now a teammate

“You know, honestly, he can. I haven’t even been a race car driver for the last year and a half. He’s the world champ,” Fuller said. “Heck, I feel honored that he even remembers what my name is. I haven’t got much to bring back. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines. It’s hard for me to say anything and do anything when I don’t have nothin’ to back it up with. I can tell you that he’s still the No. 1 target on my list. It’ll always be that way.” — Hot Rod Fuller (Top Fuel), about his reaction to Schumacher’s zings, for old times’ sake.

Words of contention:

Warren Johnson spoke out the previous Sunday at Seattle about the NHRA’s track-prep performance in an effort to defend not only the honor of the Pro Stock class but to force the sanctioning body to make drag racing safe. In the process, he offended Funny Car drivers Jim Head and Bob Tasca, who returned fire and challenged Johnson to drive a flopper — blindfolded, even. While Johnson conceded that he “probably got a little overzealous last weekend,” he held fast to his convictions that prompted the war of words.

Johnson told ESPN2 reporter Gary Gerould about nitro-class cars, “Ray Charles could drive one of those things in his current state.”

Funny Car owner/driver Jim Head, who has responded to similar criticisms by Johnson in the past, offered his own car if Johnson wants, in Head’s words, to do “a Ray Charles impersonation.” Said Head through Competition, “C’mon Warren, . . . anytime you’re ready – we’ll make this happen. Lucky for him I can’t afford to burn the car up. So he ought to be safe there . . . But if I had the money, I’d light him up pretty good. I’ll put the Ray Charles name over the window for him. I just don’t understand why he has to slam on us when we didn’t do anything to him. This time, he went too far.”

Tasca’s dare: “I will get in his car with my eyes closed — you can tape my eyes closed — and you can take my car and he can tape his eyes closed and see who makes it further.”
As for whether he’ll take up Head and Tasca, Johnson said, “You never know. I’ve driven just about everything, but at this point I’ve got other fish to fry. This is just big-time auto wrestling,” Johnson said Friday at Infineon Raceway.

He referred to Tasca and Head as “laptop cowboys” who “didn’t really listen to what I said — they didn’t hear what I said. I said it didn’t take much talent to drive those cars down the racetrack, because everything is pretty much taken care of. I didn’t say they didn’t have any talent.”
He said of Tasca’s reaction, “That’s the case of a spoiled brat.” Then he said, “I have nothing against Bob (Tasca) or any of the guys out there,” he said. “But they’ve got to start looking at it like . . . they’re not the whole show.”

His contention, he said, was that the racetracks need to accommodate the needs of every racer, “not for the less than one-tenth of a percent of the race cars that are out there.” He said, “Maybe we need to help NHRA get this situation fixed. I was speaking for every car that’s not a fuel car. I don’t want to see anybody hurt out there.”

On a light-hearted note, Johnson got a kick out of Head’s remark about this feud being “one senile old man to another.”

While Head and Tasca both complained that Johnson could have made his point without insulting the nitro-class drivers, Tasca moved the argument to another plane. The Mustang driver, in volunteering to swap cars for a grudge match, prefaced his remark by saying, “I’ve never driven a hunk of s— GM in my life, but I’ll drive one . . . ”

Did Johnson take offense at Tasca’s shot at the K&N car’s manufacturer? “Absolutely — because I think the same thing about them damn Fords,” he said. “You know what ‘Ford’ stands for. You’re standing in front of the mirror in the morning. You’re shaving. You got your Ford T-shirt on. You look at it. D-R-O-F. Oh yeah — driver returning on foot.”

– Warren Johnson (Pro Stock), Jim Head (Funny Car), Bob Tasca (Funny Car)

Words of genuine friendship:

“In the beginning it’s all a bit of a trauma, you really don’t know what to expect. But about the second day I came to work for DSR I realized that they’re still race cars and I realize that Don Schumacher has an extremely well-groomed group of people. There’s a tremendous talent pool there. Those guys took me in as an orphan and just accepted me in all ways. I’m very, very grateful for the people who are there.

“What we do in life is get together with a scarlet thread. There’s some sort of a method to all this that gets people together for a common goal. And what I saw at DSR was extreme focus on winning. Six teams and all of them dedicated to make these cars win and put these cars in the winner’s circle. I really enjoy it. It’s a great thing. It’s a tremendous opportunity for me. Ron Capps and I have been friends for years. He was a very close friend of (son) Eric’s. (Eric Medlen lost his life in a Funny Car testing accident in 2007). If anybody guided all this together, Eric did. He’s pretty smart. He did a good job.” — John Medlen (Don Schumacher Racing crew chief for Ron Capps), about moving to DSR from John Force Racing last March

“You can’t replace a Mark Niver — ever. You can talk to anyone out here at the racetrack, and there wasn’t one person that didn’t love him. He was a true racer, racer’s racer, totally old-school, built all his own stuff. He’s going to be forever missed. He and my dad had the funniest little competitions with each other, designing and making little winglets and stuff for the race cars. Just the engineering — you just don’t find people like that anymore. He had the old-school craftsmanship. He did it all. The Top Fuel guys had respect for him. He’s probably one of the most respected guys out here.” — Kyle Rizzoli (Top Alcohol Dragster), about his friend and fellow racer Mark Niver, who was killed July 11 in a top-end accident at Pacific Rceways during the Northwest Nationals, near Seattle

“He was a pure gentleman . . . such a kind man. The guy would do anything in the world for you. He was always a positive individual, a gentle, gentle human being. No matter what happened or what kind of thrash he was in, he’d be there to help you.” — Larry Miersch (Top Alcohol Dragster), about Mark Niver

“Mark was a great competitor. He built every component in his race car. I raced against Mark 20 years ago in Alcohol Dragster. This has to be about him. It has to be about the family and what they’re going through right now and not about us, because when it all comes down to it, this whole circle of people you see traveling around, these are our family. They’re the people we spend more time with than our own families at home. So, I’m blown away. You never know what to say.” — Cory McClenthan (Top Fuel), about Niver after winning at Seattle

“When something happens like that, your first instinct is to just want to go home. But we’re racers, and Mark was a racer, and this is what we do. I raced with him and knew him well, and the best way to be respectful for all he’s done was to go out there and win the darn thing. Our motivation wasn’t for us, and it wasn’t to have a big celebration. Our motivation was really just about representing our sport well, and all of the racers, officials, and fans who love it so much. “We love drag racing, and we’re here to do our best every time we race.” — Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), about Niver after winning at Seattle

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