Interview with Dave Connolly; Set to make Top Fuel Debut

THE MODERATOR: Dave, thank you for joining us today. Have you gotten used to that title of Top Fuel driver and how did testing go for you guys?

DAVE CONNOLLY: Yeah, that's funny. I would have never dreamed that it would have been Dave Connolly, Top Fuel for sure. I've always kind of grown up in the Pro Stock ranks. It's been a fun journey so far, I've got to be honest with you. It's kind of opened my eyes quite a bit to what kind of monsters these Top Fuel cars are. It's been a fun test session so far. We've got to experience a lot of different things, tire shakes, smoking the tire early, smoking the tire down track, even blew up a few times, so we're trying to get all the things of Top Fuel racing out of the way early in the season, and it's been, again, a great ride, and looking forward to a very different but very fun and exciting 2015.

Q. What is that learning curve like going from a Pro Stock to a Top Fuel car?

DAVE CONNOLLY: It's hard to explain because I've never experienced anything like these kind of cars. The g-forces that they pull all the way down the track is pretty much incredible. They just pull from 200 feet to 700 feet, these things are really covering up some ground and can really set you back in the seat. As far as the driving standpoint, obviously a Pro Stock car there's a few more things going on, but again, you have a lot more time to adapt. You're covering up so much ground in such a little amount of time, any little movement or small mistake turns into a big one in a hurry. Just getting adapted and acclimated with the speed rate and everything is the biggest challenge so far.

Q. Dave, I remember meeting you a good number of years ago, and the word Top Fuel never, ever entered your words whatsoever. What convinced you to take the step up to the Top Fuel series?

DAVE CONNOLLY: You know, it's crazy. Again, probably when I met you, I never considered racing Top Fuel, but it's all about opportunities, obviously, and when Bob (Vandergriff, Jr., team owner) was making a change in his program, and obviously approached me and I was very honored to even be considered for a position in Top Fuel because in my opinion it's the pinnacle of drag racing, and it's the fastest cars on the ground, the fastest thing on the property. That's as high as it goes, and never in a million years did I think about even have the opportunity to race on a pro level like I have in Pro Stock and now in Top Fuel. It's been a blessing, and again, it's all about opportunities, and when I was approached, it was definitely I didn't have to think very long on it. I think it's going to be very exciting. Not too many people get opportunities like this, so I'm going to try to take full advantage of it.

Q. Was there at any point in your conversation a convincing moment, a word, a sentence that just convinced you I don't have to think about this anymore, I can say yes?

DAVE CONNOLLY: You know, obviously again, it's the top tier of drag racing, so you know, I've known that, and don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Pro Stock racing, love all aspects of it, love the technology, but it's just when you think drag racing, it's the first one to the finish line, and again, these things are going a thousand foot in 3.7 seconds and 330 miles an hour. That alone kind of sold the deal for me. I've always been interested in all categories of drag racing from Stock Eliminator to now it's Top Fuel. I must say it's kind of grabbed a hold of me tightly. It's very addicting, and I think I'm going to really enjoy just getting to race Top Fuel for a full season.

Dave Connolly
Q. Question about your level of competitiveness going into a new category. When I think about Dave Connolly, I think about a great driver but also someone who wins a lot. Tell me about the balance between you're learning, you're getting used to a new car, but you want to be competitive and you want to go out and win races, and at some point be able to go out and do what you normally do, impose your will and dominate races. How does that work because you can't get ahead of yourself with this new car that is so much faster, yet you're still Dave Connolly as a competitor and he wants to win?

DAVE CONNOLLY: What you're saying is you don't want me getting mad the first race of the season if I can't win, huh?

Q. It's still fun to watch.

DAVE CONNOLLY: You're right, it is going to take some adapting. Obviously, any time I think I can speak for any drag racer, you roll through the gate, you want to think that you have a chance or a possibility of winning a drag race or else you wouldn't even enter. I understand, and I'm very well aware that it's going to take some time to get acclimated with these cars. Again, they're a different animal, and just getting them from A to B is going to take a lot of learning and a lot of experience and passes, and it's going to take seat time, and I understand that. But in the same sense, I would feel very confident and very strong about the people that BVR (Bob Vandergriff Racing) has put in place. We've got three great crew chiefs, obviously an alliance with Don Schumacher Racing, and Bob Vandergriff has done a very good job of putting the right people in place, so to go out there and sell ourselves short just because of lack of experience, I don't want to do that. Anything can happen on Sunday. We've all seen that in drag racing. All I can do is just go out there and just keep learning and keep that competitiveness. It's still getting the car A to B as fast as you can and leaving the starting line on time mentality. I'm just going to go out there and just keep an open mind, obviously, but still, I want to win every time I sit in the car.

Q. Is there a driver that you are particularly excited or thrilled to go up against in Top Fuel?

DAVE CONNOLLY: You know, I guess there's a lot of them. Obviously Tony Schumacher has got the No. 1 on his car, so you definitely always want to take him out. But there's a lot of there's a ton of talent in the class. Big fan of Antron Brown's. Obviously he's a past world champion, and I think he's one of the best drivers out there. You've got Spencer Massey, Shawn Langdon, right next door to us with Larry Dixon. I think him and Tony have won a couple races the last few years in Top Fuel for sure. The list goes on to be honest with you. The amount of competition and competitiveness has really, really stepped up the last few years in Top Fuel and Funny Car, and throughout all categories. These guys are out there, which I find very impressive, is they're going 3.7 seconds side by side every other run. You know, the drivers kind of take a little more role on the starting line just because the cars are running so close together.

Q. I wanted to know before Bob approached you, had you given any thought to racing a Top Fuel dragster?

DAVE CONNOLLY: To be 100 percent honest, no. I was pretty much focused on the task at hand in Pro Stock and staying pretty busy with what we had going on at Gray Motorsports last year. You've got to keep an open mind in drag racing because you never know year to year who you're going to be racing with or for or what you might be driving. It was a shock to me to be honest with you, and I'm very, very blessed and fortunate that he even considered me for a position like this.

Q. How much practice have you had in a Top Fuel dragster?

DAVE CONNOLLY: If you ask me, not enough, going into Pomona. But we got to make quite a few runs down there in West Palm. We went in December, and I think we made, I don't know, 10 to 12 runs then, and we went down there again just a few weeks ago, and I made another probably 10 attempts or so. But to be honest with you, I've made only three runs in the .381 to .376 range, so very, very green to the class still. It's going to be exciting Q1 just to try to make a full pull and get the uprights under full power.

Q. I think Dixon as a teammate will be a considerable help to you, don't you?

DAVE CONNOLLY: Absolutely. Between Bob and Larry, you're talking about 40 years' experience behind the wheel. Larry has been a very big help, and any questions that I may have and even things that he foresees me maybe experiencing, he's kind of gave me a heads up on. Having them guys in your corner is obviously going to be a huge factor in speeding up the learning process, but they keep telling me it's all about seat time, and the more laps you make, things will start to slow down and you'll start to adapt to them a little quicker.

Again, Top Fuel session 101 is definitely in order.

Q. Dave, as far as it's kind of like an equation, you've got your confidence and your experience, plus some top equipment, and then you've got two veterans there to be a virtual bank of information for you. Talk about that equation equaling success.

DAVE CONNOLLY: You're right, it takes everything working in order and everything gelling. Obviously one of the main key ingredients to success is team chemistry, and so far it's been great. The camaraderie of the team is there, so that is key, and obviously having the right equipment, which Bob has made a huge investment in getting us all the right pieces and parts we need to go out and play with these guys at the top level, those are huge. Obviously right now I feel like the weak link because of lack of experience, but again, you're only lack of experienced because you haven't had the opportunity or the time. Bob is giving that to us, and we're just going to try to make this process as fast as possible and get to the level of confidence where we feel we can go out there and win on a regular basis. You know, I've been given great opportunities in the past with some great teams throughout the Pro Stock career, and some you've blown your expectations and won more than you thought, and then others you felt like you left some on the table. We're not going to try to do that, we're going to give it our all and work as hard as we can and go out there and try to bang heads with these guys. But I know there's a lot of talented people in the whole class, and they're going to be at it, and it's going to be a dogfight at the end.

Q. And what do you like best about your experience in it so far?

DAVE CONNOLLY: So far, again, it's just the Gs that they continue to accelerate all the way down the track. It's a fun ride for 1,000 feet, not 900 but 1,000. These things are impressive. The amount of power that they can apply to the racetrack continually for that period of time and go for 1,000 feet, you're covering up the last 320 or 340 feet of the track in about seven tenths of a second, and to me that's just mind blowing.

Q. When Antron Brown came over from Pro Stock motorcycles to Top Fuel, he made an immediate impact on the class, but he also had a number of seasoned Top Fuel drivers who volunteered advice a lot, and I know you've got a couple of good ones right there in your own camp, but did anybody else besides Bob and Larry help you?

DAVE CONNOLLY: Absolutely, and you know, that's what amazes me, I guess, coming from the Pro Stock world where everything was so tight knit and everybody was afraid to talk to each other, but now in the Fuel ranks there's been a lot of open arms. Obviously, Shawn Langdon, I've been friends with him through the Sportsman ranks. He gave me a few pointers. Antron Brown is always there for me. I can't say enough about the guy. He's a great ambassador of the sport. Again, Morgan Lucas, Richie Crampton, that team has been a huge help, as well. There's been a lot of guys that have offered up help, even Tony at West Palm come over and offered any advice that he has. You know, it's been very warm and welcoming so far, and I look forward to racing with these guys.

Q. What are some realistic goals that you might have for this year? DAVE CONNOLLY: A few people have asked me that, and like I said, I don't want to downplay this team just because of my lack of experience. Again, but I do have to be realistic. Right now just getting comfortable, making the right decisions in the car. You know, there's a lot of firsts. Right now it's getting A to B and learning that when the thing smokes the tires what to do. I haven't been put in a pedal situation or a lot of race day Sunday situations. It's going to take a lot of experience. For me to say that we're going to go out there to Pomona and turn 401 lights on, I'm not going to be disappointed if that doesn't happen. Obviously I want that to happen, and we're going to do our best to give it our all, but if things start to gel and I can get my confidence level up and get more seat time, you know, I'd love to find BVR in the winner's circle multiple times this season, myself and Larry included. This team is more than capable of winning, and I've just got to do my part and hold up my end and not be the weak link of this group. A lot of talent there, and we're going to go out there and, again, just try to keep our noses up and get after it. The team has been very supportive and very patient with me so far, and I can't thank them enough.

 

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TJ Pruitt is the publisher of DragCoverage.com. To submit your news, email us at coverage@dragcoverage.com

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