U.S. Army Top Fuel Duo Heads to Texas Motorplex, Where ‘The Sarge’ Made History in 2014,
But Trailing His Teammate by 94 Points atop Standings as Second Half of Countdown Begins
ENNIS, Texas (Oct. 13, 2015) – With all due respects to iconic rocker Jon Bon Jovi, after three of six events of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs, “Whoa, we’re halfway there,” but the U.S. Army Top Fuel driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown are nowhere near “livin’ on a prayer.”
Schumacher, the eight-time and reigning Top Fuel world champion in the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), and Brown, the 2012 world champ and current Countdown points leader in his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, head to round four of the 2015 playoffs this weekend – the 30th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas – each looking to take a giant step toward his next season-ending title.
The U.S. Army duo arrives at the Ennis, Texas facility this weekend with a firm grip on the top two positions in the standings, with Brown holding a 94-point edge over second-place Schumacher after back-to-back-to-back titles at the opening three Countdown events at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis, and Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania.
For Schumacher, this weekend marks a return to the track where he made history a year ago by scoring not one, but two event titles in a 24-hour period, when the Texas Motorplex event was round two of the 2014 Countdown. He completed the previous weekend’s rained-out Charlotte event by hoisting the first-place Wally trophy on Saturday of Texas Motorplex weekend. Then he and the U.S. Army team ran the table Sunday to hoist a Wally once again for winning the Texas event title. Those back-to-back wins vaulted Schumacher from fourth in the initial Countdown standings, 50 points behind leader Doug Kalitta, to first place, 106 points ahead of second-place Steve Torrence. It turned out to be a points lead Schumacher never relinquished en route to his record eighth Top Fuel championship behind three event titles and four final-round appearances at the six stops on last year’s Countdown tour.
This weekend, Schumacher and his nine-man U.S. Army team led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh head into the fourth Countdown event facing a 94-point deficit to their red-hot teammate. It may be in stark contrast to their situation heading into the fourth event of last year’s Countdown, but battling back from seemingly insurmountable deficits has become something of a hallmark for the U.S. Army team in its storied history. Of course, there is the legendary comeback from a 336-point midseason deficit that culminated with what has come to be known simply as “The Run,” when “The Sarge” needed and proceeded to clock a national elapsed-time record in winning the final run of 2006 that clinched that year’s championship by 14 points over Kalitta.
When Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team were also off to a fast start through the early stages of the 2012 Countdown, Schumacher trailed his teammate by 83 points with three events to go, and 136 points with two events to go, before rallying to finish the season within seven points of Brown at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California finale. Schumacher came within eight-thousandths of a second of beating Brandon Bernstein in the Pomona final and earning what then would have been his eighth career championship.
With a series-high six Top Fuel event titles at Texas, Schumacher and the U.S. Army team are ready to start making a dent in the points deficit they face heading into this weekend.
Brown, who scored his first career Texas NHRA victory in the Pro Stock Motorcycles class in 1999, scored his lone Top Fuel win at the track in 2012 en route to the championship. With no other Texas final-round appearances to his credit, Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team are buoyed by the fact their series-high seven event titles this season include his long-awaited, first career Top Fuel wins at two tracks that also happen to be of great, personal importance for the New Jersey native – Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, and Maple Grove.
The seven event titles this season are a career-best for Brown and have lifted his career total to 38 since joining the Top Fuel ranks in 2008. His 16 event titles in Pro Stock Motorcycles give him 54 in all in NHRA competition. With his win at Maple Grove two weekends ago, Brown became the first Top Fuel driver in the nine-year history of the six-race Countdown to sweep the opening three events.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
With three events left in the Countdown, how do you view this coming weekend in Dallas? Is it imperative to make a big dent in the 94-point deficit there or just consistently chip at it over all three events?
“Obviously, it would be incredible to wipe out the entire deficit at Dallas and then hit Vegas and Pomona on equal ground. It’s mathematically possible but, is it likely? I would think not, especially with the way that team has been performing the first half of the Countdown. But, you never know. The way we approach it is to take care of what we can control, and that is to go out and try to be fastest in every qualifying session, then run the table on Sunday. That’s the best we can do. The rest is out of our control because you never know what’s going to happen with those guys and girls in the other lane and the other matchups on Sunday. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time and, if that happens, odds are we can at least take significant chunks out of the points deficit over the next three race weekends.”
You’re the winningest Top Fuel driver at the Texas Motorplex with six event titles. What is special about racing in Dallas, especially during the Countdown, and how much do you look forward to racing there this weekend?
“One of the best parts of all is that I get to call the Texas Motorplex my home track. We’ve lived in Austin for almost a year and a half, now, and it’s absolutely great here. We love it. I’ve just had a smile on my face ever since we’ve moved here. It’s a fantastic place. You know, I’m about as far from being a Texas native as you can be, considering I was born and raised in Chicago. So I’ve just been trying to fit in around here. The people here are very, very kind. I love this town. Austin is fantastic. As for the track in Ennis, it’s an all-concrete track, so it allows the crew chiefs to really get after it early – the guys who want to make power. All that stuff, though, depends on the weather. If it’s cool out, we’ll go superfast. If it’s hot out, it doesn’t matter if you’re on duct tape, you’re going to spin the tires. Good crew chiefs and better teams are going to go fast there because the realm of possibilities dealing with the track surface and the conditions lend themselves to going fast. I remember getting beat by J.R. Todd there after winning seven events in a row in 2008. And then we went out and won the next one at the end of that awesome 2008 season. But, at that race at Texas that year, it was one of those things where we had such an amazing thing going and we dropped our guard a little bit. We got outrun by a kid who was gunning for the Army car. He did a really great job to beat me, and it was one of those memories that’ll always stick with me. When you race against somebody like that, when you’re in that position, you’ve got to soldier on from the get-go, right from the beginning, and don’t drop your guard and don’t leave anything on the table.”
The kind of situation you and the Army team find yourselves in the Countdown standings have often brought out the best in you. Why do you think that is, and how are you able to thrive in the pressure moments?
“Well, for starters, we are truly blessed with the opportunity and are proud to represent the greatest fighting force in the world, and that is the U.S. Army. Wearing those Army colors week in and week out makes it easy to want to be the absolute best in everything we do. That’s all the motivation my nine guys and I will ever need to keep us fighting to be the best. All nine of my guys are the absolute best at what they do and, with all the experience we have working together, good things are bound to happen. We know what it takes to achieve the ultimate goal and we’re motivated to chase after it relentlessly. I always say it is a gift to be able to do what we do, and it is a gift to be presented with the opportunity to come to bat with the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and your team needing a grand slam to win the game, to win the championship. Some people wilt under that kind of pressure. This Army team has proven time and again that it is at its best when those opportunities come around, and we have one of those in front of us right now. It’s time to go out and get it done.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Your thoughts about starting the second half of the Countdown having won three races in a row and trying to keep that momentum going at the Texas Motorplex this weekend?
“The Motorplex has always been a special place for me because that was my first race win on Pro Stock Motorcycles back in 1999. That place always has a special place in my heart. We’ve won there once (in Top Fuel in 2012), but Tony is an animal, man. That U.S. Army team, Mike Green (crew chief) and Neal (Strausbaugh, assistant crew chief), the two people who run the car, they know how to win. They know how to put it together, and they work very great in high-pressure situations where, you know, at the end of the day you can never count them out. We had like a 160- or 180-point lead with two races left (in 2012) and everybody wrote them off. We didn’t write them off, and they came out and they’re just like animals. We have won three races in a row but now we can go out there, something could break on our car and we could lose the first round of the last three races in a row, and if Tony goes to the final in all those, he wins the championship. You know what I mean? That’s how that Army team rolls. We’ve won three races and yet we’re still only 90 points ahead of Tony. And that’s what I always said, we’re only 90 points ahead of him because we’re working hard, but the guy knows how to win. He knows how to get it done, and that’s the hard part about it is that we’ve got to remain focused and keep doing what we do because we can peel off three wins, without a doubt.”
How, after winning three races in a row to start the Countdown, do you and the team keep from getting overconfident?
“You just can’t get that way in our sport, especially in nitro cars. In any type of racing, because the way the competition has been right now, it’s just been incredibly tough. Tough, where I mean, look at the race I had with Larry Dixon (in the Reading semifinal). He runs a 71 (3.71 seconds), we run a 71. And then look at the race we had with Billy Torrence in St. Louis, and Tony and the rest of them were all running low 70s. I mean, every car out there, even part-time cars. We raced Dom Lagana – he’s only been in his Top Fuel car I think not even once. He raced a Funny Car all this year. He comes out there and he runs a 78. I mean, all these teams are coming out now and they’re not playing anymore. Everybody has the technology, everybody has the resources, and everybody is putting them to use because they want to win. There are no more people talking about doing it, they’re about it now, and you have to raise and elevate yourself, and that’s what I think is making our NHRA racing so exciting and so fun right now, that we’re all just raising that level to an all-time high.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine