CHARLOTTE, North Carolina– Since joining forces with Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), the U.S. Army has been involved in some of the greatest moments in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history.
Schumacher, the six-time and reigning Top Fuel world champion, would like to add another chapter this weekend by conquering NHRA’s most unique event of the 24-race campaign, the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte.
“The Sarge” has wheeled the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster to numerous victories, has set world records and claimed multiple world championships during the previous 14 seasons as full-time partners. In 2015, he and his nine-man U.S. Army Racing team are focused on continuing to make a difference in the sport just as the U.S. Army, the nation’s most versatile force, adaptive in size, structure and skills to meet the ever-changing challenge of today’s security environment, makes a difference for America every day.
Joining Schumacher in the mission to carry the U.S. Army colors to victory in Charlotte is his DSR teammate Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR. Brown won last year’s Four-Wide Nationals and is aiming to earn his first victory of 2015 this weekend.
The NHRA Four-Wide Nationals is one of only a few events that “The Sarge” has not previously won during his illustrious career. He won the first-ever NHRA event at zMAX Dragway in the fall of 2008, a victory that was his 53rd career triumph and moved him past Joe Amato as the all-time winningest Top Fuel driver. Since that win, the great moments and victories have continued for Schumacher and the Army team, including his 78th triumph in February at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix.
In each of the first five Four-Wide Nationals, Schumacher has advanced to the second quad. In the 2012 and 2013 events, he advanced to the final quad but was defeated by DSR driver Spencer Massey, who also defeated Schumacher in the NHRA Gatornationals final two weeks ago in Gainesville, Florida. Last spring, Schumacher qualified sixth and was victorious in his opening run over Richie Crampton and Sidnei Frigo before coming up short versus Doug Kalitta and J.R. Todd in the second quad.
Brown will be looking to duplicate Massey’s back-to-back Four-Wide wins this weekend and give DSR five consecutive triumphs in the event. The 2012 Top Fuel world champion reached the final quad in the inaugural Four-Wide Nationals back in 2010 and again in 2012. In last year’s victory run, he qualified fourth and then outdueled Clay Millican and Leah Pritchett in the first quad and defeated Massey and Brittany Force in the second. In the final, he beat Shawn Langdon, Todd and Kalitta.
Both U.S. Army drivers are off to strong starts with three events under their belts in the 2015 Mello Yello campaign. Schuamcher has advanced to a pair of finals while Brown has reached the semifinals in all three. Schumacher ranks second in the championship standings with 268 points and trails Langdon by 13 markers. Brown is fourth with 240 points, 41 out of first.
Elimination rounds of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals will be showcased live nationwide on ESPN beginning at 2 p.m. EDT Sunday. ESPN2 will provide tape-delayed coverage of qualifying sessions with a 90-minute show airing Saturday at 8 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
This weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals certainly brings more challenges to you as a driver. With the media hype and added attention to this unique event, are your expectations different for this event compared to the other 23 on the schedule?
“This race is certainly different from all of the others, but it’s still my job to leave the starting line when the light turns and get to the finish line first. That’s it. My job is to drive a racecar no matter how many cars are there and get to the finish line first. We love Bruton Smith and his staff does a great job of putting on big events. It’s always exciting to come to Charlotte and we know this race is truly unique."
What is the biggest key to succeeding in a unique race like this and how have you learned to block out the extra distractions at this race?
“We’ve all learned how to race in the Four-Wide Nationals, and it’s not as easy to race three other cars. If you show up at a boxing match with three other guys, it is distracting. Who’s going to hit me first? What’s the next move? There are a lot of other variables and, for a driver who is trained and is used to going one on one, it certainly takes some getting used to. It starts with staging. You can’t make a little mistake because there are three other drivers who can capitalize on it. Normally, you might be able to make a mistake and there’s a chance the other driver will make one, too. But when there are three of them, you’ve got a couple guys who are going to be ice cold. You have to be a machine to win the Four-Wide. You have to be as ice cold as you can ever be to get the job done.”
You were the first Top Fuel driver to win at zMAX, but you’ve come up short in your bid for a Four-Wide triumph. What would it mean to you to get that first Four-Wide victory this weekend?
“I want that Four-Wide trophy. It’s a race I haven’t won and our mission this weekend is to be the last one standing. The U.S. Army car has been an incredible machine since the end of last season. (Crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) and all my guys have been doing a phenomenal job. I’m surrounded by guys who make a difference every race weekend, just like the Soldiers in the U.S. Army make a difference for America every day. I feel like I need to drive better. I’ve got to step up my performance for us to have the kind of success were are striving for.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
Does returning to Charlotte as the defending Four-Wide Nationals winner give you and your Matco Tools/U.S. Army team added confidence heading into the weekend?
“In this Top Fuel class, it’s incredibly tough every race, and winning the Four-Wide is extremely difficult. We’ve gotten off to a solid start advancing into the semifinals in the first three races, but everyone on this team is working hard so we can get even more. We’re really excited to get back to Charlotte. The Four-Wide Nationals is NHRA’s version of a battle royale and last year we were fortunate to come out on top. And, we’re hoping to back that up again this year. The race is a little earlier on the calendar and we’re expecting cooler temperatures, so the track should be in stellar condition. We’re confident and extremely excited about the opportunity we have this weekend.”
You mentioned the track conditions being prime for some very good racing this weekend. The track was recently repaved and everyone will be starting from scratch. Does that affect you as a driver?
“Bruton Smith’s tracks have always been the best. It’s pretty special when a track redoes the whole racetrack. They’ve made it level from before the starting line all the way down the track and replaced concrete with asphalt after about 700 feet to the finish line. Those are big improvements. We hear they’ve been running in all four lanes, so the track will certainly be fast for us and I expect some record runs to be made.”
– TSC –
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine