NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES Q&A WITH ANTRON BROWN, RON CAPPS, GREG ANDERSON AND ANGELLE SAMPEY
The following Q&A puts the spotlight on NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series drivers Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) as the season heads into the famed Western Swing. Interview topics include the start of the season, their performances to date and their thoughts about the upcoming Western Swing. Audio of each interview can be found on the NHRA Media site.
Q: How hard have your three wins been to come by this year?
BROWN: They have been extremely tough. Extremely, extremely tough. That is what we expected. Last year we knew how incredible the competition got and we knew they went back and did their homework. Everybody came out this year stronger and better. And other teams have joined forces with each other, making themselves stronger and better. Having more data to pull from. Like our teams have at DSR. That being said, to just get to the semifinals is like you won a race this year. To bring a Wally home has been extremely tough. We thought we could have a couple more wins than we have this year but we are just happy to pull off three of them. To battle with Doug (Kalitta) he went on a tear and pulled off three in a row and could have won two more. Steve Torrence, Leah (Pritchett), Brittany Force and our teammate Shawn Langdon went on a tear with two in a row, almost winning three in a row. There are a lot of great teams but to get a win right now I’m proud of my guys to accomplish where we are at and how much we have grown and even gotten stronger this year. I think we still have a lot more room to grow and have a lot to do to be competitive in this Countdown to the Championship.
Q: You mentioned Langdon, how dangerous will that team be if they go on a hot streak?
BROWN: That team is real dangerous. That Red Fuel/Sandvik team with Shawn and Phil (Shuler, crew chief) and Todd (Okahara, crew chief) right there has every piece of the puzzle to win a championship. They have a great driver, they have two great minds in Todd and Phil and then they have a group of guys that have been together now for a while that has been jelling and they can bring that car to the starting line picture perfect. Once you get all that together and building what they were capable of they reeled off two wins in a row. The have had a real competitive car. Sometimes in racing it is about being in the right place at the right time and they could have won more races than they have showed so far, but they raced the only car they couldn’t beat that round and lost. So I look at them as being at the forefront of being a championship contending team this year when that Countdown starts.
Q: Talk about your teammate Tony Schumacher not having a win at this late point of the season, but you still can’t count them out at this part of the year.
BROWN: Absolutely not. I don’t even look at wins, like we talked about, I don’t even look at winning a race; that is like almost winning an ultimate championship. With them they have been to numerous finals, they have been to numerous semifinals, they are in the top five in points and haven’t won a race yet. There are teams that have won multiple races and aren’t ahead of them. That tells you they have been going to a lot of rounds. The chips just haven’t fell in the right place yet for them to get that trophy yet this year. Trust me, (crew chief) Mike Green and (assistant crew chief) Neil (Strausbaugh) they know what it takes to win a championship, they have already won two championships together. I see them as definitely being there in the long run and a win coming right in the near future really really soon. Their car is running strong and sometimes in the round they have the fastest car of the session. They are right there and they have their combination to start to come in right now and I think they are going to do it really really soon and I know they are going to be competing for a championship this year.
Q: Is it frustrating as a driver that the smallest of items can decide who wins and loses in this sport?
BROWN: This is what makes it more rewarding when you do win. There are so many ways, and it is so easy to lose in NHRA racing. But that is what makes it so rewarding and just so great to win. That is why when you win you know you have done something special and you make part of history within the NHRA because wins don’t come every day to everybody. When I look at I go I wouldn’t want it any other way. When you win that is why it is so special. We come off this weekend and I looked at all my boys and gave them a big hug and told each other how much we love each other and we all know how hard it is. We win and work hard and do that together.
Q: How important is team chemistry in having the success?
BROWN: The number one thing you need is team, teamwork. The guys are way more important than the parts and pieces you have. Everybody can get parts and pieces. You know what, it doesn’t make a difference what team you come from. When you are racing down the racetrack, everybody can have one part and that one part can mean you can make one run at it. It doesn’t make a difference if my team has got Don Schumacher Racing and we make an abundance of great parts, well that is great but you can’t run all the great parts at one time. You can only run one set of them at a time, you get what I mean? That is the biggest key is having all the right people. If you ever want to make the big investment, you make the big investment in the people not the parts. One thing I can say is I have been very blessed, very fortunate to have a group of guys we have that not only do I have a great team but we are a family. We all work together, we live together. I mean literally, we go out to dinner. We go on holidays together, go to the lake with each other. We love each other. Everybody has determination but you can’t teach everybody want to. We are very fortunate that all of our guys on our team have a natural ability and great talent. But the thing we all have and are fortunate is that every one of our guys have great will. They have the will and when you have the will it will overcome everything. You can be talented, you can be a natural but when you have the will and the work ethic, you make the great things happen. Like our team has in the time we have been together since 2009 we have been together, Brian and Mark as our two crew chiefs, Brad my assistant crew chief and all my Matco guys, we have been together and have that will. I think that is what makes us go out and compete the way we do.
Q: How much can a driver influence the chemistry?
BROWN: Every person on the team influences it. The way they carry themselves and the attitude they have. I’m just a reflection of all of our guys together. I’m always in there at the forefront and never look at a moment as a down moment. I always look at every moment as a growing moment and a learning moment. To go forward and be better. I never let things hold me down, they are just learning curves. That is why I called all my guys and tell them don’t get upset you made a mistake, that mistake is a something that you learn from it and we all learn from it and move forward from it. That is the attitude in everything that I do and everything our team does. We learn from it and grow from it to be better next time.
Q: You swept the Western Swing in 2009. Was that even harder than your championships?
BROWN: It hard to win three races in a row no matter how you look at it. First you have to get one, then you have to get the other one, it is hard to win period now, to think about winning three in a row. Unless you have some dominating performance right now where you are ahead of the pack, ahead of the curve, how the Summit team in Pro Stock car. That is a different story when you have that type of advantage over people. The way the Top Fuel class, Funny Car, Pro Stock Motorcycle is right now, no body has an advantage like that right now. It is crazy that you don’t know who is going to win, not one person is a sure bet.
Q: How different of an event is Denver?
BROWN: The toughest one on the Western Swing is the first one. It is very tough because you change the whole car around from how you run. Everything doesn’t work the same. No matter how much you put in it, you don’t have it to get down the track. Your clutch work is different, the car work is different, the air is thinner and the car goes through the air a lot easier but you don’t have the power. There are so many different variables you got figure out what is the best combination to make yourself run and that is the hard part. That is the hard part about Denver, there is no other race that brings you close to it or like it. It is one of its own and you run your car different for one race where you switch a whole bunch of stuff around just to race your car that way for one race.
Q: Have you ever had a stretch of races like these past five events?
CAPPS: No. I’ve said it the past few weeks, there have been some really great race cars that I’ve gotten to drive and some really great crew chiefs in my career so far and at times I’ve had a car that you feel you could roll into the track and set low E.T. every round. But I’ve never had a car that was this consistently as good as we have been here with (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and the guys. You sometimes grow accustomed to watching from afar, maybe another team go on a hot streak. We saw with Del (Worshman) what he did in the Countdown (last year). We saw what (Jack Beckman crew chief) Jimmy Prock did starting in Sonoma last year. And you go back with what Snake (Don Prudhomme) did with the Army car. Certain cars at certain times just are dominant. When you stand back and look at it and you see every chance that car rolls up there it has a shot at setting low E. T. of that session. I’m not sure I can say I have had that in the past, or for as long as we have had this car. It is neat to be driving the Funny Car that is doing that. And on top of that the Funny Cars are so exciting right now, not just to watch but to drive. More than they ever been as far as I can tell you in my career.
Q: What is the morale of the team knowing they are part of the baddest Funny Car on the planet?
CAPPS: It is funny. I get really nervous about the word dominant. You hear people throw that out the past few races about us. I get really nervous about it, it makes me cringe. I know from being on the other side of that, all the other Funny Car teams, that is just motivation. It has always been that way for me and my team. When we are on the other side of it and behind a little bit and we are trying to catch up to someone who has really hit their stride. That can be insulting at times for other teams. I’m very careful about it. One of the first things Roland Leong taught me is to treat the people on your way up the ladder the way you want be treated on the way down. In this business, as most, it is going to be up and down the ladder. You want to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing. But the thing is, I love the way our team was so disappointed in the way that we weren’t the absolute quickest car of one or two of those rounds in Chicago. That shows me they are still hungry even though the car is as good as it is. But even more so, pulling around the staging lanes and being the last pair or one of the last pairs, and hearing on the radio and hearing the announcer announce, each run is a track record has been lowered and lowered. And sitting in the car knowing that I have got a really really good chance at lowering that even more and taking the three qualifying points and possibly heading up to the press room as low qualifier at the end of the session. It is a great feeling and a little bit of you wants to hopefully have the same feeling later on in the Countdown. You don’t want to use it all up right now but we are just trying to enjoy the moment.
Q: How tough is the Funny Car category this year?
CAPPS: That is what it that more impressive from New England on. Every year we talk about the competitive nature of the Funny Car class and when you stand in Pomona and before Q1 at the beginning of the year and you look at the list of Funny Car entrants and you say, my gosh there are going to be more than ten wanting to make the Countdown. Which leaves out some big named, big sponsored teams that won’t event make the Countdown. Let alone who you are battling for a championship within the top ten. It is has competitive as it has ever been. It has left me speechless at times and you stand back and you say this is as competitive of a year I’ve ever seen in Funny Car. For us to be running as good as we have been and winning as we have been, it just impresses me more. I love the fact the guys, especially Tobler, that he has put in to get what we have got right now. It is neat to see that confidence but you certainly don’t want that confidence you don’t want that confidence to turn into cockiness at all. Everybody is staying pretty grounded and it is a tough thing to do. I got to tell you, there is a little bit of you that wants to hold your chest out a little bit and you have to have that nature and you strive to be as good as we are right now and yeah everybody is going to catch up and last week it showed. It is going to be tough down the stretch but you have to have a little bit of that swagger. I watched it last year and we battled down to the championship last year. Del and Prock and Beckman those guys running down the championship, throwing blows by blows. One would set lower, the other would come back and knock his time down and better it. You have to have that swagger and feel it but you don’t want to rub it in peoples face.
Q: Have you started thinking about the championship yet or take it step by step?
CAPPS: Every time these last few wins and low qualifiers when I’m up in the press room the championship word comes up. The only time it comes up in our vocabulary is when we spent Saturday in Chicago, we sacrificed E.T. a little bit and not getting low qualifier there and what Tobler did was he had to work in another clutch disk into our program to have our clutch the way it is and tune-up the way it is to last through the end of the year. Otherwise we were going to come up short. Anybody that doesn’t understand that on a mechanical side, it is like taking a high end chef and taking away two or three of his master ingredients and telling him to go into a contest, you are at a disadvantage. We did that on Saturday and he was very happy. Now we feel much better, it was a big picture move where we had to sacrifice a little bit but now he has learned and we have plenty of clutch disks to run the end of the year. That is when we talked about the championship within our team, the word championship, we needed to make sure we could get through the Countdown which is obviously the most important part and have the same tune-up that we have now.
Q: In Chicago you hit 600 round wins. Can you wrap your head around that number yet?
CAPPS: No. Everybody in the staging lanes was giving me a hard time about it. That is a lot of wins. Obviously I’ve been driving a Funny Car since 1997 with Snake, and that is a lot of round wins. It didn’t hit me at first when they showed me that. I got back to the trailer and I was getting my fire suit off and I started think, you start counting in your head, that is a lot of round wins, that is impressive. It shows you the amount of talent that I have been around all this time. The depressing part of it is, and I don’t know what the number is but John Force’s numbers will always seem to make any other Funny Car’s drivers numbers pale in comparison. While for a second you feel pretty good and then you look where John Force is at. It sort of sets everything into perspective, being the winningest Funny Car driver ever. It sort of takes the sting away.
Q: How impressive would it be to continue the hot streak and sweep the Western Swing?
CAPPS: We strive to do that and every team will tell you that. We almost pulled off the East Coast Swing. It is my home, coming through Sonoma, we ran pretty good last year in Denver. I don’t think there has been a three second run Funny Car in Denver so I know that is going to happen. That is going to be quite exciting to see. We have a couple of goals, obliviously to sweep the swing is on the front of our lobes right now. But I got to tell you the stride that we are looking for is getting through there and Brainerd, and through Indy and keeping the points lead to have that bonus of 20 points going into the Countdown. That is the big goal of the NAPA team right now. I think if we can go and concentrate on each run and maybe win a couple of the west coast swing races we can keep that point lead.
Q: Do you definitely think we will see a three second run in Denver?
CAPPS: Yeah, without a doubt. Unfortunately we are going to be, we are first in points, so we are going to be the last pair of the first session, so we may not be the first to do it, but without a doubt, I would put everything in my bank account that the track record will fall the first day of qualifying and it will be three-second runs. We won’t be the first since we won’t be the first in line but there is going to be for the Denver fans this year a lot of the best Funny Car races that we are ever going to see. Going up there with the way these cars drive now, they are a bit of a handful with these new exhaust headers but I for sure see the cars incrementally move early it will put them in the three second zone. It will make them without the downforce we are used to it will make them more of a handful and more fun. It will put a lot back in the driver’s seat and I think the fans will love to more than ever.
Q: Is the Sonoma event one that you look forward to each year?
CAPPS: Right now as we speak I’m packing up the RV. This is my favorite time of the year is right now after Chicago because we head up to where I grew up on the central coast of California and we spend a couple of week up there. I leave the family there when I fly back and forth to Denver. We just kinda camp and hangout, it is my time to spend with the family before the Sonoma race. Then we drive the RV up to Seattle together. Growing up close there to my family is there and we barbecue there up on the hill at night and people I grew up with and went to high school with so it is a home race for me. Last year was unbelievable to be put on that wall they have up there. I saw when I got my 49th win in Norwalk and Tony Stewart got his win in Sonoma and he got put on that wall on Friday. We had a lot to talk about. The track itself growing up there when it was Sears Point and now being what it is, it is always something exciting for me. I love going to that track. I have had great success there and I look forward to going to it.
Q: How are you and Jason Line preparing for the back half of the season?
ANDERSON: Obviously we have had a great run up to here but as we have been saying all along, we have had a little bit of a performance edge on the field but that has seemed to gone away now. From now on it is going to be a different story out there. You are going to have a lot of different cars able to win races and you are going to have to have a 1000 percent team effort to try to win one of these things again. Yeah we have got 13 in a row but the 14th is going to be a whole lot harder than the first 13, no question about it. We are digging in and we are trying to use every hour we got before we go out to Denver and start our three-race swing. That is always a tough stretch anyways. Moving into this one here we know we are going to have competition we have had all season. Try to spend every hour we got to find some more performance before we go out west. Try to get all our engines up to snuff and ready to go for three races. Won’t be able to come home between those three events with your equipment. So have to stay in tip-top shape for three races. Have to get the invitatory boosted up and the power level up also.
Q: You are the only Pro Stock driver to win the Western Swing in 2004. How daunting is it to do it?
ANDERSON: It is because they are three completely different race tracks. Denver is different than anything we race on all year long by tenfold, completely different deal. You just about need to lift up the gas cap and slide a new car underneath it to go race at Denver. It is just completely different. Then you go from there down to sea level, one of the best race tracks and best air conditions we run in all year long in Sonoma. Complete flip-flop, 180 degrees flip-flop from there to there. Then you move up to Seattle where you have all kinds of trees and all kinds of oxygen in those trees but you got a hot race surface usually, direct sunlight up there. It is a tricky racetrack and hard to race on. Three completely different deals. I think that is why you don’t see people sweep all three of them. It is hard to have a race team and a race car that is happy on all kind of racetrack conditions. You have to be able to make those changes on the go. People seem to have their strong one, their weak ones and that is why you don’t seem to see people sweep it I guess. Tough deal to do and only been done a few times (in all classes).
Q: Is it almost as good as winning a championship?
ANDERSON: It is different in that your championship is six races long and different racetracks so that is probably still harder. If you want to break down different parts of the season and what takes the most effort and the stamina to get ‘er done is definitely that three race Western Swing. I kinda look forward to it every year. I love going to races week-after-week-after-week. See who has more longevity, more staying power than the others, I kinda like it, but it is definitely tough on people.
Q: You have 13 wins so far this season which ties the most consecutive wins by a multicar team. Does that show you how much of a groove you and Jason are in?
ANDERSON: It does but I’ve always said, there is no guarantee when your next win is going to be. You have to treat everyone like it is your first and possibly your last and we have done that. We expect that by the time we get to the next one it is harder and harder to win again. We are very happy with the start of the season but you never know what is going to happen the rest of the way out. Do we look forward and say we got the first 13 so the next one is no problem? That is absolutely not how we think. We know if we do think like that, it will end right here and now. So we got to do everything we can to prepare to try and find a way to win and end up with 14. We can’t worry about anything past that until we get to that one. We try to look not too far down the road and concentrate on what is right in front of us and conquer that mountain.
Q: When you started racing did you think you would get 84 wins and be one away from tying Bob Glidden with 85 wins?
ANDERSON: I think when I started this deal I didn’t have driving aspirations, I just loved working on them. Kinda thought I would be a crew guy or crew chief my entire career. But eventually things evolved and I got an opportunity to drive and I have loved it ever since I have done it. When I first got in a race car I thought, you know, I just have to try it once just to see if I can do it and certainly didn’t have a plan to go out and set records and race for total amount of race wins more than someone like a Bob Glidden. He was absolutely an idol of mine, along with many of the other guys. I never thought that way but it has evolved over time. I probably still don’t think that way. I’m just trying to go out and race and do the best I can, win as much as I can and not be worried about the number. Now that the numbers are becoming significant and important I guess people are wanting to worry about it, but I try not to. I want to keep going for a long time yet, I hope I’m not at the end of my career and hope there are many more to come. You never know, it could stick on 84 for five years for all I know. I went through a three year period where I didn’t win. It can happen tomorrow, you just never know. You have to keep digging as hard as you can and that is what we strive for, work as hard as we can to find a way to win one more race.
Q: Does the heart issue you had seem like it was another lifetime ago?
ANDERSON: I feel great physically now and everything is great with the heart, got a new lease on life and don’t worry about it anymore. I don’t do anything special, I don’t wear any special equipment or anything like that. I can’t use that as an excuse, it is a perfect working order. There is no reason why I can’t race at a top level. I’m trying to do that as long as I can. Who knows how long it will go. It may go another year, another 10 years, I don’t know. I think I will know when it is time, when I can’t go out there and I can’t drive the car like I need to drive it against these young pups and I will step aside but right now I think I can get it done.
Q: You last won in Denver in 2008. Is it such a different animal racing there?
ANDERSON: Is it a different animal and without a doubt has kicked our butt the past couple of years. We have had years there where we were ready to pack up and leave Sunday morning so it has been a struggle. I think last year we were able to run fairly well there. We were able to run fairly well for the first time in many years and that feels good. You can erase all of that for this year. This is a new sheet of paper with this new fuel injection era and we have no earthy idea what they are going to run like or what they are going to act like out there. We just don’t know and are scared to death. Trying to make every preparation we can to learn and I just don’t know what is going to happen there. There is something of a wild card track this is absolutely it. If there was a chance we could flop or be better yet, I don’t know what is going to happen. It is going to be interesting and we aren’t going to know until we get there.
Q: Many Pro Stock teams will test in Denver prior to the event but you and Jason will not. Why did you opt to not test at the event?
ANDERSON: There are a few reasons, it is an expensive proposition to do that. To pack everything up and run back there and then run back home and transport everything home and then go back and forth. Expensive deal and we all have a budget to hold to. We made it mainly for that reason and trying to look at the positives of staying home, I think we can get a couple of days of work done here at the shop. The guys that are gone have to give up a couple of days of travel to get back and forth. You don’t have your equipment back in your shop to put your hands on. We always love to be able to get our equipment back here in our shop and be able to work on it as many days as we can before we go to the next event. We are going to hope that is a positive and we are going to try to duplicate everything we can on our dyno for what the Denver weather conditions will be and I think we can prepare properly for it and use those couple of extra days for our advantage. I don’t know we are either going to be a hero or a zero when we show up. We made the decision not to go, the entire class made the decision to go. We will see who is smarter.
Q: We saw in Chicago the other teams get closer to you. Will that keep continuing?
ANDERSON: Absolutely, and we have been expecting it for a long time. As I’ve said before, we are shocked it has taken this long. Finally it has happened and Shane (Gray) made big improvements at the last race and he has a couple of team cars that will make a big improvement by the time they get to Denver so you are going to have real strong cars there. The Elite team has made gains, the Dodges have made gains. Before Chicago Chris McGaha and Allen Johnson have made gains so they are all making gains right now. It seems like when that flood gate finally opens then everybody kind of jumps in. I would guess in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle it will be a completely different battle field and when we are going to have to find something special to win and extend our streak. We will see when we get there. All signs point to the class has snuck up on us.
Q: You got your first victory upon returning to racing in Englishtown. What were those emotions when you crossed the finish line?
SAMPEY: It was a roller coaster of emotions actually. I went into the day bit feeling very confident. I didn’t even want to be at the race. I was struggling a little bit emotionally with wanting to be home with my little girl. We had just gotten back from a vacation so it seems kind of weird that I wanted to be with her but I had been on the road so much that I just wanted to be home. We weren’t winning, I was trying my best, I was riding the best I could, but the wins just weren’t coming. I started to feel like I shouldn’t be out here anymore. Going to Englishtown alone without my family was a little bit difficult. I was also feeling a little bit under the weather because we had been traveling so much and then it got worse. About Saturday morning I got to feeling real bad and then on Sunday morning I was sick. I almost afraid of anyone asking me how I was feeling because I was pretty weak and tired. I lost my voice. I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t need to be on the motorcycle. It kind of was a blessing in disguise because it kept from getting to excited or trying too hard. My focus was just to make it and get the motorcycle down the race track and be safe. So winning wasn’t really on my mind. Especially because we were dealing with 25 to 35 mile an hour crosswinds. My safety was on the real thing that I was concerned with. I was just wanting to get the mike to the finish line. And if that happened only once for first round then that was fine with me. So it was almost like every time the win light came on I kept thinking, ‘Oh I need to do this again’. It was really strange but has the rounds kept going I kept thinking ‘man we are doing well’. And when we got to the final round I got to a point where I wanted to keep that feeling. Where I was just calm and make it a safe run and just don’t worry about the wind. When I went through the finish line I saw my win light but I wasn’t, I didn’t want to believe it because I didn’t want to lie to myself so I wasn’t sure. I was looking over at, I have a Safety Safari friend named Dave who will always give me a thumbs up or thumbs down to let me know if I won. So I was looking for him and when he gave me the thumbs up, I just completely lost it. I started jumping up and down on the motorcycle and I turned off the track and I couldn’t even control my emotions enough to get my helmet off. I felt like I was hyperventilating, I just couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking after everything that I was feeling early that day or yesterday, I can’t believe we just won that. I had to beat both Harley’s, I had to beat Jerry Savoie, and insane cross winds, I’m sick as a dog. Of all days to happen, I couldn’t believe that it happened that day. And then I started thinking about my little girl. She is 100 percent the reason that I came back to racing. To show her what I could do, what she could do. And then when I wasn’t winning I felt like I had made a huge mistake. And then when I finally did I felt so grateful to be able to tell her, ‘Mommy finally did it’. So I completely lost it. I was more emotional for that win, and this is the honest truth, I was more emotional for that win which felt like my first win ever than I was the first time I won a championship. The meaning behind it was so much more great than any other win I had had before because of my family now.
Q: Are you having a second career? The wins and championships when you first started and your win and success now?
SAMPEY: It is like I’m a totally different person. I don’t even remember that person back then, my life was so different back then. The struggles that I was dealing with was so different. I was so alone back then. Now I’m a whole different person, with a whole different life. My daughter has changed everything. It is almost like all those wins and all that opportunity back then almost doesn’t even exist anymore. It is almost like I have this whole new set of goals and want it just as bad. When they first started asking me to come back what I would say was, why? I have no reason to. I have 41 wins, I have three world championships. What else do I have to prove? And then when I would look down at my little girl I would think I have a whole different set of values now and I have something else to prove. It is so different. Back then I was doing it for me. 100 percent. I had this set of goals and I wanted to accomplish it. Now I don’t feel like I’m doing it for me at all. I feel like I’m doing it for her and it is totally different. I feel like I’m starting from No. 1, one win and now I have to get more.
Q: How much of a calming and steadying influence has team owner George Bryce been this season?
SAMPEY: He was the same way as I was back them too. If we couldn’t breathe if we couldn’t win. We were so fierce and sometimes that fierceness would clash with each other. We would argue, or we would fight each other. He wanted to win, I wanted to win, I might have thought it was his fault, he might have thought it was my fault. It isn’t like that anymore. He also has a different outlook I think. He is more laid back now and so am I. We get along so good, we just have fun now. Back then it was we weren’t enjoying it. We wanted to win so bad that we wouldn’t allow the fun to happen. And now we have learned through experiences, I don’t his reason for changing but I know things are different with his daughter as well. Now our main priority is to just have a good time and the wins will come and that is what we are doing. If we lose we lose as a team and if we win, we win as a team and no matter what we are enjoying every step of the way. It has been absolutely fantastic. My biggest ground wire on the team though has been my crew chief Ken Johnson. He is so awesome. This man will never let you know that he is nervous, I don’t think he gets nervous. It doesn’t matter what is going on, he is calm, he is focused, he is good at what he does, and if I didn’t have him, to look at and watch and watch his demeanor and calmness I don’t think I could stay as calm as I do. I have to give big props to Ken and he has been through a lot too. He has lost a leg a long time ago, the guy has been through hell and back and he is one of the best out there. If Ken can’t race, I don’t want to race. Our whole team we really depend on each other. We all have each other’s back, especially now with my new teammate Cory (Reed). Everything is so perfect it feels like I have John Myers back, like I have Antron (Brown) back. I have the best teammate I could possibly ask for. Nothing could be better than it is and you can tell that. We are just gelling and our progression is coming along quickly and we are doing well and I’m loving it.
Q: Is that where the performance has come from since Atlanta? Gelling as a team?
SAMPEY: I think it is a little bit of everything. I think earlier, everything that could go wrong went wrong. We are learning as a team. Every run down the track we are learning something new. I’m getting better. It took me a little while to get more comfortable on the motorcycle. They built me a brand new motorcycle this year which I am absolutely in love with. It is so much easier to drive than the one I had last year. So now that I’m comfortable on the bike I’m able to focus more on my reaction times, my shift points and stuff like that. And I’m getting more seat time. George is fine pointing the tuning and we are figuring it out and we know what direction we need to go in. Both as a rider and a tuner and all the crew guys. Because we do get along so well there is no pressure. It is just happening. We have taken little bitty baby steps on the way to go the right direction. Every so often we will slip up. We bogged the motorcycle real bad in qualifying on Friday in Chicago, I didn’t get in until Saturday, but we figured it out. I just think that it is because everybody is moving in the right direction and nobody is causing any problems for anybody else. It is a really big thing for a team to gel together well. Nobody is butting heads or going against the grain. We are just progressing like we need to. I really think it is only going to get better.
Q: When you had your accident in 2014 did you think your comeback was going to end there?
SAMPEY: That was a huge devastating thing for me. One of the things I bragged the most when I retired is that I raced for 13 years and never injured myself. I was so proud of the fact I had such a risky career, little bitty girl on a bad ass motor scooter and I walked away injury free. And then I come back and it almost like I ate my words. It was one of the first things that happened to me, two months into it. I literally I had a very bad injury and I don’t know if people understand how bad it was. My Achilles and tendons on the side were lacerated. Doctors said I couldn’t walk for three months, told me it would take a full year for me to recover. And you are telling me a full year and I have to be testing in a month and a half. We didn’t think I would start the season. My first thoughts was this is the sign that the Lord has just told me why did you get back on the motorcycle. You should have never got back on it. I kept thinking, it didn’t happen on the track, it happened in the pits. It was a stupid mistake. It was my mistake. I’m going to use this as motivation and that is what I did. My ankle injury is what cause me to get back in the gym and get me more motivated. The doctor told me I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t event put my foot on the ground for three months. The surgery was Nov. 5 and I was testing the motorcycle the first week of February. I was also running on a treadmill the end of February. We were way ahead of schedule. What I did was I had a friend that owns a physical therapy business and I called him right away. I told him before the surgery and told him what was going on and what I had to do. He said we are going to get you in the swimming pool. Even before I could even walk, I couldn’t even put my foot on the ground he had me in the pool doing exercises. Scuba diving flipper and was training the ankle before I could put any pressure on it and that is why I was so advanced in my recovery. I’m a little concerned I pushed it too hard since I’m having some problems with tightness. I need to see my doctor again. It is nothing bad and I can do whatever I want and don’t have any trouble on the motorcycle. There is some weakness and tightness.
Q: Is it so fulfilling to have your daughter watch you and learn your steps?
SAMPEY: It has changed everything for me. She is still very young, she is five years old, she doesn’t completely understand everything but she is getting it though. She didn’t’ show much interest or understanding of what I’m doing until I won. She still is struggling between qualifying and eliminations. She is starting to get it though. She is starting to understand qualifying is practice. Even because I won and that we are winning rounds I can see her interest developing. I can see her interest and she wants to know even if I won the practice round. It is a little scary for me because I want to see her interest grow and that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. I’m not doing it because I wasn’t her to be a racer. My mom tells me that isn’t fair she wants to me a racer. I put my parents through hell because I wanted to be a racer and they didn’t want me to do it either. I’m doing to show her that if she wants to be a scientist, a doctor, anything is possible. She is getting pretty interested.