KENT, Washington – The U.S. Army duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown close out the annual Western Swing of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series with this weekend’s 28th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways just south of Seattle and, with just three events left before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin, Schumacher and Brown are creating quite some distance between their top two spots in the Top Fuel standings and the rest of the field.
Schumacher, the eight-time and defending Top Fuel world champion, opened this year’s Swing two weekends ago by driving his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) to within one-thousandth of a second of his fourth event title of the season at the Mile-High Nationals on the outskirts of Denver. Steve Torrence beat him to the finish line by a mere 6 inches at speeds of well over 300 mph.
Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR followed that up last weekend at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway with a dominating event title from the No. 1 qualifying position – his fourth of the season and one that pulled Brown back to within 37 points of the championship-leading Schumacher in the Top Fuel standings.
With just three events remaining in the regular season, Schumacher and Brown are well on their way to lock down the top two spots in the championship. Their next-closest competitor – three-time Top Fuel world champion Larry Dixon – is a whopping 231 points behind “The Sarge” and 194 points behind Brown. With seven event titles and eight No. 1 qualifying positions between them through the first 15 events of 2015, Schumacher and Brown and the incredible consistency shown by their respective teams are fitting representatives of the U.S. Army, America’s first team which, for nearly 240 years, has protected and served the Nation.
This weekend’s stop at Pacific Raceways could mean more of the same for the U.S. Army tandem. For Schumacher, the Washington stop on the tour has been his most successful stop on the Western Swing each year with seven final-round appearances in the last 11 seasons, including event titles in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. His 2004 and 2008 wins came from the No. 1 qualifying position. A year ago, Schumacher qualified No. 1 at Seattle for the third time in his career and advanced to a semifinal-round meeting with Brown, who came out on top in a close race.
Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion, scored his lone Seattle event title in 2009 to close out a sweep of the three-race Western Swing that year. He also was runner-up in 2010 and 2014 – losing in the final to Doug Kalitta last year – and was No. 1 qualifier in 2011.
Last weekend’s resounding victory at Sonoma was a thoroughly dominating one for Brown, starting with the No. 1 qualifying position he earned with a run of 3.707 seconds that is the fourth best in NHRA history. While Schumacher was fastest in the first qualifying sessions Friday and Saturday, Brown was fastest in the second session each day. Then, Sunday, he mowed through the four elimination rounds, including a semifinal victory over Schumacher, and he clipped rookie Dave Connolly in the Top Fuel final. Brown showed incredible consistency on race day with runs of 3.769, 3.797, 3.805 and 3.787 seconds over the four elimination rounds.
The event title was the 51st of his career and his 35th in the Top Fuel ranks, tying him with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits on the all-time win list. His No. 1 qualifying position was the 42nd of his career and fifth this season.
This weekend, on the outskirts of Seattle, the U.S. Army duo is certainly looking for more of the same.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
After opening the Western Swing with a final-round appearance at Denver, followed by a semifinal run at Sonoma, are you ready to close out this grueling part of the schedule?
“At Seattle, we’ve probably had more success than the first two races (of the Western Swing) put together. We have a great car at that place – very fast, and the crowd seems to be building there. Hopefully, we can go out and win it and go off and try to win a championship. It’s a fast racetrack and there’s good side-by-side racing. It’s the end of a grueling session, so you can be the team that’s not thinking, ‘Let’s get this over with,’ but thinking, ‘Let’s close this out and do it right.’”
You’re off to one of your most successful starts to the Western Swing in recent years. What is the difference this year?
“It’s very comforting. “The most comfortable part about it is the changes we make reflect in the car. We’ve had seasons where we’ve made changes and it does the opposite, and you’re fighting that for a long, long time. Right now, it seems to be when we do something to the car, it is fairly predictable. When we miss it, we miss it by just a little bit and that’s usually when we’re trying to go faster and we have the opportunity to do that. It’s a great time to get good. The end of the year is the premier time to peak, but it’s comforting going to the end of the year with a good car.”
With your most successful stop on the Western Swing at hand, there are just two more events left in the regular season after that before you officially begin defense of your 2014 Top Fuel title. Your thoughts on that?
“I think just driving well gives our team, our engineers Mike Green and Neal Strausbaugh, confidence to go into Brainerd and Indy. We understand what it’s like to get there, how big those moments are and how good you’re going to have to be in those moments. That’s how you win those back-to-back titles, going into it knowing you can do it. You show up knowing we’ve done this before and you just try to be a machine. I said it last year when we won one – that’s it’s very, very hard to win one, and it’s going to be even harder to win back-to-back. We’re in the position to fight for it and that’s all you can ask for – to be in the position for the battle. I couldn’t ask for any more. I just have to go out and do my job because the car is running well and I don’t want to be the weak link.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You came back with a fury at Sonoma last weekend after a weekend filled with struggles at Denver. You left no doubt you had the best car and team and scored a big win that tied you with the legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits on the all-time Top Fuel win list. Your thoughts on that?
“It was a great race weekend. To tie one of the greatest racers in history is just unbelievable. We gained a lot of points on Tony at Sonoma, but it won’t be easy to catch him over the next three races before the Countdown (to the Championship playoff) begins after Labor Day. That team is running strong. But this Matco Tools/U.S. Army team is focused and we want that top seed when we start the Countdown.”
What is your outlook for this weekend as you head to Seattle to wrap up another Western Swing?
“There’s confidence in the air with Matco Tools/U.S. Army team. Seattle will be another chance to keep building, to keep pushing. We want to peak by the time we get to the U.S. Nationals. That’s what our Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys are working hard at, and we expect to keep making progress this weekend in the Northwest Nationals. Our main mission is still to go after that number-one spot for the Countdown. That’s what we are pressing hard for. We’re looking forward to getting out to Seattle and Pacific Raceways, which is beautiful this time of year, and we’re ready to put forth a good showing. We’re ready to go out there like Iron Man on everybody.”
- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.