(Originally published at DragIllustrated.com 5/13/21)
Three races into the 2021 NHRA Camping World Series season, Funny Car standout Bob Tasca III finds himself at the top of the class standings, 60 markers ahead of Gainesville winner JR Todd. A semi-final finish at the season-opening Gatornationals followed by back-to-back wins at the 4-Wide Nationals at Las Vegas and the final NHRA race at Atlanta has the Rhode Island native riding high heading into the summer months.
I gave Bob a call this week as the NHRA heads to its second 4-Wide event in three races at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C. this weekend. We discussed a number of topics and Tasca, as ever, gave his honest assessment while providing a positive view of the sport.
Is this where you thought you would be after three races?
I don’t know if anyone’s expectations are winning two out of the first three races. Our expectations are to win all of them, you go to every race to win them. But in this sport, you need a little bit of luck, some skill, and a whole lot of hard work to give yourself a chance. We’ve been very fortunate and obviously, very pleased with where we’re at at this point in the season.
I owe it all to my sponsors who supported us through these very difficult times that we’ve all been through. I’ve been able to keep my whole team together. All through the offseason, these guys were non-stop on just picking away at different projects, trying to chase down thousandths of a second, heck, tens of thousandths of a second in the Funny Car class right now.
I expected to come out of the box strong, we wanted to definitely pick up an early win in the season to get some momentum, and to have a semi-final and two wins, that is, I think, above expectations at this point in the season. But it’s built a lot of confidence that we can continue to go in, race in and race out, and put ourselves in a position to win.
How hard was it to see Don Schumacher Racing sweep the Funny Car class last year?
It’s pretty hard to do. I can tell you right now, no matter how good he is or how good anyone is out there, to go out and throw down the way that they did, it’s pretty remarkable. You say to yourself, “What’s changed?” They’re down two cars, but they still have arguably two of the top teams out there, with Ron Capps and Matt Hagan, but they haven’t won yet. I beat Hagan by one ten-thousandths in the first round and that could go either way. It just shows you how competitive this class is. I tip my hat to what they did last season, but last season’s over. Atlanta’s over and we’re going to be judged on our performance in Charlotte this weekend and that’s really all I’m focused on.”
How big was it to win 4-Wide in Vegas heading into 4-Wide at Charlotte this weekend?
I think for all the drivers, the second 4-Wide is going to be better for us because you get a routine. You get that first run under your belt. It’s a very distracting thing for a driver pulling onto the starting line, staging against three other cars. I think we’ll all be a little bit better going into Charlotte.
But the race car don’t know if it’s racing one or six people, right? The crew chiefs tune the car to go as quick as they can go in the lane that they’re in, whether it’s four lanes or six lanes. I don’t think there will be any difference there. I think the drivers will be better. I think you’ll see, hopefully, less mistakes on the starting line and I think we’ll have an advantage going into the second one.
How does it feel getting the final win at Atlanta?
It’s bittersweet. I have a lot of great memories in Atlanta. I’ve been there a lot in my early years at divisional races and in my alcohol car and obviously National events. You never like to say good bye, but my grandfather told me something I’ve never forgotten in my life, “Always remember, everything in life has a beginning, a middle, and an end; plan accordingly.” For Atlanta, that was the end. We’ll move on.
I’m sure there’s going to be a beginning…I’ve heard a lot of rumors about next season and a track that could fill that slot, something new that we’ve never been to. It’s exciting to get somewhere new and it’s bittersweet to leave somewhere, but if you’re going to leave, you might as well leave with the last trophy. That’s a first for me, to close a track and leave with the trophy. I’ll never forget it.
You had a close relationship with John Force prior to Ford’s brief departure from NHRA, even helping him clinch his 15th Funny Car title with a round win against Hagan at the 2010 World Finals in Pomona. What is your relationship like with Force now?
Personally, we have a fantastic relationship. John and I, we talk all the time. Professionally, he wants to beat me as bad as he wants to beat anyone else. But personally, I owe a lot to John Force. There’s things that he’s taught me to this day that I use every time I sit in the car. But the bottom line is, I’ll never forget where I came from. John’s been very good to me throughout my career. I mean, obviously I don’t begrudge him at all (about moving to Chevy). Ford left and he had options. I didn’t have options, but he did and I was thrilled that he was able to put a deal together and remain racing. It’s tough. Getting sponsors and keeping sponsors and how the landscape changes over time, it’s a testament to what he’s built, but I have a great relationship with John.
How hard was your “day job” of owning and running Ford dealerships at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic?
What we’ve all been through over the last year has been nothing short of epic, right? We were fortunate to be in an industry where we were able to claw our way back. My heart goes out to all the businesses that were lost because of the virus and all the healthcare professionals and the people who really put themselves into harm’s way, day in and day out. We played our small role, keeping our Ford dealerships open and keeping the wheels of America rolling, particularly in the service departments in some of those darkest days. Those were some of the toughest times of my life, all of our lives, and good Lord willing, we don’t ever have to go through anything like that again.
But yeah, the race team and everyone on the team’s families, how do you keep that going? With my sponsors and Ford and being able to put that together and keep those guys together were important to me as well. We came through it, we survived it, and we’re focused on rebuilding and growing and coming out of this thing stronger than what we came into it with.
With the number of events hosted at Indy last year, everyone has tons of data at that track. Does that help you prepare for this year’s Big Go?
You know, people say that, but I’ve had more runs at Phoenix than probably any track in my life and for whatever reason, that doesn’t help me any. I don’t think it really makes that much of a difference, to be quite frank with you, because I think the conditions change dramatically from Indy to Indy, sometimes. I’ve been to Indy when it’s been so hot, you can’t stand it and I’ve been to Indy where you’ve got to wear a jacket. The conditions change and these cars evolve.
As crazy as it may sound, we’re not bringing the exact car to Charlotte that we left Atlanta with. There’s always things that we’re trying and tweaking and adjusting. From race to race, it’s pretty small, but from one race to next year? It’s a different race car. It’s not the same car. The clutch system is totally different, the floater packages are different, and it requires a different setup. I don’t think it’s a big advantage. I think how the car is running versus last race is more relevant than what I did in Indy last year, even though we were No. 1 qualifier for one of those races.
Given the huge changes NHRA has seen over the past year or so, what are your thoughts on NHRA both as a sanction and as a sport?
I think, truthfully, it’s in a great trajectory. It could be, arguably, one of the biggest years ever for NHRA. I mean, look at Atlanta. Sold out. Vegas was at capacity, I think, within a few days of tickets going on sale. Gainesville was a packed house. We’re actually catering to ticketholders from 2020, plus the 2021 crowd that wants to go. I see a fantastic run. The TV ratings coming out of Gainesville were phenomenal. I haven’t heard about Atlanta, I know the time slot was a little tough.
But I’m very bullish on the sport of NHRA. I mean, let’s be honest, let’s not sugarcoat it, we don’t have the TV package that NASCAR has where we can run cars with nobody in the stands nor, quite frankly, do we even want to do that. I’m only there because of the fans. If we ran with empty stands, I’d rather be at the dealerships selling cars. I feel that they survived, “they” being the track owners, the team owners, NHRA, the most bleak time in NHRA’s history, what we went through in the last year. And we came through it, together.