U.S. Army Teammates Prepared for Strong Start to Championship Countdown in Charlotte
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 17, 2015) – “Overprepare and go with the flow.” It’s a simple saying U.S. Army driver Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher shares just about every time he speaks to a group. He said it today while addressing students at Mallard Creek High School. It’s a mantra the eight-time and defending NHRA Top Fuel world champion believes can be followed by many and results in success.
Winning another championship is what Schumacher and his U.S. Army team have been preparing for during the first 18 events of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The six-race Countdown to the Championship begins with this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, where every opportunity comes with championship implications.
Schumacher and his U.S. Army and Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Antron Brown lead the field of 10 Countdown drivers vying for the 2015 Top Fuel world title to the Charlotte area as not only the most recent Charlotte event winners – Schumacher the 2014 Countdown event and Brown the 2015 Four-Wide Nationals – but also the top two drivers in the reset championship standings. To win those events and conclude the regular season leading the points, the tandem, along with their nine-man crews, have had to prepare and execute in a difference-making way similar to how the U.S. Army has been making a difference for the United States for 240 years.
The results of their preparation and teamwork were witnessed last year during Schumacher’s run to his eighth world championship, starting with a victory in the Carolina Nationals. Schumacher and his Army teams have experienced a great deal of success at the Charlotte strip, beginning with a win in the track’s first-ever national event in the fall of 2008. He opened the Countdown that season with his historic 53rd career Top Fuel win and became the all-time winningest driver in the class. Last fall’s Charlotte victory, which was completed at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis due to persistent rain, was his 75th career win. Then, another victory 24 hours later in the Texas event kick-started his run to the title in a huge way.
Performing well when the pressure is greatest has been a regular occurrence for Schumacher and his U.S. Army team, led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh.Schumacher heads into action this weekend with 80 career national event wins and is looking to launch another memorable run in the Countdown piloting the special-schemed U.S. Army Dragsterdesigned to commemorate the 15th year of the partnership between the U.S. Army and DSR, which has exemplified the Army’s commitment to constantly evolving. He is a three-time winner this season and would like to double that number by matching last year’s run of three wins in the final six races.
Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster for DSR, returns to Charlotte with four wins, tied for most in the class with Richie Crampton. One of those wins came at zMAX in March, when the 2012 Top Fuel champion was the victor in the special Four-Wide event for the second consecutive season. The confidence he and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team, which is led by co-crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, have entering Charlotte is sky high. The team helped Brown establish a new national elapsed time mark of 3.680 seconds in Brainerd, Minnesota last month and has had dominant showings earlier this season in Atlanta, Englishtown, New Jersey and Sonoma, California. Brown enters the Countdown second behind Schumacher in the reset point standings, trailing by 30.
The NHRA Carolina Nationals will be showcased nationwide on ESPN2 with tape-delayed coverage. Qualifying sessions will be recapped with a 90-minute show Saturday at 11 p.m. EDT. A three-and-a-half-hour broadcast featuring Sunday’s elimination rounds begins at 8:30 p.m. EDT.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The season comes down to six events and you head to Charlotte leading the championship standings. After 18 events, what’s your mindset coming into NHRA’s playoffs?
“I just love the Countdown. It’s a high-stakes, high-pressure, winner-take-all deal. Starting it out at zMAX is incredible. The place is filled with fans who come to see what we do best. It’s the beginning and, if you can win that race, it sets the tone for the rest of the Countdown. You have to go at it hard or you’ll be going home quickly. I’ve been fortunate to be associated with the U.S. Army for 15 years and watching young men and women prepare for battle has been incredible. The excellence they bring. The discipline they bring. It inspires me to go out and do great things. I say it all the time, but you have to be prepared in order to be successful. We’ve had a really strong year and Mike (Green), Neal (Strausbaugh) and all the guys have worked so hard to be ready for what starts this weekend.”
Last year, you won the first two races of the Countdown and then went on to earn your eighth world championship. Does it get any easier to win championships?
“This one will be the hardest because we won last year and doing it back to back is incredibly tough. It takes a lot of right-time, right-place moments and, when you have the bullseye on your back, people take their best shots. It’s going to be fun. I love the moment. I love the fight and I love going into the fight being surrounded by great people. Whether we win it or come up short at the end of the season, being part of it all is the gift itself. We’re excited to give it everything we’ve got.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
When the season comes down to six events to determine the champion, can too much pressure be put on one event?
“Everything in the Countdown is amped up and it’s so important to get off to a good start. We learned that the hard way last year and never were a serious threat. In 2012, we had some trouble in the first race and were able to rebound by winning a couple of races on our way to earning the title. This Matco Tools/U.S. Army team, with Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald), has been working hard all year for this Countdown. When it starts, it’s not what we did in the first 18 races but what we do in the last six. That’s what wins championships. Having a great weekend in Charlotte would be a great start.”
This goal at the beginning of the season was to compete for a championship. You and your team have positioned yourselves to do that. Are you confident where you stand heading into the weekend?
“We gained a lot of momentum at these last three races. We’re running well. We have a really good combination right now with the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team. We’re going in as the No. 2 seed. It would have been nice if we went in as the No. 1 seed, but it didn’t work out. We have a great team and car. We’ve battled through a lot of different circumstances this year that have made us tighter as a group. Everyone knows it’s going to take a complete team effort to win this championship. When you’re running well, people step up to beat you and there are a lot of good cars out here in this Top Fuel class and we are expecting that level of competition to continue in the Countdown.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine