Interview with the Pros: The Dodge
Darrell Alderman and Gene Wilson
By NHRA Communications
Darrell Alderman and Gene Wilson have more in common
than you might think. They have a slight age difference, sure. There's
also the fact that Alderman, 52, has three Pro Stock championships,
while Wilson, 29, has not even claimed his first NHRA event victory.
Beyond that, however, they share many similarities. Both drive Dodge
Neon R/T's in arguably the most competitive Pro Stock season in NHRA
history. Both work at their family construction businesses when they
have some spare time and both have the desire to elevate the Dodge
program, and themselves, into the winning spotlight. In this Q&A
session, Alderman and Wilson talk about each other, Mopar and the
toughest category in racing.
Q: What is it like driving for the Dodge program that
is trying to become more competitive than ever?
WILSON: Seeing how this is my first year, I really
don't have any idea of what it was like in the previous years. I think
Darrell is far more qualified to answer that one.
ALDERMAN: I think the Neon's and the Hemi has really
put the Dodge program on the map. We have had the Hemi for a couple of
years, and they have been developing it for years. But as time goes on,
you are going to see the Neons get faster and quicker. Of course we are
going to the Stratus next year, and we are really looking forward to
that. The Hemi engine is really the big reason there has been an
improvement with the Dodge cars because it is making more power and that
allows us to be more competitive. Of course Mopar is getting a lot more
involved with other teams out here too. You have Greg Stanfield coming
out at Denver and he put in some good times. I think he even went a
couple of rounds. In fact, he beat me. Larry Morgan won a race. Mopar
and the help from the engineers from Mopar Parts has meant a lot to us.
We have had some factory help.
Q: How does the increase in support from the
engineering programs help you as a driver?
WILSON: Well, I would say that it offers a big
advantage. When you know that when you are rolling up to the starting
line and the car has good performance capabilities, it allows the driver
to concentrate more on doing his job at hand rather than worrying about
whether the car is going to make it down the track or even be fast
enough to qualify. It takes a lot of stress off the driver's shoulder.
It will definitely translate into better driving, better reaction times,
and better shift points, which in turn will hopefully produce more wins.
Q: Gene, what has your overall experience been like in
your first season of NHRA racing?
WILSON: It's been wonderful. I couldn't be happier
where I am. You know I came from the IHRA where I ran for about four or
five years where I competed against some great drivers. But being over
here with Mopar and the NHRA, that is what I really wanted. It's been a
deal where I wanted to come over here for a while and I never really
thought I would get the opportunity this soon and after winning a
championship in the IHRA, I got the opportunity to come over and be a
teammate with Darrell Alderman who has been one of my idols as far as
drag racing goes. To be able to work with him and be with this team has
kind of produced a dream season. Being with Mopar and NHRA has been a
blast for me. It's been a pretty big wake up call. I am just trying to
get buckled down and start doing good and get some wins.
Q: Darrell, would you consider this to be one of the
toughest Pro Stock season since you started racing in 1986?
ALDERMAN: Oh it definitely is. I have been racing for
NHRA since 1986. (WILSON: Oh, be honest, he is old enough to be my
grandpa.). Yeah, thanks. Still, this has been the most competitive
season we have had so far. It doesn't look like it is going to let up
for next season either. No doubt about it, this is the competitive group
of drivers in a long time. It's going to be closer every week. This is
better racing for the fans.
Q: What are the advantages of having a two-car team?
WILSON: I think the two-car deal works very well for
our particular team. We now have two cars that are just alike and
obviously one of us is going to run before the other one does. Depending
on what the first car does on its way down the track, we can make some
adjustments to the second car, whoever that might be. Hopefully that
will help the other car. We are trying to take advantage of having a
two-car deal. We have them set up alike for that reason alone.
ALDERMAN: It is twice the exposure for Mopar. It gives
you more data to set the car up and get ready for race day. You have
eight qualifying passes instead of just four.
Q: Gene, what has been the most difficult part of your
move over to the NHRA?
WILSON: There hasn't really been one difficult thing.
You always want to do good and always do the best you can. I would say
there is a little more pressure over here. There is more exposure, there
is more TV time, there is more things happening and going on. Overall,
the pressure of doing well and being at your best and giving 100 percent
all the time has been a big difference. But that is what it takes to win
in this class. Pro Stock has fields that are so tight and you are
separated by a thousandth of a second. That leaves you without a margin
for error. Knowing that puts a little extra pressure on the driver.
Q: Darrell, what has it been like to have a rookie as
ALDERMAN: I have been very fortunate not just with the
teammate driver stuff, all of them have been excellent people and Gene
has been the same way. I don't really look at him as a rookie because I
think he is an awesome driver. You can call him a rookie, but he drives
like he has been around for a long time. He can be one of the best
because he is so sharp and dedicated to driving a Pro Stock car. He
leaves the starting line well, he is a good leaver. He hits all of his
shift points and he is good with the public. And I think all the gals
out here will say that he is even easy on the eyes. He has the
personality it takes to be the complete package. I think any sponsor
would be really pleased to have him as a driver.
Q: Gene, what have you learned from Darrell?
WILSON: What Darrell does best is just be calm, cool,
collected and nonchalant in the car. He gets in the car and he performs
like nobody else out here. It is so hard to do that. I have raced for
about 15 years and it is so hard to put all the pressure aside and be at
your best all the time and that is where he excels and shines. Nothing
bothers him, nothing rattles him. To have that ability and that kind of
attitude is something I look forward to sometime having. But right now,
my limited experience means that I don't have that yet. But Darrell is
one of the best. As far as driving the car down the track on a cold
track or a greasy track, there isn't anyone who compares to Darrell.
Just the ability to drive the race car at his best, all the time, that
is what Darrell Alderman is all about.
Q: Darrell you have collected nearly 30 event wins
along with three championships in your career. What else do you want to
accomplish before you retire?
ALDERMAN: I hope another championship is not out of
the question. It would be really nice to win a championship with the
competition at this level. Back when I won the championships, the cars
weren't as close as they are now. I think it would be more meaningful to
win one at 52. You know, win a title after I am more than half a 100
Q: Gene, what kind of goals do you have set for
yourself right now?
WILSON: Well, I think the obvious one is to win races
and win championships and do my very best. The level of competition is
so great this year and I don't see it slowing down. I see it getting
tighter and tighter and harder to win championships, races and round
wins even. Everything is going to start to be more difficult to
accomplish. I just have to look straight ahead and look at the big
picture and hope that I can win some championships and a bunch of wins.
Q: Gene, how did you get involved with drag racing?
WILSON: I started racing a car that I drove to school
everyday. It escalated from there. I started modifying the car and
putting different heads and intake cams on it. Pretty soon, I got to
where I had no car to go to school in because it would overheat or mess
up going to school. I ended up having to buy myself a real cheap car to
drive to school and the other one became my race car and I entered some
outlaw races and a lot of other local stuff. I did very well at it and
then the need for speed kind of took over. As with anybody, you always
want to go to something bigger and faster. It slowly has worked up to
different stages of cars until we got to Pro Stock. I drove a Pro Mod
car and the outlaw cars with the 10-inch tires, which are up and coming
cars. I gradually moved up through various stages of cars.
Q: What do you do when you are not racing? What do you
do for fun?
WILSON: When I am not racing, I work at home in the
shop that I have. My dad (Orlando Wilson) is a fisherman and he has
always had a hand in construction work. His family owned a construction
business and that is what he does now on the side. I try to have my
hands in that and I try to have my hands in hot rods. I work on building
street cars and stuff like that. When I am not racing, I am there. But
racing is pretty much a full-time job all by itself. Work is kind of my
past time, but I am also a big dirt bike rider. That is something I
would have to say turns me on pretty good. The sport of motorcross,
supercross is something I enjoy racing. I always have a good time doing
that and every chance I get I try to get out there and ride.
ALDERMAN: I work in the family construction business.
It's a pretty full schedule, really. Doing the construction business and
racing too, you don't have very many days off. What do I do for fun? I
really enjoy the construction work and I really enjoy racing. I almost
consider those things fun. I enjoy being with my kids and all of my
family when I am home. Getting together with all of them is fun. I'm
also a big fan of college basketball.
Q: Gene, your dad is a well-known fisherman. Do you
share that same passion for fishing?
WILSON: No. I don't fish. I don't fish very much. I am
not a good fisherman. I guess growing up as a child around the sport,
I'm not going to say it got old, but I was around it a lot and it was
never that big of a deal to me. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't like I look
forward to go out on the weekend just for fishing. Fishing was more of a
routine and a job in my family. A lot of people don't understand that.
Fishing is a great American past time, everybody thinks it would be such
a great job to have - fishing everyday. But there is a difference
between when you have to go fishing at 5 a.m. and when you just want to
get up at 5 a.m. and go fishing. There is a very big difference there.
When you have to do it, that is when it becomes a job. If I had to do
any kind of fishing it would be bass fishing, however.
Q: Gene, does your dad come out and watch you race?
WILSON: Oh sure he does. He's a big drag racing fan.
My family has been involved with drag racing for a while. My uncle is a
big fan and he has had cars of his own. I remember as a kid going to
watch my uncle race. Boy, I really liked that. That is when the
opportunity came when I was 15 or 16 years old to start my racing
Q: How long do you think it will be before the Pro
Stock cars run in the 6.60's?
ALDERMAN: I think it is going to be a while unless
they change the rules. The best time so far was made during very ideal
conditions at Reading last year. If we were in the best conditions, I
still think it is going to be a couple of years. That is unless the NHRA
was to take the hoodscoops off and put fuel injection on them and change
the rules or something. I would like to see them do that.
Q: What do you think about the Dodge Neon compared to
the Dodge Avenger?
ALDERMAN: The Neon is a lot more aerodynamic. I like
the car too. I think it has a nice look to it. The big thing is that
this series is performance driven and the Neon performs well.
Q: Do you think the Stratus is going to be better than
ALDERMAN: We think the Stratus will be as good. It has
some nice lines to it and it is going to make a real nice race car.
We're looking forward to racing it. We do think that it will be as good
aerodynamically as the Neon.
Q: Gene, if you had to give yourself a grade for the
season so far, what would it be?
WILSON: I would give myself a "C" so far.
Maybe a high "C" just because we came into the season a few
races into the schedule, and we were already a little behind. Coming in
and getting acclimated to everyone with the last minute deal has been a
learning curve. I am still in that learning curve. There are still a few
things that I am still working on to help me perform as best as I can.
Overall, I don't feel that we have done badly, but I feel that there are
more things that I can do to improve.
Q: When you started, did you think you would have an
event victory by now?
WILSON: No, I don't want to expect too much too soon.
Even when I was in other organizations, I followed these guys over here
and I watched this class. I knew how tough it was going to be. I wasn't
crazy enough to believe that a man could come over here and start
winning races immediately. It is just not going to happen. If it does,
it is a very unusual deal.
Q: Darrell, you won in Gainesville this year, ending a
four-year drought. Did you start to think for a while that your last win
in Englishtown (1997) was going to be your last?
ALDERMAN: First of all, Gainesville has just been
great to me. I won my first race there and to go there and end the
drought there was great. I had been to a few finals, but never could
pull it off. To pull it off with this team down there was one of my
highlight wins. It was one of the better wins. But I was beginning to
wonder if it was going to happen again. But we won there and we've been
in a couple of finals. I think our season has been up and down, like a
lot of the teams this year. You can win a race and go to the next race
and not even qualify.
Q: Has the parity in the class been frustrating to
ALDERMAN: The high points have been great, but the low
points have been hard to deal with. A lot of the times (problems occur)
because your not in the lane that you need to be in when the air is good
and that is sort of disgusting when you know you have the car to
qualify. Then you go out there the next day and your fifth or sixth in
the session. That is just the way it is right now. We'll deal with that.
It's disgusting when you are not in the show. Bruce Allen was the
defending champion at Brainerd coming into the race and he was the No. 1
qualifier after the two Friday sessions. He didn't even qualify for
Sunday. I can't even imagine that. I would think that would be an
all-time low. On the other hand, it is that way for all of us and I
think it is good for the fans. They get to see drivers and cars that
don't qualify for every race. You have to say that it is good for the
fans, but it is tough for the drivers when they are on the bottom.
Q: Darrell, what is it going to take to win the
championship this year?
ALDERMAN: Consistency is one thing. You have been
consistently quick and fast. I think there are still three or four cars
that can do it. When I was on the West Coast Swing once, Warren Johnson
was 200 points ahead of me and he started going out first round and we
started winning. We turned our back on him. Anything is possible.
Q: Darrell, of your three championships, which is the
ALDERMAN: That is a tough question. I think I would
have to say that it was the first one because there is nothing like the
first one. You dream for years on what it would be like to be the world
champion and it means so much.
Q: You are one of the drivers known for leaving the
lights well. What do you think about some of the younger, more
inexperienced drivers playing games at the starting line?
ALDERMAN: I think it is great. I think the fans really
love it. I think that is a big part of Pro Stock. The young guys are
doing that and I like them to do that. I am for it.
Q: Are you considering retirement any time soon?
ALDERMAN: When I get to the point where I feel that I
am no longer competitive, then I will.
Q: Last year a panel of motorsports experts and
historians compiled the list of the Top 50 Greatest Drivers in history.
You were not on the list, but do you think you should have been?
ALDERMAN: You know, I knew that was going on. I am
sure that the folks who voted on it knew who they wanted to be on that
list and wherever I turned up is fine with me.
Q: How has the sport of drag racing changed since you
ALDERMAN: I could sit here and talk for a long time
about that. I think one of the big changes is all of the facilities.
They are so much nicer. A lot more sponsors are involved now and the
level of performance has gone way up. When I first started in the NHRA
Pro Stock class, cars were barely busting into the sevens and here we
are at 6.75 now. It is just unbelievable. The look of the cars has
changed so much. I really could go on. When I first started we didn't
have the computers we do today. We didn't have limiters on the starting
line. You just revved it up to where it sounded good and then you
dropped your clutch. We didn't have shift lights, we didn't have any of
that stuff. No on-board computers, the driver would just come back and
told everyone how great he was and what they should change on the car.
There have been some drastic changes. Drag racing has been a big part of
my life and I dearly love it.
Q: Gene, what is your starting line strategy?
WILSON: I just go up there with the attitude that I
can't be beat. I believe that is how most of the drivers go up there.
You have to believe that you are going to win and that you are going to
turn the win light on at any cost. You go up there with that mental
attitude and try to stay focused and concentrate on one thing. That is
getting a reaction time and hitting your shift points and getting that
car down the track. That is how I prepare. I go through the normal run
in my head a few times in the staging lanes. When the guy motions for us
to come up to the burnout box then I prepare for the real deal.
Q: You are the defending champion in another
sanctioning body. Why did you give up the chance to defend your title to
be a rookie over here?
WILSON: I hated to do that because I would like to
have been able to defend the title. But I could not pass up the
opportunity of a lifetime to come over to the NHRA and be a part of a
factory-backed race team. Mopar has a true desire to win. I think the
Hemi program and the way they support Darrell and I and the other racers
out there really says a lot about Mopar. They have a tremendous
following of fans and to come over and be a small part of a great
organization and a great team was something I couldn't pass up. I
thought long and hard about it and decided that it would be the best
thing for me to do. I am very happy with the decision, I wouldn't change
a thing. I am very happy where I am. Mopar has stood behind me this year
and I wouldn't trade anything for that.
Q: Why did you select Pro Stock?
WILSON: Well, I have to be careful here because I have
a lot of friends that are fuel drivers. I like the fuel classes, I like
all forms of drag racing. But Pro Stock to me is really the most pure
form of drag racing. It comes down to some of the fans or all of the
fans getting to see cars that somewhat resemble what they see on the
street and drive to and from work. The cars that are racing in Pro Stock
are so close as far as performance that it all boils down to a driver's
race. The cars, 1-16 on Sunday, all have a very good chance of winning.
So it boils down to the driver. I have always been a fan of engines that
don't have nitrous, no blower, and no superchargers. We are running
naturally-aspirated motors with five-speed transmissions and I believe
that is always a big deal. That is why I have always wanted to be here
and that is why I will continue to stay in this class.
Q: Who is your racing hero?
WILSON: There are a few guys that are out here in the
NHRA Pro Stock class that I have looked up to for years. I don't think I
have just one. The legends of this sport, Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson,
Darrell Alderman, those guys are all great racers. Being a young guy
coming in my first year and getting to meet all of these people and
especially being a teammate of Alderman is something I look forward to
continuing. To have the opportunity to run with these guys is a dream
come true for me and something I have always wanted to do.