|Jordon Musser - One on One
| Jordon Musser|
Over the past two months, those of you who are regular Speed TV watchers have seen the second season of Setup, a driver search television show that awarded $100,000 to the winner along with a test with the Pontiac racing team and a spot in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Among the 24 selected to participate were a few drivers you may have seen at the kart track, none more decorated with championships than Jordon Musser. The four-time Rotax Grand National champion is known throughout the karting community. Not the most flamboyant personality you’ll see, but a very technical and savvy driver on track. EKN tracked him down following the last episode aired April 10.
EKN: How did you first hear of the show?
JM: I remember seeing season one and thinking that the premise of the show was one of the coolest formats I had seen for a driver shoot out, and I wondered how the first season was selected. I started hammering Google with the driver’s names and of course the show name until I stumbled on to the website (www.setup-tv.com). At first I was apprehensive about sending in an application thinking, "there is no way they would pick me". I finally sent it in and forgot about it.
About three months later I am sitting in a meeting at work and my phone rings with "private caller". Since the meeting was boring the heck out of me, I didn't care if it was a telemarketer or not. I stepped out to answer the phone. Elsa, the talent coordinator was on the other end and with a heavy Spanish accent said "Hello," and explained that I had been selected for round one of the show (a series of phone interviews). I must have said "huh?" ten times before I realized what was going on. Soon there after, she asked if I could arrange to be gone for four and a half weeks along with two mechanics. This was TOUGH. I told her "maybe" and to call back in two days. I went to my boss the next day and told her that I needed to do this, and we had to find a way. She bent over backwards and made it happen. Fortunately my two roommates (Chris Jennings and Matt Blansett) were jobless, so getting them to come out to L.A. for a month on my dime was an easy decision for them. They later nixed a mechanic, so I only needed one.
EKN: Was it drawing straws or battle royal to see who would go with you to L.A. as your mechanic?
JM: (Laughing) Well, it was a tough decision that is for sure. Matt has a lot of hands on mechanic/car skills but no real road racing experience. Chris doesn't have as much hands- on skill, but certainly has some from his street racing days. The real factor was Chris' racing experience- he had to make the right calls on the radio when I was racing. And I can say that he did an amazing job deciding what I needed to know and what I didn't. I would hire him as my guy-on-the-radio any day at any level of motorsport. The fact that Chris is my number one "let’s go party and tear up the town" guy either didn’t hurt either. After six straight days of hard work every week on set/track- it was great to hit the L.A. night life with my best friend who always seems help get me into "trouble".
| Musser is a four-time Rotax Grand National Champion, most recently DD2 in 2006|
(Photo: Ken Johnson - soa-design.com)
EKN: Basically they told you to get come to L.A. What time of the year did you get to the city of Angels?
JM: It was filmed from October 21 (2007) till the day before Thanksgiving. The beginning wasn't real busy because they had us divided into separate groups for the first interviews. But once we started racing the cars, it was non stop everyday - track/shop/track/shop, etc. So we raced every other day.
EKN: You get to L.A., separated into groups and begin the interview process. Obviously it went well for you. What were some of the more difficult questions to answer, or were they all easy?
JM: It certainly wasn't like taking an exam back in engineer-school days- there were not any "difficult" questions- it was just a matter of answering honestly. The questions ranged from personality probes, to personal and racing background. I recall when Tommy (Kendall) asked me a question regarding how serious I was about doing this for a living; after I answered Tommy said most people answered similarly but I was the only person that he really believed. I can't tell you the question, but it involved what you would give up for a pro-ride.
EKN: You get through the interview process and I assume that’s when you go to the kart track, where the show begins?
JM: After several days of grueling interviews the remaining participants were invited to the kart track so the producers could continue to eliminate the truly weak drivers. Because actual speed in a kart is very dependent on weight, they didn't just look at lap times but also took into account drivers weight and previous karting experience. I ended up second quickest in the karts. I only pushed hard enough to win, which I was quickest until only a couple drivers were left to go when I was beat. Had I been able to run again, I am confident I could have gone faster- but didn’t want to risk dropping a tire and being DQ’d for something stupid and thought I had the field covered anyway.
EKN: Tony Karts with Vortex ICC engines were provided for the show. Had you ever driven that package before?
| The Texan can be seen racing regional programs throughout his home state, along with big events through the year including SuperNats and Rock Island Grand Prix|
JM: The newest Tony Kart I have driven was a 1996 model, but it was pretty good to me! I had never driven a Vortex/Tony package and my shifter experience is very light. I actually just bought a Birel/Stock Honda and am loving it - can't wait to hone a new skill (shifters). The biggest issue I had out in California was the fit of the kart. I was tall, so I was put in the big & tall kart, which meant a HUGE seat. I was flopping all over the place in that thing. Guess I shoulda packed in another Whopper that day.
EKN: Watching that first episode, some of those guys did look a little ‘wide’. Following the karts, they bring you all together to announce the drivers that would earn a spot in a car. Did you feel you were going to be chosen?
JM: I was pretty confident, considering how fast I was in the karts. Any show that is trying to find the "best" can't possibly do so if they eliminate the fast guys. However, to be honest- the producer is a bit too good at what he does- he had me on edge the whole time. I never could figure out in the subsequent interviews if I was really in or not. I certainly wasn't REALLY sure until they actually said my name. It was pretty intense. I think they did that on purpose so that they could get an honest reaction on camera.
EKN: They also surprised everyone by announcing that you would share a car with another driver. What was your reaction and how did they sort out who drove with who?
JM: Obviously as a control freak I didn't like the idea; I wanted to control my own deal. But it is what it is, and my teammate actually proved to be a great guy (Brady Flaherty) and we plan to do some racing in the future together. What you saw on TV was what we saw. They literally told us to find somebody in about 15 seconds from the opposite group. Not knowing anybody, Brady and I noted that we were both similar height and that would make setting up the seat easier. That was basically the criteria. Plus he seemed to be pretty sane which I can't say for some of the other people on the show!
| A favortie photo we have of Musser was taken following his victory at the '04 Grand Nationals at the X-Plex in Las Vegas|
EKN: You get your car, you get your teammate, you’re in the show. How was working on the car to prepare it for the first outing?
JM: It was pretty cool to have all this FREE and brand new stuff at our disposal. The work days were very long and had a lot of downtime because they had to film segments and also interview various people through out the day. Then all of a sudden we would have an hour to do two hours worth of work- and we would have to haul ass. No biz like show biz!
EKN: On track in the first few episodes, you kept your nose clean. You weren’t shown as being the aggressor, but you weren’t the fastest. Was it just adjusting to the car and finding the right set-up for the car?
JM: I defiantly wanted to stay out of the drama. The ultimate goal was to win the last race, not the first. I was in the top 3-4 lap time wise, but I certainly was disappointed that I wasn't faster. On the fifth episode I got to run right behind one of the fastest guys on the "short track", and I was getting destroyed off certain corners. Almost as if I was down power - which I wasn't. I dialed in a bunch of rear grip and promptly won my first race, although plagued by a red flag. The car however pushed horribly and I knew this was not the final answer.
EKN: Coming up to the final few races, you and Brady were brought before the group after a few drivers were eliminated for cheating and running last. They offered one of you the chance to get your own car and you couldn’t have raised your hand fast enough. How much did you have to change to your new car?
JM: We measured everything to see where the car was at, but we pretty much put it all back to what we considered a "baseline" and it worked pretty well, we won the next race. We were still off when getting on power- which we were still trying to sort out at this point. I was just happy to get some practice now that I had my own car. Instead of 25
laps a day, I could get 70.
EKN: You get your own car, your showing some speed, and you make it to the final 12 with no real issues. What are your thoughts as you sit in the car waiting for the green flag and a chance at $100k?
JM: Yea, it was great to start that race fresh off a win on the same track. We were pretty fast the day prior, but in the morning practice we really found some speed. Up until that point we actually weren't sure if we could pull it off or not. According to our watches Chris Prey and I were the only ones in the 1:27s. Mike Skeen and James Hunt were also both very fast, but Prey and I had a little on them. So that was a confidence booster. It was all in the shifting - I was shifting WAY too much, the car really hated the 2-3 shift so I started only using 3rd and 4th, and we picked up over a second.
I was ready to rock n roll. Of the national kart races I have won I have started on pole, and I have started as back as eighth. So I have kind of seen it all as far as the pressures of winning… and that doesn't really get to me in a negative way. I'm certainly not mistake-free, but I tend to make less mistakes and those are usually not end-alls. I love this stuff. I'm getting excited just thinking about the drop of a green flag. Can't wait to drive my shifter this weekend.
| Musser's connection with Richie Hearn and Mike Manning helped him gain multiple wins and championships|
EKN: The race gets underway and you’re in a heated battle with Dannan - the so-called hot-head of the group. You continue to give him room through the tight section until about lap 15 when you two make contact. Walk us through what exactly happened with ‘the big one’.
JM: Well, I had gotten nearly by him several times in the slower stuff-where a big accident wouldn't have occurred but he closed the door pretty hard on me. I was absolutely on the limit and he would tighten up a little on me and we would touch. Obviously he would win this battle every time so I gave up, and just followed him waiting for a mistake. He made a lot of little ones, and I was really getting bottled up. I was slowed up about 1.5 seconds a lap by him, and the rest of the field was getting restless behind me. I finally got a HUGE run on him going into a fast chicane (100+mph entry). I had gotten next to him on the inside several times here, but I knew he wouldn't give an inch so I let him have it three or four times. Finally on this lap I was nearly completely around him (his car was not in my view). I let off and turned in and all of a sudden Dannan is flipping past me. I didn't even know at that time how he produced such an amazing lift off.
It unfortunately knocked me sideways and I hit a hay bail which pushed the intercooler into the radiator. At first they thought it was my fault and threatened to remove me from the car - but after reviewing the video it was obvious it was his fault and they let me try to fix the car. Unfortunately, we couldn't get it fixed fast enough. Dannan had given me a thumbs up during the prior caution so I honestly didn't think there was any bad blood there. He was just racing the way he raced, but this final move was pretty extreme. Dannan had made the comment that he would probably flip a car "today" (this was earlier in the morning) and I guess it proved true.
I was pretty pissed off, obviously. I know Dannan didn't do it on purpose. He is just a dude that goes 110% all the time, and there was no way he was lifting, period. Had I not been there, he would have never made the corner and would have gone off into the desert. But it sucks for somebody like me when $100K is 20 times my yearly racing budget and we were finally genuinely fast. It was amazing what not using second gear did for our lap times.
EKN: When he returned at the end of the day, did you two talk about the incident?
JM: Ha Ha. Not so much! Later on that night at the wrap party we BS'd for a second about it but that was it. Like I said, I don't think he did it on purpose…and if he could go back and not take me out of the race - I think he would. Well, I hope he would.
EKN: After they drag him off the track, and get everyone back to pit lane and access the damage, they decide to go on with the race. What was the damage to your car and what were you able to do?
JM: They gave everybody 30 minutes to fix their cars. Unfortunately, when Dannan glanced off of me, it shoved me into a hay bail which pushed the intercooler into the radiator. They did not have any more intercoolers, so we were stuck. Chris and I used every zip tie in the paddock to try to hold the intercooler as far away as possible from the radiator. No joke, 50+ zip ties on the intercooler/radiator/radiator shroud. We were actually able to make our way into the lead before the car finally overheated (about five laps later) and dumped coolant all over the tires.
| Erik Kullenberg (left) was a big part of Musser's success in the early years|
EKN: Obviously you were disappointed. As you stated in your interview with Tommy Kendall after the race you came there to win. Do you think the experienced as helped you as a driver?
JM: I drove more car races in those couple of weeks than I have in my entire life, so yeah it was a good experience. I really am very disappointed that it took me as long as it did to really find the speed, and then I wasn't able to run the entire race to prove it. I have mixed emotions, I come to win…period. Winning takes preparation, and I have yet to be prepared properly for any opportunity I have had in a car. It's usually a last minute, throw me in a car I've never driven on a track I have never been to. I have always performed exceptionally well in these circumstances, but you can only expect so much. I really wish it hadn't been eight months or so since I had been in a race car when I showed up for the program. Not sure it would have made a big difference, as the "gotcha" was just a shifting issue. I was trying too hard, and shifting too much!
EKN: Are you allowed to go back for season three, and if so, will you try again?
JM: Unfortunately I don't think I can drive again, but maybe as a crew member. I would love to if given the opportunity- I think the concept is awesome. I would actually love to be involved on the production side. I think my background of engineering and driving could really be an asset to a show like this. I’ve built race cars from the ground up (from design/engineers to actual welding/fabrication) and then driven them to victory.
Some people don't like the producer's (Scott) attitude and wouldn’t want to be on the show again. The way I look at it, he is good at what he does and he is in a position to say and do what he wants. I would kill to be in a race seat that was secure enough I could do and say as I please…Tony Stewart style. I have things to say… lots of it!
EKN: Other than racing your shifter kart this weekend, what are your plans for 2008 and beyond, both on and off the track?
JM: I want to run a bunch of big kart races this year. My list so far is the Rock Island Grand Prix, SKUSA SuperNationals, TAG World Championships and hopefully a rematch in DD2 at the Rotax Grand Nationals. Time and money are major hurdles but I am trying to work things out. I am also finishing up a Koni Challenge MX5 car but funding is short so I might end up just making laps with it at local track days. It is all about seat time. My co driver on Setup (Brady) expressed interest in doing a race or two, so we are ironing some details on that also. I am working full time as an engineer in the defense industry which I enjoy. I REALLY want to get back into a car. I was invited to the VW Jetta TDI Cup series, but was unable to put together the $35K entry fee in the two weeks they gave us.
EKN: Jordon, thank you for your time. I wish the outcome of the show would have been different but I wish you the best of luck in the future and will see you at the track.
JM: Thanks. I have to give credit to Chris Jennings for spending a month in L.A. with me. It didn't cost him anything but he skipped the Super Nationals to do it!