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NHRA.com Interview: David Grubnic enters 2020 with a renewed focus on consistency and reliability

As he prepares for his second season as the crew chief for Brittany Force and the Monster team, David Grubnic looks to apply the lessons he learned in 2019.
28 Jan 2020
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor

As far as David Grubnic is concerned, there is no such thing as an unrealistic expectation. Some may have thought that delivering a second Top Fuel championship to the JFR team in his first season as Brittany Force’s crew chief was a bit of a stretch but Grubnic doesn't see it that way.

To be fair, less than two years removed from her first Mello Yello Top Fuel title, Force enjoyed a solid season in 2019. She qualified No. 1 a class-leading eight times, cobbled together a solid 31-22 record in elimination rounds, and scored a pair of wins in Houston and Las Vegas to go with two more runner-up finishes in Atlanta and the Las Vegas four-wide race. Force was in the championship battle until the final day of the season but ultimately finished third behind Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta. Oh yeah, she also set the elapsed time record with a 3.623-second run in Reading. In this NHRA.com exclusive, Grubnic shares his thoughts on a first season with the Force team, his relationship with Brittany Force, and their hopes and expectations for the 2020 season.

Q: First off, share your thoughts on your first year with Brittany. Was it unrealistic to think you’d win championship?
A: I wouldn’t say that. The first thing you have to do is believe that you can win, and I never had any doubts that we could. You never want to have any doubts. That’s a big psychological hurdle. I’m a big believer in setting goals and hitting targets.

That being said, as we worked our way through year, I understood that the majority of the year would be a development year. I knew we’d see a lot of big swings and then hopefully, make our goal to have a run at it during the last six [Countdown] races. We were able to narrow it down and we found ourselves in the championship fight. Our hope is to win a title, and that always will be the goal. I can tell you the week after the [Auto Club Finals] was devastating. To put in so much work, come so close, and not get it done was painful. As Mac [Savage, car chief] said, ‘We came a long way in short amount of time’. Then to lose it one run. That was devastating. To be perfectly honest, we were basically trying to steal it from Steve Torrence and Hogie [Crew chief Richard Hogan]. They had a massive points lead and a fabulous car, and I can’t discount their effort but we had a chance to take advantage of the points re-set and we didn’t. That just means we’ll work harder this year.

Q: Moving to a new team just weeks before the start of the season, would you describe it as chaotic?
That’s probably a good way to describe it. Except maybe I’d call it organized chaos. Any time you move to a new team or a new environment there are always variables and a lot of problems had to be solved. I obviously underestimated some of those challenges, specifically, the changes in parts. We had our work cut out for us. That’s sort of a conundrum because we obviously don’t want adversity, yet the challenge is to work hard and get to the top. You have to surround yourself with people who also excel. It’s gratifying. In the end, you only have to answer to yourself and your team owner.

Q: What was biggest the part of your learning curve?
The biggest part was to provide performance on a cost-effective basis and once I got here, I quickly realized that what worked before might not work again. I knew I’d have to tweak our model in order to suit our parts. I wouldn’t have believed how much [difference] in superchargers and manifolds. It’s all interactive.

Q: What was the highlight of 2019 for you?
I’m not sure I have one in particular. The Las Vegas win was fabulous because it put us in the hunt for the title.

Q: I’m surprised it wasn’t the 3.62 record run from Reading?
Well, I’d almost forgotten about that. That was indeed a highlight for the whole team because it was by design. We saw the track conditions, took a vote, and went for it and it stuck. We thought we had a shot at it at Indy, but we went out and smoked the tires. I guess we got a little greedy.

Q: When you say you voted on it, how many got to vote and was it unanimous?
As recall we had a discussion on Friday morning and that was the first time it was discussed. On Saturday, we were looking at the track and getting the grip numbers and Mac came back and said ‘These are the best we’ve seen all year. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ Earlier, we’d said we weren’t going to do these sort of things because we needed to look at the big picture, which is of course the qualifying points. It’s all about risk vs. reward. Anyway, me and Mac, and Lanny [Miglizzi, JFR track specialist], and our crew and Brittany discussed it and we were all in agreement. Of course, the car wasn’t set up to do that so we had to make major changes but in the end it was gratifying.

Q: How much interaction do you have with the other John Force Racing crew chiefs?
Quite a lot. We discuss things and it’s a very open dialog. I happen to get on very well with all of them and we collaborate and communicate. Of course, we each have our own set ups, and your tune-up is a reflection of each crew chief’s personality which in my opinion is the right way to do it. There are times when Jimmy [Prock], Mike [Green], and last year, Brian [Corradi] would discuss problems and come up with potential solutions. We sit around and talk, and mostly we all sort of agree on the best course of action. Quite honestly, it’s a great environment.

Q: How about your boss, John Force, how often do you communicate with him?
Quite honestly, I very rarely hear from him away from the track and I hope that’s a good thing. I hope it means I’m doing the job he hired me to do. I also understand that he’s got his hands full with running the team and finding sponsors and everything else he does on a day-to-day basis. My job is to make sure Brittany’s team is ready. That’s not to suggest we don’t communicate, but it’s also nice not to be micro-managed.

Q: Tell us more about what it’s like to work with Brittany?
The biggest thing is that we communicate and communicate very well. We talk about what our plan is. She’s done a fabulous job. I can’t emphasize that enough, especially when you look at how hard we push that car sometimes. She fights to keep it in the groove and does a great job. Before each run we pick a number, because I want her to know what to expect, but also to know we’re all on the same page. She is much more than a driver; she’s a big part of our crew. As a crew chief, you get a lot of praise when the car runs well, but you also have to look at the rounds she’s won by pedaling the car, and her ability to stage shallow. It’s all in the little things.

Q: Obviously the car has a new look this year with the return of Monster Energy, but are there any other major changes?
Not really. I think we’ve already changed enough to last a few years. We need to refine what we’ve got. Our biggest goal is to improve consistency and reliability. Take race wins; we only had two and we need more than that. Maybe need to be less of a one-hit wonder and produce more consistent numbers.

How much untapped potential is there? Can we see a 3.5-second runs this year?
Of course, there is a 3.50 out there. This sport has never gone backwards. Obviously, it’s subject to track conditions and preparations and a number of other factors. When we ran 3.62 the target was actually a 3.65 and we left a little bit on the table in the middle of the track. That actually cost us a 300-mph [eighth-mile] run. I suppose if it [a 3.50] is there we’ll take a shot at it, but everything would have to be just right.