LAS VEGAS – No one in his right mind would dare say there’s such a thing as a sure bet in Las Vegas. But when it comes to the U.S. Army Top Fuel driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, they are certainly a good bet to succeed each time they take their 10,000-horsepower racing machines to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
With 10 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel event titles and 15 appearances in the final round of eliminations between them at the scenic Las Vegas dragstrip, Schumacher and Brown hit town for this weekend’s 16th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals looking for more of the same. And who can blame them as they and their respective Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) units continue to exemplify how the U.S. Army is “The Team That Makes a Difference.”
Schumacher, the heavily decorated eight-time and defending Top Fuel world champion and driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR, is this weekend’s defending event titlist, having won at Las Vegas for a record eighth time in his illustrious career last April en route to the 2014 title. He beat Brown in the semifinals and championship rival Doug Kalitta in the Top Fuel final for his first of five event titles on the season.
“The Sarge” and his U.S. Army team have certainly picked up where they left off with a remarkably consistent start to the 2015 campaign. After an abrupt first-round exit at the hands of Brown in the February season opener at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, Schumacher came back and returned the favor two weeks later by defeating Brown in the semifinals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix en route to his first event title of 2015. A second consecutive win appeared to be in the works at the next round at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Florida as Schumacher again advanced to the final round, where he was clipped at the finish line by DSR teammate Spencer Massey.
After his second-round exit from the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Raceway near Charlotte, North Carolina two weekends ago, Schumacher sits a solid second in the Top Fuel standings heading to Las Vegas, 26 points behind Brown, who’s atop the heap after capturing his first event title of the season and second consecutive Four-Wide Nationals crown. Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion and driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, also reached February’s Pomona final, where he lost a close race to Shawn Langdon, the only non-DSR Top Fuel event titlist this season. Massey beat Brown in the Gainesville semifinals to advance to his final-round matchup against Schumacher.
A victory this weekend for Schumacher and his Top Fuel Dragster, which this year features a stylish Piano Black and Double Digital Gold Chrome scheme in celebration of his 15th season driving for the U.S. Army, would be his third in a row in Las Vegas spring events. In 2013, he met up in Sunday’s final round with – yes – Brown, and added to his record total of career Top Fuel victories, which now stands at 78.
Last April’s semifinal ouster at the hands of Schumacher ended a streak of four consecutive Las Vegas spring event final-round appearances for Brown. After falling to Larry Dixon in the 2010 spring final, Brown beat Brandon Bernstein in 2011 before losing in the 2012 final to Massey and the 2013 final to Schumacher. For good measure, he also advanced to the 2008 Top Fuel final, where he lost to then-DSR teammate Cory McLenathan. Brown also won the 2013 fall event title at Las Vegas.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You return to Las Vegas for this year’s spring race weekend as the defending event winner and record eight-time Las Vegas winner. Your overall thoughts heading into the weekend?
“Any time you go to a track where you win a lot, you just can’t wait to get there, and that’s the general consensus among the entire U.S. Army team for this weekend. We talk a lot about the U.S. Army being ‘The Team That Makes a Difference,’ and that has certainly become the case once again for this racing team since the middle of last year when we made our championship run. We’ve had a strong start to the season, we’re right there at the top of the point standings behind Antron (Brown), and we’re heading to a racetrack where we’ve had tremendous success. How can we feel anything but great about this weekend?”
What is it about Las Vegas that has enabled you and the U.S. Army team to experience so much success?
“We always seem to have a great racecar for Vegas. This is a great team, and we certainly know how to knuckle down and get the job done there. It’s a great race to go to for a lot of reasons. It’s different than most other places we go to, and my crew chiefs seem to find the handle on that track better than others. We’ve got a lot of momentum going for us this year, and we’re just looking forward to a bone-crushing weekend on the racetrack there once again.”
You’ve shown incredible consistency in getting down the racetrack quickly this year. To what do you attribute the kind of performance the U.S. Army team has shown this year?
“Plain and simple, the U.S. Army car is a great car. I would say we’ve gotten to the point where we’re very comfortable in our tuneup. We’re as fast as any other car out there. That’s a good place to be, especially when you know that you’ve still got a lot of room to improve upon what you’ve been doing. I say we’re comfortable, but I also say we’re not standing still. Never have, never will. We’re motivated by the fact we felt we should’ve won that race at Charlotte, and probably one or two others this year because of things that have bit us. Other than that, we know we have the car to beat. It’s just a great racecar. It was right online at Charlotte but I just missed it – just so close. When you lose races by missing it by just a little, you’re doing well. You’re going to lose a race now and then. I’d rather lose races being aggressive than running soft. We’re much more accustomed to getting the job done aggressively. That continues to be our mindset as we try to win another championship. It’s the toughest thing of all to lead the standings from beginning to end, so we just need to do what we need to do and take it one race at a time. And we will continue to move the program forward by staying ahead of everyone by trying new things. So far, so good.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
After being eliminated by your Top Fuel teammates at the previous two events, was it a particularly great feeling to finally break through and win your second consecutive Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte two weeks ago?
“We’ve been fighting some new combinations in our Matco/U.S. Army car. To sneak out with (the Four-Wide Nationals win) this year, it was definitely a long road. It felt good to go out there and run (well) in that last run. We did what we needed to do to win that race and everything worked out, for sure. There are so many good teams out there now, but I’d rather race anyone other than my teammates.”
You head to Las Vegas this weekend with the Top Fuel points lead for the first time in nearly a year. And Las Vegas certainly has been good to you and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team over the years. Your thoughts about being No. 1 headed out there?
“When we go to Vegas in the spring, we’re starting to hit our stride with everything coming together. Everything just seems to jell for us. It definitely feels good to be on top in the No. 1 spot, but our main focus this year is to keep working to constantly improve and get better at every race. We’re still a work in progress. We’re always building. Our main focus is to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”
Not only have you and Tony Schumacher already scored Top Fuel event titles, your other DSR teammate Spencer Massey has added one to give DSR three wins in the season’s first four events. How is the team able to be so dominant, thus far?
“What I attribute that to is the cohesiveness we have on this team. You come into the shop and you see all the crew chiefs. It’s taken a long time to get where it’s at. Don (Schumacher, team owner) has put all the right people in the right places. The crew chiefs are working together, sharing ideas, not to just make the cars run better but to make them safer, as well, and to make things better. You have to pick at the fine details to get ahead and we lean on each other. We’re a tight-knit unit and we’re able to grow and run together. We work hard and grow together and we get things to work out. That’s helped us really jump out there.”
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Director of Marketing, Customer Acquisition
Bass Pro Shops