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Did you encounter this kind of personnel challenge when you were in Funny Car?

Cannon: Well, we were running pretty good with me, Jimbo (Ermalovich), and Phil (Schuler) making the calls. I had last decision, but I’ll tell you, they made probably about 75 percent of the calls. I could overrule them, but if I ever did and it was wrong and we messed up, neither one of them ever said one word. And trust me, I made a lot of mistakes, but we did pretty good, too. That was my best year and it was with my own guys, the team I had put together based on what I had learned from racing all my life.

So why did you move away from that?

Cannon: We hadn’t planned to, but we thought if we added Wes Cerny to the team that it would do even better. We didn’t fire anybody, we just put Wes on and in his contract--and nothing against Wes--it said he had the last say so. He was the crew chief and he made all the decisions.

So when he came on, he had Jimbo, he had Phil, he had me, and he had a car that just finished 6th, so we had a combination. He left everything alone, right down to the clutch, but we were burning motors up. Our car would haul butt to half track, it would run with anybody, including John, to half track, but we could not keep the heads on it. The first thing Wes said when he got there was, ‘I can fix that in two runs.’ And he did. It went an .83 the fourth time he sent it down the track where John only went an .81 in testing at Phoenix.

So we were real happy at first, but then it started getting away from us as he made more changes. But it wasn’t just Wes wanting to rule it all. We all knew he had been doing it a lot longer than us, so we never questioned anything Wes ever did. He was a one-man band on making the calls, but at the same time if I had ever stood up and said, ‘You know, Wes, we had a car running three races ago that was better than what we’ve got now, and I want to suggest since I own the team, let’s put it back.’ And I would bet you he would’ve done it. But I never did that. I never stepped on his toes, I never said anything until Oakley got fed up with the car not running good and finally said we had to make a change and I had to tell Wes to sit out the last three races and I ran it by myself again.

Now, trust me, I think Wes is a bright, bright guy. He’s created half of the stuff we use out there and I think he’s one of the smartest guys, but even he can’t run one of those cars all by himself. If anybody could do it, maybe (Force crew chief Austin) Coil could do it, but if you gave him three years out there like that I think he may not lose ground, but he wouldn’t be able to make up ground against the multi-car teams because he wouldn’t have three cars running on Monday.

Despite showing flashes of promise and making it to three final rounds, Cannon never scored a win in his five-year Funny Car career.

How important is that post-race testing?

Cannon: Well, another thing that proves my point is that on Monday, after John has won the race and one of his cars is runner-up, I’ve seen it happen more than once, they’ll run all three cars, all day, as if they lost first round, like they didn’t qualify, and then they’ll go to the next race and kick your butt. Everybody else that went two rounds is loaded up and long gone, but they’ll be out there testing by themselves. It’s a big reason for why they win so much.

And another thing, everybody knows it cost a lot of money to run these cars, but it costs only about a fourth of the budget to run the car and it takes the rest to take care of the crew, pay the crew chiefs, and to drag this stuff up and down the highway to all the tracks, and to house the guys. That’s where the money’s at. I mean, you house 10 guys all year, in some expensive places, and you need at least two tractor-trailers and it all adds up. I actually had enough money this year (2004) to run a fuel car, if somebody else covered everything else, because it was going to cost about three times what I had. It’s unreal.


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