TONY SCHUMACHER & ANTRON BROWN
‘The Sarge’ Poised To Regain Top Spot from His Surging Teammate Brown As U.S. Army Duo Heads to St. Louis for Round Two of 2015 NHRA Countdown
MADISON, Illinois (Sept. 23, 2015) – After last weekend’s eventful opening round on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, it looks like the 2015 NHRA Countdown to the Championship may well shape up to be a titanic, six-round heavyweight title fight starring the U.S. Army driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown.
Schumacher, the reigning and eight-time champion, entered the weekend as the top seed in this year’s edition of the NHRA playoffs and met his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate and fellow U.S. Army driver Brown, the 2012 champion, in Sunday’s Top Fuel semifinals. Brown gained the upper hand over Schumacher, went on to beat J.R. Todd in the final, and left Charlotte with a slim, nine-point lead over Schumacher in the Countdown standings.
Round two of the 2015 Countdown takes the U.S. Army duo and the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Gateway Motorsport Park in Madison, Illinois for this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. And in the spirit of the U.S. Army he represents as America’s Team that exists to defend the Nation and uphold the American way of life, Schumacher and his nine-man Top Fuel team are focused on regaining that top spot in the standings en route to a successful defense of their 2014 championship.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army Dragster for DSR are two-time winners at Gateway, having hoisted the Wally trophy there in 2006 and 2010, and were runners-up in 1999 and 2008. A year ago, Gateway represented about the only blip on Schumacher’s otherwise dominating run to his eighth career championship when he qualified third but dropped his first-round matchup against Terry McMillen.
To win this weekend, Schumacher and eight other Countdown drivers will have to stop the surging Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, not only winners last weekend at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina but winners of the last three events at Gateway in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and four times overall. Brown is tied with Gary Scelzi for most wins at Gateway with his four career victories, which includes his first in 2009.
As the U.S. Army heavyweights prepare for battle once again in the latest round of the 2015 playoffs, it would be fitting to echo that all-too-familiar refrain: “Let’s get ready to rumble.”
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?
“I think the best thing about heading to St. Louis is that we got our U.S. Army car back under us last weekend at Charlotte. We struggled a bit at Brainerd and Indy in the last two events before the Countdown and it was good to go out and win some rounds at Charlotte. We lost the points lead, but we’re only nine points from getting it back again, which is just half a round, and it really only matters who’s on top after the last run of the last weekend in Pomona. There are so many good cars out there capable of winning this thing that it’s not just about the Army team and Antron’s team, by any means. And whoever takes the points lead at any moment in time, it’s just as easy to lose it again because there are nine other guys out there who can all take advantage if you’re not spot-on. We have the knowledge and the experience when it comes to navigating our way through the Countdown. My thoughts about St. Louis, in particular, as that we need to stop Antron’s (three-year) winning streak there. We need to go out and do what we know how to do and take control of the situation.”
A year ago this weekend, you were in the middle of vaulting from fourth in the pre-Countdown standings to a huge lead with a pair of wins in the first two events. How cool was that for you and the Army team?
“It was an incredible weekend at Dallas and we knew that kind of thing probably will never happen again. It’s one thing to win the first two Countdown events in a row, but to do it in two consecutive days? To win the first two was just incredible last year. I put us 106 points in the lead because of the way it played out with other guys going out in the first round, going out early. We gained so much strength and momentum. That won’t be the case this year, but we’re equally as confident in our U.S. Army team this year. Sometimes being in the lead isn’t the best thing in the world because you tend to go into a defensive mode. Right now, we’re going all out and giving it everything we’ve got. And we’re better for all the ups and downs we’ve had to this point. The bigger the moment, the better this team performs.”
What are your thoughts about the addition of 2013 champion Shawn Langdon to the DSR lineup for the Countdown?
“Shawn Langdon is a great guy and a great driver. If you earn a championship, it means the most when your race great drivers. He was already in a great car but the opportunity for that team to continue through the Countdown went away. At the end of the day, the Countdown is supposed to be 10 cars. My dad did what he had to do to ensure the integrity of the Countdown. Obviously, it’s better for everyone to have all 10 drivers out there who earned the right to compete for it. I, for one, don’t want to win a championship with an asterisk saying only nine drivers were in the battle this year. It’s just better to have everyone there.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You’re off to the best start possible in this year’s Countdown. What are your thoughts as you now head to round two at Gateway?
“You need to put your A game together to get off to a great start (in the Countdown). You want to start off strong because it’s a sprint, now. There are six races for the championship. Do the math. There’s 20 rounds of racing left, and the more rounds you win, the fewer the chances other people have of catching you. Our main focus is one round at a time. We just let the chips fall where they fall, and we give it all we have. We’ve been doing different things, but our car was really getting aggressive on the starting line. They wanted to put together the best combo we can have for the Countdown. The testing at Indy gave a great combination that can run great in the heat and run great when the conditions are good. We ran some really good numbers in the heat of the day Sunday at Charlotte. We’re working on different stuff and it’s paying dividends. That Indy test was monumental. It got us back on track and it panned out for us in Charlotte.”
The way you made your way through the competition in Charlotte last weekend, was it as easy as it looked?
“I’m usually cool, calm, collected and I’ve been in a lot of high-pressure situations. “In the first round at Charlotte, for the first time throughout any Countdown we’ve ever been to, I was thinking about what was at stake. I never do that. I just race. When I got back, Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald, co-crew chiefs) looked at me, and they asked what happened. They looked at me and they pulled the reigns in on me and told me that this wasn’t any different and to just do what you do. They told me to have fun with it, and that’s when I got back into my zone for the second round and had that same mindset through the finals, just to have fun. That’s the whole name of the game.”
How important was it to win your first head-to-head matchup of this year’s Countdown against your U.S. Army teammate?
“We had already had a good start and went some rounds, but if (Schumacher) took us out it and he won the race, it would have been a 70-point swing. That was a crucial round for us to keep the points close and stay in that battle with him. All of our Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys did an exceptional job navigating and making the changes they needed to do to win. I’m blessed to be on the team that I’m on and we’re going to keep on pushing.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine