U.S. Army Top Fuel Drivers Continue Their Battle for No. 1 at Lucas Oil Nationals
BRAINERD, Minnesota (Aug. 20, 2015) – For most of the season, the battle for the top spot in the Top Fuel class of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has been a contest between U.S. Army teammates Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown. They have separated themselves from the rest of the field in the chase for the top overall spot in this year’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs that begin in September. Their respective quests to wind up No. 1 continue at this weekend’s penultimate event of the regular season – the 34th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.
Schumacher, the eight-time and defending Top Fuel world champion, leads the charge into the 17th event of the 2015 campaign with an 87-point advantage and carries momentum from a consistent Western Swing driving his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). “The Sarge” has three event titles this season – Phoenix, New Hampshire and Chicago – and has spent most Sundays winning rounds. He has made five consecutive runs to the semifinals or beyond starting at Norwalk, followed by a victory in Chicago, then a narrow defeat in Denver prior to semifinal appearances in Sonoma and Seattle.
Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team top the class with four event titles and are looking to bounce back from a first-round loss in Seattle two weekends ago. The 2012 Top Fuel world champion hopes to duplicate his Sonoma performance, which included earning his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season prior to surging past the competition with four consistent runs in Sunday eliminations. It’s that edge that Brown hopes to push beginning Friday, when qualifying begins.
Building momentum for both the upcoming Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and the six-race Countdown is top priority this weekend. Brainerd has annually been a good stop for Schumacher. He won the event in 2000, 2004 and 2008 and was runner-up in 2003, 2006 and 2011. Six times he’s earned the No. 1 qualifying position. Last August, he qualified sixth and raced his way into the semifinals before being defeated by Doug Kalitta.
Brown also has enjoyed his ventures to “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” during his career. He earned four wins in Pro Stock Motorcycle at Brainerd before winning in Top Fuel back in 2011. He returned to the finals in 2012 but couldn’t eclipse Morgan Lucas. Brown qualified first last August and won two rounds before losing to Lucas in the semifinal.
The U.S. Army duo is scheduled to make a pair of qualifying runs Friday and two more Saturday before Sunday’s elimination rounds.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You give more than 200 speeches a year and one of the topics is always about how important your team is – the people you are surrounded by. What makes your team so successful?
“The biggest reason our U.S. Army team is successful is because of its commitment to be the best and that starts with (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh). Those guys are phenomenal, and the rest of the guys follow their lead. Every one of them is vital to us being successful. They all have their role and have to be great at their jobs. We compete against great drivers and teams and, if we aren’t at our best, then we will get beat. Experience plays a big factor. We’ve pretty much got the same group from last year’s championship season and they’ve been through the battles. When it comes time for those quick turnarounds and making sure everything is perfect, that’s when their talents come out even more. It’s a privilege for me to get in that U.S. Army car and look out and see my nine guys. I know I’ve got a great chance just because of the work those guys do.”
This weekend provides another opportunity for victory, but also a chance for you to get closer to locking up the top position in the Countdown. What’s your perfect weekend scenario?
“Coming out with a victory Sunday is the perfect scenario and collecting as many points as we can during qualifying. I’m not sure we can lock up the top spot this weekend, but that would be great heading into Indy. We have a lead on Antron right now, but anything can still happen. We need to push it out a little bit further, which is tough because those guys are so good. Everyone in the class is really good. It’s hard to win these things. We haven’t won a race since Chicago, but we won the most rounds. When you look back to 1999 when we won our first championship, we won one race and that was my first win ever. We were good at being a machine and going rounds. You don’t have to win every race. You have to win the right ones and you have to win rounds.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You are coming into this weekend still with a shot at the top position in the Countdown. Is that something you and your team think about or do you just concentrate on getting the win this weekend?
“We’ve clinched a Countdown spot. We have to push and put pressure on our teammate Tony for that No. 1 spot. We still have two races left and Indy is worth extra points. We have to put Seattle behind us and qualify better at Brainerd and Indy and do some work on race day. There are a lot of points still on the table but, to get them, you have to have a good car. I know (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) and all the Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys will have us ready to get after it.”
It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster the past three events. Finding consistency at this time of the year is what every team is searching for. What’s the key to being more consistent?
“The competition is so stiff out here in the NHRA, you can’t mess up. It’s hard to win rounds out here. We have to make better luck for ourselves and that starts with qualifying better. Denver is kind of a one-off deal, so you can’t get too wrapped up in what happens there. The guys came back at Sonoma and were on a mission and we got the job done. Unfortunately, we stumbled a bit in Seattle. Brainerd has been a good place for us in the past, so we’re excited to get there and put down some good runs in qualifying and be better on Sunday. Get that first run in and try to keep building on that. That’s what we did in Sonoma. Momentum is something you want to have on your side.”
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