HOUSTON – Everything was certainly bigger in Texas during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Raing Series Top Fuel campaign for the U.S. Army tandem of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown. This weekend, the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammates are looking to continue their winning ways in the 28th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston.
Schumacher and Brown were both winners last year in the Lone Star State with Brown mastering Houston in April for his third triumph in the season’s first six events and Schumacher doubling up in Dallas last September to begin his run to an eighth world championship. In order to accomplish the mission of the weekend and continue the winning streak, both drivers and each member of their nine-man crews must possess versatility and adaptability to conquer the competition and mirror the U.S. Army as “The Team that Makes A Difference” throughout the weekend.
Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR, is off to solid start in defense of his world title and is one of five drivers in the Top Fuel class with a 2015 triumph. He heads to Houston second in the championship standings, 10 points behind leader Brown, who pilots the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR. Schumacher’s event title came at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Phoenix in the season’s second event, and he nearly made it two consecutive wins by reaching the Gatornationals final two weeks later. Brown opened the 2015 campaign with a run to the final in Pomona and joined Schumacher as a 2015 winner by taking the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte for the second consecutive year.
“The Sarge” is looking to become the first repeat winner of the season and is chasing his third career victory at Royal Purple Raceway. He won the event in 2005 and 2009, both times over Cory McClenathan in the event final. The 2009 win was significant because it marked the first win with the Army car for crew chief Mike Green. Before claiming those two wins, Schumacher reached the Houston final four times in five seasons – 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002. Last April, he qualified fourth but was upset in the opening round by Khalid alBalooshi.
Brown, who claimed his first career Top Fuel triumph in Houston back in March 2008, returns to Houston as the defending event titlist. The 2012 Top Fuel world champion qualified second last April and defeated Clay Millican, Spencer Massey, Shawn Langdon and alBalooshi to earn his second Houston Wally. The victory capped an incredible first quarter of the 2014 season, which included three wins, a runner-up finish and a pole.
ESPN2 will provide in-depth coverage of this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals beginning with two hours of qualifying coverage Saturday at 5 p.m. EDT. The network will air live coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds starting at 2 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Texas has always been special for you for a number of reasons, but in the last year you moved to Austin and now call Texas home. Does that change your view on this weekend’s race or make it more important to you?
“I want to win every time I get in the car. Does it matter that we’re racing a little closer to where I call home this weekend? It just makes me want to win even more. I’ve been fortunate to experience so many great things driving the U.S. Army car and being able to live a dream and race with the NHRA. You always remember your firsts and I won my first race in Texas back in 1999. Ten years later, Mike Green and I won our first race together in Houston. Last fall, I won two races in two days in Dallas, and that was the first time that ever happened. Those are things I’ll always remember. Last June, when my family and I moved to Austin from Chicago, we immediately felt at home and are proud to call Texas home. So, winning those two races last fall in Dallas as a Texas resident was really cool. My family is extremely important to me and this weekend I’ll have so many of them at the track with me. It’s a big deal.”
You and the Army team closed 2014 with a tremendous surge and have started 2015 in similar fashion. How much of that can be attributed to the stability of the team?
“Having all nine guys who were part of the championship run last year back and working harder than ever is big part of why this team, like the Army, does make a difference. My hat goes off to (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh). Those guys are the leaders of this team and every one of the guys who works on this U.S. Army Dragster is vital to our success. I talked about the importance of family and these guys are like family. They live and breathe this sport every day, and that’s one of the reasons they are the best in the business.”
The U.S. Army car has been extremely consistent through the first five events. Do you feel you are where you want to be with the car at this point of the campaign?
“Without a doubt, the U.S. Army car is bad to the bone. It’s reacting to the adjustments Mike and Neal are making on the car and it’s going down the track. We lost a really good drag race with Antron in Pomona to start the year and narrowly lost to Spencer (Massey) in the finals in Gainesville and had some bad luck in Charlotte and in Las Vegas. The key is, our car is doing its job and that’s forcing our competitors to run the absolute best they can and that’s hard on teams. We’re working toward the big picture and that’s fighting for a championship at the end of the year. We’re solid in the championship standings. We’ve got a great car and we’re all driven to continue getting better every race.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
After your most recent NHRA race in Las Vegas, you spent some time competing in the pro-celebrity race in Southern California as part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. How did that experience compare to your regular job?
“I’m a big fan of every kind of racing, but my sport is more about a reaction sport. I had a blast being part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro-Celebrity race. I wish I could have finished clean because I think I could have come up through the field some more and finished closer to the top. Any time you can get out of your own element and try something new, you learn from it. The people were tremendous and, from qualifying to the race, we definitely grew by leaps and bounds. I appreciated being involved with it and look forward to doing it again.”
There are always a number of variables that crew chiefs have to factor in when setting up your car. How big of a factor is the weather in Houston?
“Mother Nature is a race fan and always plays a part in how things shake out in these cars. Normally, we get to Houston and have to start dealing with some heat. We’ve dealt with it a little bit this year, already, but Houston is Houston. We’re really close to sea level. It’s probably going to be hot. That sometimes leads to moisture in the air, so you know (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) will be digging deep to dial in the Matco Tools/U.S. Army machine. We usually get a session on Friday night when things get really fast, so you have to be prepared for that. It will most likely be pretty hot in the first session Friday, and keeping your tires under you and getting down the track is key. If you can do that, then you get to what I call “throw down” in that second session. The weather definitely plays a factor and, with as tough as this field is right now, everyone is going to be on their game.”
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