POMONA, California – Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher opens defense of his record eighth career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship this weekend in grand style as he and fellow U.S. Army driver and Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Antron Brown head to Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California for the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals.
Schumacher and his teammates are celebrating their 15th full season of sponsorship from the U.S. Army and, for the occasion, they’ll debut a classic new paint scheme for the U.S. Army Dragster designed to invoke the feeling that the Army is America’s Team, which exists to defend the Nation and uphold the American way of life.
The new Piano Black and Double Digital Gold Chrome scheme, featuring a rendition of the American flag atop the rear wing, may reflect an exciting departure from previous designs, but Schumacher and his nine-man U.S. Army team return intact after clinching the 2014 Top Fuel world title with an eye toward building another championship streak, like they did in winning six consecutive world titles from 2004 through 2009. The team’s ability to maintain championship form over the years is certainly reflective of the Army as our Nation’s most versatile force, adaptive in size, structure and skills to meet the ever-changing challenges of today’s security environment.
Schumacher’s 2014 title run included regular-season event titles at Las Vegas and Epping, New Hampshire that placed him fourth in the Top Fuel standings heading into the six-event Countdown to the Mello Yello Championship playoffs. The Sarge then promptly took charge of his championship destiny by sweeping the opening two Countdown events at Charlotte and Dallas, added a third playoff event title at Reading, Pennsylvania, and reached his fourth playoff final round in the season-ending NHRA World Finals at Pomona, where he upped his record total of career championships. His five event titles in 2015 upped his career total to 77, and his four No. 1 qualifier positions upped his career total to 76, and his 39-19 won-loss record in elimination rounds made him 703-323 for his career.
Brown, meanwhile, showed championship form on numerous occasions during the 2014 campaign in his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR. His six event titles topped all Top Fuel competitors, but occasional bouts with mechanical gremlins hampered his efforts to score his second career Top Fuel title to go with his 2012 championship. Brown finished seventh in the standings but returns for 2015 with a fresh opportunity to power his way through the schedule with the relentless determination he and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team did in 2012.
As they take to the racetrack for the first time this weekend, both Schumacher and Brown look to exemplify how the U.S. Army makes a difference for America.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You’re kicking off your 15th season racing for the U.S. Army as the defending Top Fuel world champion and you’re debuting a brand new paint scheme and look for the team. That’s a lot of excitement packed into this weekend’s season opener. Talk about that.
“The U.S. Army car just looks incredible. We are starting the season out with the same guys we had last year and I’ve really enjoyed working with them. They are a great group. They have the focus going and they are all proud to have that No. 1 on the side of the car. We are ready to get started, there is going to be some great, fantastic racing this year. Last year, we didn’t always have the fastest car. There were cars out there that were quicker. We just found a way to win races. That’s racing, man. You don’t need the quickest, fastest car every time. You just have to have the right timing. You have to know who you are racing against and you have to go out there and give the racetrack what it deserves, go as fast as you can and win the rounds. You have to win some of the ugly ones and that’s what we didn’t have the previous years, but it was good to have it back last year, and I hope we can continue that this year.”
You’ve enjoyed quite an incredible run in your 15 years with the Army. How have you and the team been able to maintain such a high level of excellence over the years?
“I have been fortunate through several crew chiefs that knew how to do what we’ve been able to do. We’ve won eight championships with three different crew chiefs. Right now, we have an incredible group between the three (DSR) Top Fuel cars and our four Funny Cars. There is not a smarter group out there than what we have at DSR. We can go and collectively ask questions and get the answers we need from several smart people in our building, so I’m glad to be in the position we are in, glad to have the Army on my side, the No. 1 on the side of the car, and the people who are capable of putting that back on the car.”
Is it conceivable that the three DSR Dragsters can sweep the top-three positions in the championship?
“It would be easier to give you 10 reasons why it’s not likely to happen. I’m hoping we do it, but the fact is there are a lot of good cars out there. Last year, it was a matter of one round – one round can put you first or third. Seventh was a great car. I don’t know how to answer that correctly. There are phenomenal cars out there. The correct answer is, there are enough amazing cars where it would be darn near a miracle to pull off something like that but, that being said, miracles have happened in my career so often that I’m almost afraid to say that. I’ve been very fortunate to have the right outcome so many times.”
How was your so-called “offseason?”
“It was awesome. I really enjoyed doing family things. We were gone a lot. We were gone so much, but I spent some time at some Army bases, got to fly some helicopters, do some training videos. The offseasons are extremely short and, seeing my kids grow up, I miss a ton of that. It’s always made me want to find a different career, but then I come back and make one lap in the car and I know why I’m here.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You won a series-high six event titles in 2014 but managed only what turned out to be a seventh-place finish in the standings. What do you and the team have to do to get back into serious championship contention?
“It’s right there. All we have to do is reach up there and grab it and, trust me, we are going to be grabbing hard with everything we’ve got. All of our guys are seasoned, poised and they have communication energy, where they can see each other’s eyes and actually know what’s going on without even talking. That’s very important, especially in a class that’s getting so competitive, because you have to have some kind of edge. The end result is, when it goes down the drag strip, it actually starts with the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team in the pit. Going into this season with a great group of guys, for me as a driver, I’m living the dream right now. I love our guys, I love our crew and I love the way we all work together. We are very passionate about what we do and we drive hard.”
The team seemed to have a successful preseason test in Florida last month, even laying down an impressive run of 3.72 seconds. How should that translate into your regular-season performance?
”It definitely gives us confidence. The thing about it is, you have to keep on going after it. Our main deal is we just want to make runs, complete runs, every time down the racetrack. That’s what (co-crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald and the rest of our Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys are trying to do. We just want to be consistent and make every lap that we can, but we also want to go as quick as we can every lap so we are on that edge. We’re teetering on that edge where it will go or not go, but we ran those great times. We want to make it down the track eight out of 10 times – that’s the goal. That’s the window that we were shooting for and we were getting closer and closer to it each and every run. That’s the goal of testing, not to go fast but to go down track. That’s what wins rounds, that’s what wins drag races, and that’s what wins championships.”
How was your so-called “offseason?”
“The offseason was good. My wife Billie and I went down to Florida prior to the test and spent some quality time with some old friends and it was just great to be down there. Everyone was relaxing and enjoying life, and we were able to take a breather from everything that’s been going on and enjoy the weather and soak it in and have ‘us’ time, which makes it really special. It energized me and got me ready to come back and ready to go after the season and take charge. We got to the test at West Palm Beach in the good weather and just got back at it. We busted all the cob webs out and got back at it in game mode. It was definitely our warm-up for all the crew guys and myself, just getting our racing legs back underneath us. The first day went well and the next day we pressed on and were trying some new stuff but we ran well. Our goal was to improve every day and make strides so, when Pomona hits this weekend, we can be where we need to be.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine