MORRISON, Colorado – The U.S. Army driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown are liking the view from the top of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel standings as they and their respective teams from Don Schumacher racing (DSR) head to this weekend’s 36th annual Mopar NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Colorado.
Schumacher, the eight-time and reigning world champion in the U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, is coming off his third event title of the season on his family’s hometown racetrack just outside Chicago two weekends ago. It was a win that vaulted him back into first place in the Top Fuel standings but just 20 points ahead of Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, who also is a three-time event winner this season and had occupied the top spot in the standings since mid-May.
Most importantly as they head to Denver to kick of this year’s three-race Western Swing, Schumacher and Brown have created a good bit of distance between themselves and a slew of other championship-caliber drivers. Way back in third place in the Top Fuel standings is three-time world champion Larry Dixon, who sits 180 points out of first, just ahead of fourth-place Doug Kalitta, who is 184 points out of first.
Just like the U.S. Army he represents, an opportunity to be a part of America’s first team which, for 240 years, has protected and served the Nation, Schumacher has once again placed himself first in the standings while continuing to exhibit remarkable consistency in qualifying this season, which has paid off with highly favorable matchups throughout Sunday elimination rounds. He has three No. 1 qualifying positions thus far, bringing his record-setting career total to 79, and he’s qualified first or second an incredible eight times in the season’s first three events. His worst qualifying effort of sixth came at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, California. It’s a considerably improvement for the U.S. Army team compared to this time last year. Schumacher didn’t score his first No. 1 qualifying effort of 2014 until the Mile-High Nationals and came in with an average qualifying position of 6.30. This year, Schumacher’s average qualifying position is 2.46.
Consistent qualifying has set the stage for Schumacher’s 24-10 won-loss record in elimination rounds this season, which is surpassed only by Brown’s 25-10 record. They’ve matched up head-to-head four times in Sunday elimination rounds this season, each having won twice. Each will be chasing his third career Mile-High Nationals win this weekend. Schumacher has been runner-up five times at this event while Brown has been runner-up four times. Schumacher’s No. 1 qualifying effort last year was his first at the Mile-High Nationals while Brown has been No. 1 qualifier three times.
Together, they’ll look at continue their remarkable consistency on the NHRA’s most unpredictable dragstrip this weekend – tucked neatly into the foot of the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, 5,860 feet above sea level – while also creating more distance between themselves and the rest of a stellar Top Fuel Class of 2015.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The Western Swing kicks off this weekend with you in the points lead, and right behind you is your teammate Antron Brown. How important is it to be in that position with this grueling stretch of the season upon us?
“The coolest part of all is heading to Denver after just having won for the third time this year on our family’s home track in Chicago. A year ago, we were still struggling a little bit with our new six-disc clutch system but Denver is where we showed signs of getting it all together. We qualified first and then went out in the first round, but we really started picking up momentum at Sonoma and Seattle and on from there. Yeah, it’s been great battling with Antron this season. We got back ahead in the points by winning at Chicago but he’s just one round behind me. The best part of where we are in the standings is that we’ve been able to create a good bit of distance between us and a whole bunch of other really great drivers and teams that can all win on any given weekend. That bodes really well for us in these last five races before the Countdown, when the points are going to be reset, anyway. We just need to continue being as consistent as we’ve been in qualifying, and then making the most of the opportunities when they present themselves on Sundays.”
What are your thoughts about racing in Denver this weekend, in particular?
“It was good to have a weekend off after Chicago. It gives everyone a chance to recharge a little bit and get ready for this Western Swing. We’ve had a chance to regroup a bit and now we head out West, where we’ve had a lot of success over the years. Denver is a place I can just be thankful for the absolute lack of bad memories I have there. It’s zero. Even though we lost in the first round there last year, we were No. 1 qualifier for the first time and that sort of kicked off the momentum that carried us through the championship. There are no bad memories about Denver, from the Harley rides, to the fly fishing to the beautiful golf courses, and John Bandimere’s built us a beautiful racetrack, tucked into a mountain. You just can’t get enough of it and I really enjoy it. It’s a difficult race because you have to make horsepower in a set of circumstances that doesn’t really apply well to a Top Fuel Dragster. But, at the end of the day on Sunday, there’s a winner and you just have to be the guy who not necessarily sets a world record, but goes faster than everybody else. We’ve been fortunate enough to do that. We love going to Bandimere, we love going to Denver, and I just can’t wait to get there.”
What are the effects on the U.S. Army Dragster when it comes to racing at altitude in Denver as opposed to racing in a place like Gainesville, Fla.?
“When you’re at sea level, like Gainesville, there’s more air. You walk outside and you can just flat breathe. You don’t get tired as easily. It’s the same thing with the car. In Denver, you’re starving the engine for fuel, and you can’t add as much fuel. What it takes to go fast is, the more nitromethane you can stuff into the motor, the faster you can go. The more air you have, the more nitro you can put to it. The blowers we have, which are basically like an air compressor sitting on top of the engine, they can only work so hard. They can only spin so fast. We’re not spinning them slower because we’re in a place like Gainesville, we’re trying to make more power and go faster. What happens in Denver is, you get up high in the mountains and your car’s having hard time breathing. You’re having hard time breathing and so is your car, so your car’s just going to run slower. All the cars are equal as far as that goes. We’re all starving for air, and the air’s the same in both the right lane and the left lane. It takes a good crew chief and a good driver to figure it out. The right combination for the right moments.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The Western Swing is upon us, once again. Is it a part of the schedule you particularly look forward to, and what is it like for you and the team during this stretch of the season?
“It’s tough for everybody. It’s like doing a marathon. It’s not just the back-to-back-to-back races. We do that a few times during the season. Our teams are out there on the road the whole time. The guys have to work on the car, pack it up and drive another thousand miles to the next race. And they won’t get home or back to the shop for more than three weeks. It’s not just a marathon for the drivers, but it is for the whole team. And then there’s the mile-high altitude in Denver that takes the guys’ breath away. It’s the week in the thin air and all the travel that knocks you down.”
You swept the Western Swing back in 2009. Where do you rate that as far as your accomplishments? How important is the Western Swing as you approach the Countdown to the title?
“When you go out on the Western Swing, it gets everybody in gear. Playtime is over. Everybody is really buckled down. They start finalizing what they’re going to run in the Countdown. Getting to the nitty-gritty. When you’re talking about the team and the driver, the crew chief wants to get in the groove and get that symmetry going. After the Western Swing, we have Brainerd, then we have the U.S. Nationals, then right after that we’re right into the Countdown. This Western Swing can build you some momentum and give you some confidence. When you go into those races, you’re ready to be in attack mode, for sure. The Western Swing is a big, big part of that.”
A rather cute story came to light this week about you watching your 13-year-old daughter Arianna compete in the Starpower International dance competition last weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. How was that experience for you?
“I don’t get nervous but I get very excited. You just want to see your children succeed. It was exciting to see her nail her routines after all the practicing she did. You just want them to do well with their performance. I was proud to see her win the Jazz solo routine and her Sister Act Dance Academy team take first place. It’s a pretty big departure from watching her race NHRA Junior Dragsters with her brothers.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine