SONOMA, California – Every race on the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series campaign is distinctive and brings with it unique expectations. For the U.S. Army Racing tandem of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, this weekend’s venture to the picturesque Sonoma Raceway in northern California carries a sense of the clock ticking toward NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoff. The U.S. Army teammates are one-two in the championship standings, both are former winners in Wine Country, and each is focused on earning a fourth victory of the 2015 campaign in the second leg of the three-race Western Swing.
Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), resumes his bid for a ninth Top Fuel world championship in the 28th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, leading the way in the championship standings by 85 points over Brown with four races remaining before the top-10 drivers begin the six-race championship run. Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, is looking to enhance his bid for a second world title by regaining momentum that enabled him to capture three wins during a six-race stretch earlier this season.
The U.S. Army duo and their respective teams follow the lead of the U.S. Army Soldiers by trusting each member with specific tasks to ensure the end result is that the team will ultimately make the difference when it matters most, just as the U.S. Army makes a difference in our Nation. Behind the leadership of Mike Green and his assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh, Schumacher has been the model of consistency through the first 14 events. His qualifying average of 2.43 has enabled “The Sarge” to be positioned in more advantegous slots during eliminations. He has appeared in six finals and won three times, including his most recent victory July 12 In Chicago. Last weekend, Schumacher made another run to the final before narrowly being defeated by Steve Torrence in Denver at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
Schumacher has six career final-round ppearances at Sonoma. He advanced to the final during his first championship season in 1999, and then again in 2006. He won consecutive events in 2007 and 2008 and was the runner-up in 2010 and 2011. Last July, he qualified third and reached the semifinals.
Brown and his team, led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, are looking forward to returning to sea level this weekend and continue building their playbook during the final two races of the Western Swing. With victories earlier this season at Charlotte, Atlanta and Englishtown, the team has proven it will be a factor when the Countdown begins. Since his Englishtown triumph in early June, the focus has been on dialing in the Matco Tools/U.S. Army machine for another championship run. And results similar to the 2009, 2011 and 2012 Sonoma Nationals is Brown’s goal for the weekend. In his two most recent Sonoma wins, he had to defeat a DSR teammate to come home the winner. In 2011, he defeated Schumacher and the following year he took down Spencer Massey. Last July, Brown qualified fourth but was knocked out in the first round by Massey.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The consistency the U.S. Army team has shown throughout the 2015 campaign has been a major reason you are leading the championship standings. How big of a factor in your success has been the ability to qualify in the top half of the field for each race of the season?
“It’s a huge part of our success. We’ve all been at this for a long time. It’s a process where you have to make a plan, believe in it and stay the course. It took us a long time to see the results of all the work that went into making our six-disc clutch work, but last year during the Western Swing it started to come together. We went on to win a championship and we’ve been able to carry that momentum with us this year. The U.S. Army team is known for coming up big when it absolutely has to and, thanks to our qualifying prowess, we’ve been in a better position more times than not this year. The Top Fuel class is loaded with good drivers and excellent cars. You need a little bit of everything to go your way on Sundays, and being in the right place at the right time certainly is where you are trying to put yourself.”
After winning at your family’s home track in Chicago, you made a run to the final in Denver. How do you continue building momentum in Sonoma?
“I’ve been saying all week how I’m excited but disappointed at the same time. I absolutely love racing in Sonoma. The track is great. The fans are phenomenal. The scenery … just everything about being there. And I also know, after Sunday, I have to wait another year to come back. The only thing I can do is make sure I take it all in this weekend and do everything we can to keep the U.S. Army car positioned to win. Winning Chicago was a big boost for all of us and, honestly, Denver is such a crapshoot because of altitude. It just showed what this team is made of. We had to race in hot, sticky conditions in Chicago and were able to adapt and overcome a lot and then, last weekend, (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) were on their game big-time. This week, we will be back to sea level and the guys will be pushing it to the limits to see if we can continue putting some distance on Antron and the rest of the guys in the standings.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Earlier in the season, you and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team were really in a groove. Is there a key to getting back to that groove?
“We are all looking to get back to competing for number-one qualifier positions and being fast all four qualifying runs. That’s where it starts. You have to be able to come out of the box Friday and make a good lap so you can go for it on Friday night when conditions are almost always the best you’ll have all weekend. We aren’t that far off. We lost in the finals in Norwalk and got to the semis in Chicago, but just didn’t get things done in Denver. We’re focused on Sonoma. We’re eager to get back to sea level and running how we know we can.”
The Western Swing has been a strong point for you during your Top Fuel career. You are sitting in second place in the standings, 85 points back of your U.S. Army teammate Tony Schumacher. Does your previous success in the Western Swing give you confidence that you can cut into that lead before returning to the Midwest and the final two races before the Countdown?
“You can really only control what’s going on right now. Sure, we’ve had a lot of good runs through Denver, Sonoma and Seattle and we’re hoping we can have good runs at both Sonoma and Seattle this year. We just have to get our program right and be clicking on all cylinders. That U.S. Army team with Tony behind the wheel is clicking right now and we just have to close the gap. That comes with hard work and a never-quit attitude. I know that’s what I’m working with and all my Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys are working with, too. We’ve got a couple of races and our immediate goal is succeeding Friday so we can dial ourselves in Saturday and be ready for a big day on Sunday.”
- Mike Zizzo
Director of Media Relations
Texas Motor Speedway