Ed "The Ace" McCulloch

Part 2

by Susan Wade

DRO: Speaking of change, it has to be a huge change tuning a Top Fuel dragster again after concentrating on a Funny Car.

Ace: It's a pleasant change. A single-car team is great. A dragster is great. It's way more forgiving than a Funny Car.

DRO: Racecars often have distinct personalities. Have you gotten to know this dragster well enough yet to learn its personality?

Ace: There are some variances from one dragster to another. I used to go around and around with Connie all the time. He said pipe's pipe and it doesn't know anything. It doesn't matter. Well, it does matter. He's very successful, and they [his cars] do great. But we'll argue that point till the day one of us or both of us die. New pipe is better. The cars work better. They have their own personalities.

DRO: How do you mold that personality to be the one you want? Or do you get stuck with whatever the sum total of the parts is when you take them out of the box and put them together?

Ace: The way to explain that is these cars have no suspension. This suspension in that car is the chassis. When it leaves and that car arches up in the middle and it raises the engine location and it plants the tire on the back, that's what makes that car work. It's like take a paper clip and you do this [bend it]. When it's new, it'll go right back where it's supposed to. But after you make 100 runs on that car, now that tubing has changed. It doesn't work like it did when it was new. Do you have to buy a new car every 70-80 runs? Some guys do.

DRO: Do you worry about what the other Top Fuel teams are doing, or do you race against your own potential? Do you just say, "We're going to get the most we can out of that one racecar"?

Ace: That's the way I look at it. I certainly watch them and pay attention to what they do. In this position, they've got way more experience than I do. I've been around this sport a long time, but not in a crew chief role. But my intentions are to make this the best of my ability. Can we compete with those guys? On a given day we can. Can we go out there and run equally as well as them day in and day out in every condition? Maybe not. They've got more experience than I do in making some of the calls that they make. They're going to be better than we are -- sometimes.

DRO: Is it a matter of brains or funding?

Ace: Well, they've probably got a lot more of both. But we don't want for anything here. Anything we need, we have.

DRO: This team is OK financially? It's financially able to compete?

Ace: I raced my own cars for a lot of years. I paid the bills. If I can get another run out of that part, I will, because I'm paying for that out of my pocket. Well, that mentality has carried over with me. I will not just go out here and just say, "Nah -- let's get rid of that. Let's get this new stuff." When we came here, I took what we had. Doug actually had ordered this stuff before I was hired. We changed cylinder heads, which was a good move. But I'll try to get our money's worth out of every part that we can. I don't like wasting it. I treat it as if I was paying for it.

DRO: And do you treat it as though you are the one who'll have to sit in that seat?

Ace: I think probably one of the best things for a dragster driver is for someone who's been running a Funny Car to come and run their car. You cannot run a Funny Car on the edge like some guys run a dragster, because you're going to hurt the guy.

DRO: You're not aggressive in the Connie Kalitta or Alan Johnson style.

Ace: I don't think that I'll ever be that aggressive. I won't take that chance. I want this car to run good. This car is going to run good and not hurt itself. That's my goal and that's my intention. Now, to go up there and send it to the other end knowing that it's probably not going to make it but if it does it's probably going to run good, I won't send it. Some things happen that you don't have any control over, and it'll go out and burn it up sometimes, even on your best day, but not intentionally. I won't run it that way.

DRO: So consistency is the key for you then.

Ace: We need to be consistent. We're not there yet, but we're just starting.

DRO: With his family history in drag racing, Doug has that sentimental attachment to the sport. Is that what makes you two a good fit?

Ace: I think we're a good fit. We've known one another a lot of years. I've always had respect for him. His little boy, John, his birthday's the same as mine. Feb. 2, that's always when the Winternationals were. So he always had to come tell me Happy Birthday. I raced against Doug. I ran him at Indy at the U.S. Nationals. He remembers it vividly, because I beat him. I don't have to remind him -- he knows. It's a neat relationship. I'm enjoying it.

DRO: It has to be fun to work with Doug. He comes with no "mystique." He's just Doug.

Ace: It's strange that you'd bring that out. I don't know why everybody thinks Snake's so cool. He thinks he's cool, but I don't think he's cool.

DRO: You want to say that on the record?

Ace: I don't care. You hear Bob Frey in the tower: "There's Snake. He's really cool." Now Snake thinks he's cool: "Yeah, I'm cool." But do I think he's cool? No.

DRO: What is "cool"? Do you want to be cool? Does it matter?

Ace: I want to be successful.

DRO: Is that a departure from your driving days? I mean, weren't reputation and swagger a bigger deal then than they are now? Is Don Prudhomme a holdover from when that stuff was important?

Ace: I don't know. Can't answer that.

DRO: Well, you've mellowed.

Ace: Oh, a lot. The generation we're in now, hardly anybody even knows my reputation. And if they were to hear it, they wouldn't probably believe it because I've changed enough that they don't see me as that today: "No way would you do something like that." You're
right, I wouldn't. [Smiles.] That was then and this is now.

DRO: Those old days were fun.

Ace: Everything was different then. You could get away with things. I tell guys now -- I've told my kids -- They say well, you used to do that! I said, "Yeah, but times have changed." Used to be you go out and get in a fight and the better man's going to win. Now you go get in a fight, somebody's going to get shot. With the sponsorship and all of everything that's here, you go out and you raise a little bit of hell, they get a phone call. Back then you can call all you want; it doesn't matter to me. It's different now. The pressure level in the sport is much greater.

DRO: As the sport has gone more mainstream, is that spoiling things? This sport was built on rebellion. This is almost the last bastion of defiance.

Ace: I think that's probably correct. At the tail end of my driving career, (announcer Dave) McClelland or (Steve) Evans would say, "You know, you guys get out there at the other end and everybody compliments your competitor and how great they are. We need some controversy." I said, "For 20 years, you guys have been on my ass for getting into it at the other end. Now you want a fight down there, like we used to have. What do you want? Make up your minds."

DRO: Does that kind of wear on you, too? If you genuinely dislike the other guy, great, but isn't it a pain to have to manufacture hatred?

Ace: Yeah, but we can't anymore. I'm not the hothead that I used to be. But there's a still a button you could push that'll get me there. But when that happens, I can't control that. I've learned to control it way better than I ever have before, but when it comes right down to it, it happens and then I get in trouble. It's lawsuits, and it's fines, and it's all of that. Well, screw that.

DRO: That's what I can't figure out. In this age of excess, of extreme sports and on the edge, in-your-face TV and films and our culture in general, why haven't the mainstream media caught onto drag racing?

Ace: That's an ongoing question. We talk about what we have. We look at corporate people to come in here and they go to the starting line and they feel something that they've never felt before. Why hasn't that caught on? You go to a Cup race and they come in their limo and they parade through the garage and they go to their suite and that's all well and good. I know we'll never be what that is. I know we've made leaps and bounds. Why it hasn't caught on more, I don't know.

DRO: It's the vicious cycle, though. You do need Corporate America to keep investing so teams and more teams can afford to race.

Ace: I told Jimmy Prock years ago, "I'm glad I'm not you." He looked at me funny and said, "What do you mean by that?" I said, "You're young. Your entire life is in front of you. This is what you do. You've got to put up with NHRA's crap the rest of your life. I've only got to a few more years." In one respect, probably the things I used to go off on -- track preparation, different issues I used to raise all kinds of hell about -- now I look at it and I say, "Nothing I can do about it." It is what it is. I can raise hell. Is it going to change it? No. So I make my adjustments, whatever it is I got to do, and go on down the road.

DRO: Look at Rob Bruins. He didn't win one race the year he won the title in 1979. And 20 years later, in 1999, Tony Schumacher won just once on his way to the championship.

Ace: That's not my desire. I look at the big picture. We're No. 1 -- that's not real. Do I want to win a championship? Yes.

DRO: Still, it could be a matter of money.

Ace: At this point, and again, we're just getting started, as far as funding holding anybody back, I can't use that for an excuse because there is nothing that Doug wouldn't buy or spend if I said, "We need this to do better." So whether it's Schumacher or Prudhomme, do they have something that we can't afford? No. Prudhomme doesn't have a blower dyno. Doug does. Flow bench, all the stuff you need, Doug's got it.

So technology-wise, you and Doug have as much as the Schumachers?

Ace: Yes. Now there's a little bit of difference, probably . . . we haven't used that equipment to its fullest potential yet. But we will.

DRO: If you had to predict the final Top Fuel standings, what would it be? Can you give me a 1-2-3?

Ace: [Long pause] I've looked at this long and hard. Doug finished ninth last year. The best he's ever finished in his entire career was seventh. Not counting ourselves short, but with the experience and ability of all of these other teams, in my opinion, I'd have to say that the Army car is No. 1. Kalitta's cars are going to be right up there. Now they've got three cars. Are they going to finish 1-2-3 or 2-3-4? I don't think so. But they're going to put a couple of cars up close to the top. I think Bernstein is going to be in there.

DRO: Where's Dixon going to go?

Ace: There's 18 cars. You sit here and think it should be easy to finish in the top five. Look at their third car with Grubnic now. That can be a tough car. If we could finish in the top five or six, I would be happy. Anything better than that, I would be ecstatic.

DRO: What would you do if Doug Herbert up and won the championship?

Ace: I would've thought I'd died and gone to heaven. It would be gratifying to me if we can be respectable and not tear it up.

DRO: There's a lot of professional pride that goes into that. And a lot of money, considering the new oil down rules.

Ace: There's issues with that. I understand where they're at. If we're out there blowing this thing up and tearing it up, then you need to make some changes. But when you get in the middle of the summer and you get on a race track that nobody can get hold of, and on Sunday they're going to drive it to the other end to get the win and it's spinning the tire and it blows up. Is that our fault? No.

DRO: Paul Romine made that point last summer.

Ace: I told Capps, "We want to win the race. But when you go out there on Sunday and it comes loose and you pedal it, you keep pedaling it until it blows up, A.) You don't win the round anyway, B.) You've blown up all your stuff, and C.) You've got a penalty on top of it. If it goes out there puffing smoke and it ain't goin', shut it off. We're not that good today. We'll come back and try it tomorrow or next week.

DRO: I hope Prudhomme respected that.

Ace: We always had a respect for each other. Lynn and Linda, my wife, are very, very close friends. Were Snake and I prior to this, did we go to dinner? No. When I went to work with him, did I? Yeah, we did. It was more because my wife and his wife said, "We're going to dinner." OK. Snake, we've been through a lot of years, and he knows how far he can push me. So he used to push. We've gotten into it before. We got into it in Chicago. It came relatively close to an ugly scene.

DRO: Really? The spring race or the fall race?

Ace: Let's see . . . it would have been the first race from '02. It didn't come to blows, but he knew when I stood up it was time for him to shut up. And he did. He backed off and he cooled down and said, "Don't get mad, now." We've had our ups and downs.

DRO: Would you have hit him?

Ace: Would I? In a heartbeat! Sure I would.

DRO: Would he have sued you or hit you back?

Ace: We would have probably rolled around in the dirt. I don't think there'd have been a lawsuit. We're both from the old school.

DRO: Think you could still take him, huh?

Ace: Always could.

DRO: That's why he has that respect for you.

Ace: He knows where to stop.

DRO: You've given him credit for plenty, but you certainly have to give him credit for being smart.

Ace: He still ain't cool.

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