ENGLISHTOWN, New Jersey – Remembering that a championship journey is a marathon and not a sprint isn’t always the easiest thing to do for highly competitive individuals who drive 10,000-horsepower racing machines and typically win or lose in just under four seconds. In a lot of cases, the key to success is continuing to build throughout a season and finish with a flurry. With an extremely competitive first half of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season about to be completed, U.S. Army teammates Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown resume their Top Fuel championship positioning this weekend relying on the members of their respective teams to make a difference during the next 10 events the same way the members of the U.S. Army make a difference for America every day.
The 46th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey is the next challenge for the U.S. Army tandem, and both Schumacher and Brown feel right at home competing at the historic facility.
For Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), this season has been a celebration of 15 years of carrying the U.S. Army colors. Englishtown, because of its proximity to both the nation’s capital and several major metropolitan areas, annually attracts an noticeably large contingent of both active and former Army Soldiers to the event. Schumacher, who currently ranks second in the championship standings behind Brown, often discusses how surrounding himself with the best nine guys is what gives him and his team the best opportunity to succeed. That approach through the first eight events has produced a victory, two runner-up finishes and one No. 1 qualifier award for the U.S. Army team.
The decorated driver who claimed his eighth Top Fuel world championship last season by winning three of the final six events, is looking to earn his second career victory in Englishtown this weekend. His lone Englishtown win among his record 78 career Top Fuel event titles came in 2008. And adding another Wally at the historic strip this weekend would be a dynamic way to continue the quest for a ninth world title.
The return to Englishtown for Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, is his one chance each season to race at home. The Chesterfield, New Jersey native fell in love with the sport of drag racing as an 11-year-old when he watched his father Albert and his uncle Andre compete on the dragstrip located just 30 minutes from where he grew up. After getting his start in motocross, Brown graduated to Pro Stock Motorcycles, where he won national events in the class at Old Bridge in both 2002 and 2005. The winning continued once he moved into Top Fuel and his next triumph with be his 50th career NHRA win.
Brown is the only driver in the extremely competitive Top Fuel class to win multiple events in 2015. The 2012 Top Fuel world champion already has Charlotte and Atlanta wins this season and is determined to push his team to the limits and be in a position Sunday to capture his first Top Fuel win at his home track.
Last June at Englishtown, the U.S. Army teammates met in the first round with Schumacher earning the win light. The two have met three times already in the first eight events this season. Both teams are coming off strong qualifying performances in Topeka, where Brown was first for the second weekend in a row and Schumacher was third. They again look to land on opposite sides of the elimination ladder Sunday.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The theme of the 2015 season so far has been strong qualifying runs and then either feast or famine on Sunday. What’s the key to more feasts on Sundays during these next 10 regular-season events?
“We have been qualifying well and that’s a really good indication of how prepared this U.S. Army team is week in and week out. I talk to lot people about the importance of preparation. I’m fortunate to work with an incredible group of guys led by (crew chief) Mike Green and (assistant crew chief) Neal Strausbaugh. Those guys are the best in the business and they are looking at everything we are doing so that we can be in the best position on Sunday. We’ve proven through performance in qualifying that we have one bad-to-the-bone machine. We’re consistently bringing out the best in our competition. Sometimes we take our best shot and move on and sometimes the other guy gets us. That motivates all of us to get better. This U.S. Army team will not quit. We’re excited to see what we can do these next couple of months, starting with Englishtown.”
As a driver who has competed all across the country and at several places around the world, what makes racing in Englishtown different?
“It’s just a track where there is so much tradition. It’s the closest race to major cities like New York and Philadelphia. There are so many people who come out. It makes you feel so good to wear the U.S. Army colors and see so many proud Americans with so much passion for our sport. With massive crowds all three days, the atmosphere is second to none. You go up to the starting line knowing that some of the greatest drivers of all time have been in that same spot. Every driver wants to win at Englishtown. I know it would mean a lot to Antron to win at Englishtown because it’s home for him. How awesome would that be for us to be in a position to race him for the win Sunday? That would just add to the prestige this place has in my mind.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
This weekend’s Toyota NHRA Summernationals is more than just one of the 24 events on the schedule. Is there added pressure since you are so close to home?
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves no matter where we are, but I want to win at Englishtown really bad. It’s always hard to do something for the first time. It’s going to be a lot of fun looking around and seeing so many familiar faces but, when I get in the car, it’s all about business. Only one driver in Top Fuel is leaving with a Wally and I really want that to be me this weekend. The approach by our Matco Tools/U.S. Army team is one run at a time. Get our car from A to B and keep pressing. The other stuff is good when we are in-between rounds, but performing at our best each time we make a pass is really what we’re focused on.”
You do have the opportunity to make some history this weekend. Your next win will be 50 for your career. Did you ever dream that you’d be chasing a 50th NHRA victory?
“I can’t even believe I’ve won 49 races. Everyone in my life has contributed in some way for me to be able to own 49 NHRA Wally trophies and the 2012 Mello Yello Top Fuel championship. I’ve been so blessed to be with our Matco Tools/U.S. Army team. There wouldn’t be a better place for me to get my 50th Wally than at Englishtown. That would be almost like a Hollywood scene. Heck, Tony (Schumacher) has had all of those great finishes that seem to come out of a movie. Maybe it’s our turn. Englishtown is where it all started for me. I remember riding my dirt bike there and watching my dad and uncle race at Englishtown and playing under the grandstands. There are so many great memories there. Being able to get our first Top Fuel win and have it be number 50 with all my family out there – sharing that with them would be more than I could ask for.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine