Interview with the Pros: David Grubnic
By NHRA Communications
That Connie Kalitta, he is something, isn't he? Just a few short months after bringing his two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion son Scott Kalitta back into the scene, he went and one-upped himself. A third car was added during the off-season and immediately David Grubnic was chosen to drive the Top Fuel ride. So now Connie is doing to drag racing what he has done to the airline industry - added more to learn more. Doug Kalitta pilots the Mac Tools dragster, Scott Kalitta drives the Mac Tools/Jesse James dragster, and the native Australian has the keys to the Kalitta Air dragster. Connie tunes them all and Grubnic will be the first one to tell you what an adventure that has been already. Since his career started in 1998, Grubnic has collected one No. 1 qualifying award and two runner-up finishes. That was before Connie was tuning his ride. In just his second event with Kalitta Motorsports, Grubnic snagged his second career No. 1 qualifying position with a 4.486-second run at Firebird I'ntl Raceway in Phoenix. Surely, his first national event win can't be too far behind. He'll make another attempt this weekend, as the 35th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals is set to wow the Florida crowd at Gainesville Raceway starting Friday. In this Q&A session, Grubnic talks about what it is like to join Kalitta Motorsports and work closely with Connie, what he likes to trade in his free time and what he wants to accomplish in 2004.
Q: What brought the third car concept together, especially so quickly?
GRUBNIC: What brought it together so quickly was Connie and Jim and John Oberhofer. They obviously discussed what they wanted to do over the winter and then Connie got a hold of me and asked me if they did put it together if I would be interested. Obviously, I was over the moon when they asked that. The very idea that they were considering me was good enough for me. When the decision was made to run the car, I was ecstatic.
Q: What do you think about the early performance of the car?
GRUBNIC: I didn't expect us to come out and run so quickly so soon. The performance is just terrific. We ran a 4.49 in my first race and then we came out and ran two 4.40s back-to-back and were the only car in Phoenix to run 40s this weekend and we were the No. 1 qualifier. That is something that I didn't expect, but considering the talent and the depth of intelligence of this whole team, I can understand why. Conrad makes an enormous amount of power in these cars. Believe me, when you drive them and you get to 1.3 seconds and they start rocketing down that race track, there is one thing you need to have with your clutch and that is a lot of horsepower. And Connie definitely makes all the power. It is all them, they deserve all of the credit.
Q: Connie Kalitta has mentioned in the past that if he did put a third car together, he would want you to drive it. Why do you think he asked you to drive the car?
GRUBNIC: I honestly don't know. We've been friends for a while. When I was driving for John Mitchell, Connie would always come over pretty much ever since I started driving for John in 1999. Connie would always come over and help out and visit. Connie has an enormous heart like that. He'll come over and try to help out. He'll look at things and he was always welcome. We just built a relationship over the years and in turn at the race, we would hang out and visit.
Q: When did you find out that the third car was a done deal and you were going to drive it?
GRUBNIC: Well, we started out talking about it just after the season. They made me aware of it when I was back in Australia, in mid December. There was an issue with the fact that you obviously have to put the right group of people together. We had Connie and Jim and John, but you have to assemble the right crew. You have to put a rig together and a lot of other things have to be put in place. But we couldn't do it at the cost of compromising the other two cars. Those cars run so good, and I am probably one of Connie's biggest fans and I didn't want to see those cars compromised either. Enough was put into place that made it a viable thing to do and the decision was made to start the team.
Q: What was your reaction when you realized you ran another 40 run and you were the No. 1 qualifier?
GRUBNIC: Honestly, when I stepped on the gas, the car took off. It was stuck pretty good and it just started pulling. The Conrad horsepower kicked in at 1.3 seconds and away it went. I was getting down just past 800 feet and it was hard to tell, but the car felt a little astray and maybe it put a cylinder out and I even considered clicking it off early. But the speed that the car was going and how fast it was getting down the race track, by the time my brain caught up, I was already at the finish line. I heard Jim come on the radio and he said, "Good job Davie," and then I heard a "9" and I wasn't sure if he said a 49 or a 59 until I got out of the car at the end. When they told me I ran a 49, it was overwhelming. That's not me, believe me. That car just went straight down the groove and I didn't have to do anything but hold the throttle down. That's a credit to Connie and everybody here.
Q: What makes you a good drag racer?
GRUBNIC: I wouldn't go as far as to call myself a good drag racer. You set personal goals and you try to always improve on things you can do. You have to be your own devil's advocate in this game. You have to watch yourself and you have to adjust yourself and be your own critic. In drag racing there are certain things you have to do as a driver and you have to be able to make adjustments whether it is the way you stage the car, how you stay in the groove or things you do during the run. Every time you make a run in these cars, you have to do your own self-analysis. There are times when I am not happy with how it stages, I may go in a little further than I would like and there are times when I don't get the reaction time I would like. I wouldn't call myself a good drag racer because you are constantly trying to do better. As the cars get faster and faster, you have to keep up with them because they get out of the groove quicker. You constantly have to improve yourself.
Q: Do you and Connie discuss the driving aspect as well as the tune-up?
GRUBNIC: Of course, and he should. Connie has an enormous amount of experience driving. Connie has driven, tuned, and done this for years. I always ask him questions. He'll tell me what he wants from a burnout and so forth. If there is something that I don't do right, I expect him to tell me. It is the right thing to do because I have so much respect for him.
Q: What is it like working with Connie?
GRUBNIC: Outstanding. There will be a time when I will make a mistake and I will get chewed out and it will be justified and that is just how it is. I will expect it and I will try not to do it but the day will happen when you need a chewing and you will get a chewing. Rightfully so, that's how it works.
Q: Connie has made it clear that he wanted to bring a third car on so he could run a R&D car during national event conditions. How do you feel about driving what is basically a test car?
GRUBNIC: There are good and bad things to the situation, sure. But to come out here and be part of this team is incredible. You have to remember that this is a team. This is Kalitta Motorsports. The goal, as far as I am concerned, is for Kalitta Motorsports to win a championship. Kalitta Motorsports has to survive and keep going. I would like to see longevity from this team and I would like to stay part of it and so forth. In the short term, you may get caught up with the whole thing about the R&D car. But the long term part of it, I would like to see Kalitta Motorsports win a championship and have some longevity from this team. Who knows what can happen? I'm not looking at it from the short-term view, I am looking at it as a long-term possibility. I really have no problem with that. All I want to see is Connie win the championship and I don't care which car it is.
Q: What does the back wing of your car say?
GRUBNIC: The back wing says: "Great American Marina" which is down in Florida. Below that it says: "Spending Scott Kalitta's inheritance tour" and Scott and I talked about that. Whenever that gets brought up, I am going to be promoting his marina, which is in Florida. Once again, it's called the Great American Marina and if you ever have problems with your yacht and if you run up against a reef and you put a hole in it or you have just too much fun and you make a mistake, take it to Great American Marina and Scott will take care of it. That was a collective thing to put it on the car, but I am pretty sure it came from John Oberhofer. Our goal here is to go out and do well, but at the same time we want to have fun. From Connie all the way down we all want to enjoy ourselves and have some fun as well as be competitive.
Q: What do you want to achieve this season?
GRUBNIC: I want to see Kalitta Motorsports win a championship. Right now Connie has pretty much covered some of my personal goals. If we could win a race or whatever, that would be stellar, but that is not the immediate goal. There will be plenty of time for that. Personally, I want to see Connie win the championship.
Q: What is your day job?
GRUBNIC: I started to work with the index futures, which is the NASDAQ-100 and the S&P 500 and they have an e-mini contact, which is traded electronically and it is all done with computers over the Web. When I was in Australia, I was involved with a little commodity trading, but I kind of put that to the side and got involved with drag racing. But lately things have been a little quiet for me and I had to find something for myself to do. I just started with it again. I have been working with it on the theory side for about three years and practical side for about a year. It's a tough game, don't get me wrong. If you want to make a living at it, and make money, that can be very tough, believe me. They are the smartest people in the world out there and they're all sharks. As soon as you jump in the pond they come over and try to take a snap out of you. It's kind of exciting. I guess I am some kind of adrenaline junkie. Maybe.