TONY SCHUMACHER & ANTRON BROWN
‘The Sarge’ Looks To Put Serious Dent in Teammate Brown’s 132-Point Lead
As U.S. Army Duo Heads to Las Vegas for NHRA Season’s Penultimate Event
LAS VEGAS (Oct. 28, 2015) – Much was made last week of “Back to the Future Day,” which prompted worldwide celebrations commemorating the mythical date the characters Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelled to in the 1989 sequel to the classic movie of the same name.
As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the penultimate event of 2015, the U.S. Army Top Fuel driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown both might have unique reasons of their own to want to time travel just a few years back to this time in 2012.
That was when Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), nearly completed one of his and the Army team’s vaunted miracle comebacks for the season-long championship while Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, held on for dear life through the final pass of the season before laying claim to his first career Top Fuel world title.
Given the chance to do it all over again, Schumacher and the U.S. Army team would love to have found the 8.1 thousandths of a second at the finish line against Brandon Bernstein in the Top Fuel final at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California that would have delivered an eighth Top Fuel championship two years early for “The Sarge.” For Brown, he simply could have done without the helplessness of having to watch it all from the sidelines, even though the ending was a very happy one for him and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team.
This weekend’s scenario entering the Las Vegas round of the Countdown to the Championship is eerily similar to that of 2012 for Schumacher and Brown. “The Sarge,” who blazed to his eighth championship last year with a dominating performance in the Countdown and continued his momentum through this year’s regular season, finds himself in second place, 132 points in the standings behind leader Brown with two events to go. In 2012, Brown had a 136-point lead entering the last two events but went on to make uncharacteristic first-round exits at both Las Vegas and Pomona while “The Sarge” marched to the Top Fuel final at both events.
Schumacher hopes for nothing less than to put his and the U.S. Army team’s recent inconsistencies to rest and execute another vaunted championship run beginning this weekend at the track where he is the winningest Top Fuel driver of all time with eight career victories, most recently in March 2014. That would mean a return to the form that brought the Army team three event titles and three No. 1 qualifier positions through this season’s first 13 events.
Brown, who won a series-high four event titles and five No. 1 qualifier positions during the regular season but entered this year’s Countdown second to Schumacher, has been almost perfect through the first four of six playoff rounds. He swept the opening three events at Charlotte, St. Louis and Reading only to see his string of 14 consecutive elimination round wins come to an end in the semifinals two weekends ago at Dallas.
With the U.S. Army team’s championship heritage and early season consistency in 2015, coupled with the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team’s recent dominance, the final two playoff rounds at Las Vegas and Pomona are certainly loaded with intrigue.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
What’s on your mind as we head to Las Vegas for the penultimate event of the season as you and the U.S. Army team try to overcome a 132-point deficit to your teammate Antron Brown atop the Top Fuel standings?
“What’s on our mind as we head to Las Vegas is pretty much the same as it is for every single event throughout the season, each and every year, for our U.S. Army team. No matter what happens out there in the big picture of things, our ultimate fate always comes down to our ability to execute – to take care of business. Like we do every weekend, we’ll go out and try to get the best possible qualifying position on Friday and Saturday, and then you just get up Sunday morning and see what happens. If we do all that we can do, the way the points are now, honestly, Antron will have to get beat early both at Vegas and Pomona. If he goes a few rounds at both races, it really doesn’t matter what we do. So, it will be an extremely lucky scenario of we take a championship from somebody who’s been simply unbeatable during this year’s Countdown. But it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Like I’ve always said, you’ve got to be the winningest team at these last six Countdown events. We definitely got it done during the regular season this year, but things really haven’t gone our way during the Countdown while Antron and his team have been on fire. So, for Vegas and Pomona, we will show up like we always do and represent the U.S. Army to the best of our ability. Our goal is to win these last two races and, no matter what happens with Antron’s team, secure a great one-two finish for the U.S. Army and DSR. If Antron holds onto his lead through the last run at Pomona, I’ll be first one there to shake his hand and congratulate him on a stellar year. They will have earned it.”
What has been the difference for you and the Army team during year’s Countdown compared to last year’s championship run?
“We’ve had some issues to deal with at the last several events and it’s been a little frustrating. I can say that we’ll need to make changes to what we thought we could figure out and what we thought would work in dealing with those issues. We’ll have to make some changes that, looking back, we will probably wish we could’ve made a few races ago. Our package has been inconsistent to the point where we have solid runs for a few runs in a row, and then we’ll smoke the tires at the most inopportune time. We need to get the package to where it can take us to a championship, like we’ve done so many times before. This year, we’ve been running middle of the pack and smoking tires on Fridays and Saturdays after having had one of the most consistent runs ever in terms of qualifying in the top two or three during the regular season. When you’re running low ET and smoking your tires, you can get by a good bit of the time. But when you’re running middle of the pack, you just can’t get by on any kind of regular basis. Hey, our U.S. Army team is made up of the best people in the business. We have what it takes to find the answers to the questions that have come up in terms of our performance. We will find it, and we will get back to winning on a regular basis.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Your three-event winning streak to start the Countdown came to an end in the semifinals at Dallas two weekends ago, but you still have a 132-point lead in the championship. What are your thoughts about heading to Las Vegas this weekend?
“Our mindset in Vegas is to just keep on doing what we’ve been doing and go out there, try to qualify in the highest position we can. We want to be as efficient as possible on race day, and that starts with round one. We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves. We’re just going to go out and race to the best of our ability. I always enjoy going to Vegas. This is one of those races that will make or break you. We have to step up and that brings the excitement up. This is one of those races that you have to bring it. My guys are definitely doing their job and homework. Our deal is that we remind each other of that each and every race. We’re not going to go out there and feel like we’re on ice or eggshells. We’re going to have fun with it.”
How do you account for your team’s incredible start to this year’s Countdown after having some really good moments mixed with a few challenging weekends during the regular season?
“I think the way we really got prepared is if you look at this year as a whole and how many people have won and how competitive the class is. It’s ridiculous how crazy-tough this class is and I think that’s what prepared us for the Countdown. We lost close races this year and it’s rough out there. That really got us motivated, geared up and pumped up for the Countdown. When we came into the Countdown, we came in prepared. We knew we had to give our A-plus game and we knew we couldn’t slip up. We’ve been in the right spot at the right time and we’ve been doing the right things in those moments so far. I think we, as a team, live for these moments. You can’t slack up on somebody. If you do, they take you out. It’s been that same mindset all the way through the Countdown. We have the mindset of what we have to gain. We have nothing to lose because it’s starting all over. All we have is what we can gain right now. We already prepared this whole year for this moment. We’re contending for a championship and we’re right where we want to be, so what do we have to lose?”
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