GAINESVILLE, Florida – U.S. Army and Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammates Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown have a special understanding of teamwork. In each of the 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events, the duo represents the U.S. Army – America’s Team – which exists to defend the Nation and uphold the American way of life. And, this weekend, both Schumacher and Brown will showcase the strength of their respective nine-man teams in the 46th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Florida.
Schumacher continues his 15th full season driving the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) and is coming off his first victory of the season three weeks ago in the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix. The weekend not only culminated with his 78th career victory, but also included Schumacher earning top qualifying honors for the 77th time.
The eight-time and reigning Top Fuel world champion is tied with NHRA legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Joe Amato and Larry Dixon for most career triumphs in Gainesville with four. The all-time leading Top Fuel winner reached his first Gainesville final in 2000 but lost to Doug Kalitta. Schumacher strung together three victories in four years starting in 2007. “The Sarge” won again in 2008 and defeated Brown in the 2010 final. Last March, Schumacher qualified seventh before losing to Brown in the second round.
Gainesville will always be special for Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR. The 2012 Top Fuel world champion vividly recalls interacting with Garlits, a Gainesville native, as a youngster and was inspired to chase his dream of competing in the NHRA. Gainesville was also the site of the first national event Brown entered back in 1998 when he raced Pro Stock Motorcycles. He earned his first professional pole at the facility in 2001. He raced his way into the Top Fuel final in 2010 and became a Top Fuel Gatornationals winner in March 2013. Last March, Brown qualified second and advanced to the final.
In each of the first two events of 2015, the U.S. Army teammates have squared off. Brown took out Schumacher in the first round during the season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California while Schumacher defeated Brown in the semifinals in Phoenix.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
After a near-perfect weekend in Phoenix, you and your U.S. Army team head to the Gatornationals looking to continue the momentum. What’s been the key to having such a strong beginning to the 2015 campaign?
“We’ve been through this before. It’s not the first time we won races at the beginning of the year. Hopefully we continue on because so often you see teams have awesome starts but cannot keep that pace up through the middle of the year. It takes a team that’s outstanding to maintain that. The battles are tough. I didn't drive very well at the last race. The U.S. Army crew led by (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) really carried me. The car was fast at the right times. Not the fastest every lap, didn’t have lane choice every time, but we raced well. I think we saw the results were good. We’ve had years where you do almost everything right and you get beat, too. Little bit of a lucky start, but a good, fast racecar to get the year going with. And we’re just working hard so that can continue this weekend in Florida.”
When you speak to kids at schools, Soldiers around the country, and even fans at races, your message follows the theme of over-preparing and going with the flow. Has that type of preparation enabled you to succeed in some of the sport’s biggest moments
“I’ve always believed the preparation is the most important part. I’m not sure that I try harder than anybody else. Honestly, every competitor in the professional category tries. They’re all good, prepared. They eat right, train, prepare. Hiring great people is very, very important. But who doesn’t do that? So I live for that moment. I get in that car and I don’t pray to win, I pray for miracles. I’ve been a part of so many of them. I hope every American in the world gets a chance to live those moments. I hope everyone gets to live that moment – bottom of the ninth, bases-loaded, scary moment. I don’t think everyone wants that. I think a lot of people are very content being a spectator. But I hope at some point they get to enjoy being a part of something so big with people capable of pulling off those moments. I only enjoy those moments because I’ve surrounded myself with nine guys capable of that moment. Think about the run. Think about when we set the world record. When I looked out of my visor and saw my U.S. Army guys, they were fantastic guys capable of that moment in every way, shape and form. Kids who read these magazines, listen to what you guys are saying, listen to me closely, you have a chance to drive a car that goes 330 miles an hour, you may be blessed at that particular moment, make sure when you look out your visor that nine guys are A-plus, bad-to-the-bone dudes who are capable of that moment. Surround yourself with people capable of the fight and battle at all times. We win and lose by inches, set world records on runs that absolutely matter. It’s all about the people you surround yourself with. So, start while you’re young, surround yourself with people capable of passing good tests, studying for the correct test. The Army has taught me that for 15 years now – surrounding yourself with people who are capable of the job are the way you get home.”
Throughout your illustrious career, you’ve been strongest in some of the biggest events. The Gatornationals is one of a handful of prestigious events on the 24-race schedule. Does any of your previous success in the event give you an advantage this weekend?
“The Gatornationals has great history but, honestly, I have no better chance of winning Gainesville this weekend than I do of winning Atlanta, which I’ve never won before. We’re going to win if we show up and are better than the rest of the field. We have to show up machine-like, do our job. It’s a group effort. Things with the car change every year. I love racing in Gainesville, seeing all the people in the stands. You want to race in front of a big crowd because we love what we do and we want people to see it.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
Following events in California and Arizona to open the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello season, this weekend you return to action in Florida. What do you think of when you are asked about the Gatornationals?
“When I think of Gainesville, to me it’s really where the season starts to get going. Everybody gets their groove on at the third race, and it’s the first time you have all four professional categories competing. From a fan’s perspective, it’s one of the biggest races of the year. It’s the Gatornationals, where some really special moments in our sport have happened. Big speeds, ETs, and all the hype and prestige. If you want to be a part of history, you have to make some history there. The event is in the hometown for Big Daddy Don Garlits, the godfather of our sport. I love going there and getting after it. If you do something special in Gainesville, it really sets the momentum for the season.”
In each of the first two events, you have been able to advance into the semifinals. Despite coming up short in your bid for victory, are you pleased with the way the season has begun?
“You have to take it one step at a time. You can never get ahead of yourself, especially with how this (Top Fuel) class is going right now. The way the competition is, you have to have you’re A-plus game going if you want a chance to win. This Matco Tools/U.S. Army team definitely has that going on right now. We just want to continue building our momentum right now. We made the final in Pomona, qualified in the top-five and made it to the semis in Phoenix, and next we need to qualify in the top-three and give ourselves a shot on Sunday in Gainesville. We’ll take it one round at a time and see if we can get in the final and bring it home.”
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