JOLIET, Illinois – With the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series beginning the second half of its 24-event season this weekend with the Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals, U.S. Army teammates Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown couldn’t be happier to hear Robert Johnson’s song “Sweet Home Chicago” ringing over the loudspeakers as they continue their quest toward a world championship at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.
The U.S. Army tandem leads the Top Fuel standings entering the weekend and returns to the “City of Broad Shoulders” as the two most recent winners at the state-of-the-art facility. Both drivers and their nine-man teams make a difference in the outcome at each national event just as the U.S. Army and its more than 1 million Soldiers make a difference for America every day.
It’s a homecoming for Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). The eight-time and defending Top Fuel world champion spent the first 42 years of his life living in the Chicagoland area and grew up idolizing all of the Chicago icons, from Dick Butkus and Walter Payton to Michael Jordon. And despite relocating to Austin, Texas last summer, “The Sarge” remains one of the most passionate Blackhawks fans anywhere. Following the local hockey team’s third Stanley Cup triumph in six years this year, Schumacher is looking to follow the lead of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the rest of the Hawks by duplicating the order of events in 2013, when the Hawks hoisted the Stanley Cup and, days later, The Sarge held the Wally trophy for the Lucas Oil Route 66 NHRA Nationals high above his head while flanked by U.S. Army Soldiers.
Schumacher returns to Route 66 Raceway tied with the legendary Kenny Bernstein as the only four-time Top Fuel winners at the track. His victories came in 2003, 2005 and 2008 prior to his run to victory in June 2013. That win came as a result of Schumacher defeating David Grubnic, Khalid alBalooshi, Brown and Clay Millican. It marked the sixth time he had reached a final at his home track. After qualifying second last year, Schumacher was knocked out in the first round.
The U.S. Army team comes into the weekend following a semifinal appearance last weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. Schumacher was matched against Brown in the semifinal with the Army teammates tied for first place in the point standings. The winner not only advanced to the final, but also left with the lead in the championship halfway through the campaign. Schumacher had the early advantage but lost traction, and Brown powered by to take the win and the top position in the points.
For the second consecutive NHRA event, Brown comes in as the defending race winner. The 2012 Top Fuel world champion came up short in his bid to repeat at Norwalk last week but is very optimistic about his chances to score back-to-back wins in Chicago this weekend. Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, leads all drivers in the Top Fuel category with three wins in 2015. He holds a 20-point edge over Schumacher on the strength of a 23-9 elimination-round record through 12 events.
Brown, who raced to victory at Route 66 Raceway in Pro Stock Motorcycles in 2000 and 2001, scored his first Top Fuel victory at the track in 2012, then won again last June by defeating Billy Torrence, Richie Crampton, Millican and Brittany Force to earn his 45th career NHRA victory.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
With the season now half over, what is the most important thing that you and your Army team have accomplished so far this season
“The best part about the U.S. Army team is the ability to always be able to adapt to any situation that we’ve had to deal with. Led by (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh), our program continues to evolve. We spent a lot of time the last few years developing new things and trying to get better. That all came together last fall when we made our run to the championship. This first part of the season has been about continuing to learn. We’ve won races. We’ve qualified extremely consistently. We started the season with one car and have been running another one since Atlanta. And the best part is that we’ve had a bad-to-the-bone machine all season long. It reacts to the changes we are making and that allows Mike and the guys to continue pushing further and further. We have accomplished a lot so far and we’re still working to get better and better.”
This marks the second time you’ve returned to Chicago since moving to Texas. Does it still feel like you are coming home this weekend?
“Without a doubt. Chicago will always be where I’m from. My hometown. I have such great pride in being a Chicagoan. We’re ‘Chicago Tough,’ through and through. It’s always been special for me to race at Route 66. Chicago loves to see its own succeed. Winning there is such a big deal. Not only to me, but my dad and everyone in our family. Schumacher Electric is in Chicago and we have so much family here. The week for me is about spending time and being surrounded by friends and family members. That’s a priority in life. So often we get so busy with what we are doing that we forget how important that time is. I really look forward to this time in Chicago. I have the privilege of representing so many people from all the friends and family to all the U.S. Army Soldiers I’ve been connected with for the past 15 years. It just gives me such great pride to be able to do what I do with the people I do it with. Being in Chicago just underscores that even more. I can’t wait.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Even though you grew up in New Jersey, you still have a special affinity for Chicago. Why do you look forward to the Route 66 Nationals every year?
“I love coming to Chicago for so many reasons. It’s home for Don (Schumacher), Tony and all of their family and, at DSR we’re one big family, so it’s kind of our third home right behind New Jersey and Indianapolis. There is nothing better than to be one of the drivers sharing the same winner’s circle with Don in his hometown. It’s just an added bonus that we’ve been blessed to win there both early in my career on the bikes and last year in Top Fuel. Its proximity to Indianapolis makes it possible for all of our family members to easily make it up to the races, as well, and that’s a big deal. We race 24 times and there are only a couple of times where you can get in the car and be there within a couple of hours. Last week in Norwalk, and now this week in Chicago and, of course, the U.S. Nationals the first week of September. The fans are great in Chicago and the facility is first class. Those qualifying runs at night, wow, those are crazy. And Sundays there, you never know what is going to happen.”
With your wins in 2012 and 2014 sandwiching Tony’s 2013 win, DSR has won the last three years in Chicago. Is there any added pressure to keep that win streak going this weekend?
“It’s July, which usually isn’t a time for there to be any added pressure. At this time of the year, it’s about growth. Winning Chicago is a big deal for all of us at DSR because of the importance Chicago has for Don and his family. The fact that we have won two and Tony won the other one tells me we have some really good teams at DSR and we probably ought to keep a close eye on (DSR teammate) Spencer (Massey) this weekend, too. We’re one big team and, until we are facing one another, the guys try to collaborate and work together. When it comes down to it, you are surrounded by the core group of people that becomes like a family. That’s what I feel like when (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) sit down and talk about what we are doing. We know what each other is thinking before we even say a word. That’s how in-tune we are with each other and where we want to go.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine