TONY SCHUMACHER & ANTRON BROWN
2015 Top Fuel Championship Already Belongs to Brown, but ‘The Sarge’ on a Mission To Lock Down 1-2 Finish by U.S. Army in Final Top Fuel Standings at Pomona Finale
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 10, 2015) – The 2015 NHRA Top Fuel world championship has already been decided, and it will stay in the family for the U.S. Army for the second consecutive year and for the ninth time in its 15-year history in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
But with this weekend’s 51st annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California still to be contested, the U.S. Army duo of Antron Brown, the soon-to-be officially crowned Top Fuel champion, and Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, this season’s eight-time and defending champion, have some unfinished business on which to focus.
For one of the few times in his illustrious career, Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) will arrive in Pomona without a mathematical shot at the Top Fuel title. Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR left the season’s penultimate round at Las Vegas two weekends ago with an insurmountable 162-point lead to clinch the New Jersey native’s second career championship.
So there will be no storybook comeback for the U.S. Army team this weekend at Auto Club Raceway, where Schumacher clinched the 2006 Top Fuel championship on the very last run of the season – having had to not only win the race but by setting a national elapsed-time record and collecting the 20 bonus points for doing so. It completed the biggest comeback in NHRA history for Schumacher and the U.S. Army team, who found themselves a whopping 336 points out of the championship lead after the season’s first 10 events. A year later, Schumacher and the U.S. Army team arrived at the season finale in Pomona fourth in the standings, 67 points out of the lead. Once again, he ran the table during Sunday eliminations and clinched his fourth championship in a row and fifth of his career on the final run of the season.
In 2012, “The Sarge” trailed his teammate Brown by 65 points heading to Pomona and rallied to within seven points of his eighth career Top Fuel title by the time the dust settled after a near-miss in his final-round matchup against Brandon Bernstein. Brown secured his first career championship and Schumacher made it a 1-2 finish for the U.S. Army for the first time ever.
That 2012 title for Brown certainly came with its share of drama at Pomona despite a dominating run through the season leading up to the finale. He made an uncharacteristic first-round exit for the second event in a row while Schumacher advanced all the way to the final, and a win against Bernstein would have put “The Sarge” over the top. But it wasn’t to be that year.
This year, behind a career-high seven event titles, including three in row to start the six-event Countdown to the Championship, Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team have been on a mission. They mowed through the first 12 elimination rounds of the Countdown to score event titles at Charlotte, St. Louis and Reading. They reached the semifinals at the last two rounds at Dallas and Las Vegas and bring a 15-2 elimination-round record in Countdown events – 48-16 on the season – to Pomona. Not even Schumacher’s impressive run with three event titles and four runner-up finishes this season would be enough to keep pace with his teammate this time around.
Still, this weekend, the mission will be clear for both U.S. Army competitors as Schumacher looks to close out 2015 with his seventh career Pomona title while Brown will be chasing his third.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You’ve completed some of the most incredible comebacks in NHRA history at the season finale in Pomona during your illustrious career. How are you approaching this weekend’s season finale with your teammate already having clinched the Top Fuel title?
“Unfortunately, there will be no coming back for the U.S. Army team this time. But, like we have done every single time we have had the honor of representing the U.S. Army at the racetrack for the last 15 years, we are going to show up with our heads held high and we are going to try to win this last race of the season. That’s business as usual, for us. We congratulate Antron and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team for doing an absolutely incredible job of running the table at the first three Countdown events and never looking back. It keeps the Top Fuel title in the family for the U.S. Army for the ninth time in history and we are incredibly proud to be a part of that. The season’s still not over, however, and we’re going to represent the 1 million U.S. Army Soldiers around the world to the best of our ability this weekend and we will go out and try to win Pomona for the seventh time in our time together and that will ultimately give us the most positive outlook for next year. And, most importantly for this year, it will guarantee the U.S. Army finishes 1-2 in the standings for the second time in the last four years.”
How strange does it feel to show up at Pomona this weekend knowing you don’t at least have a chance to come away with the Top Fuel title for one of the few times in your career?
“It feels very weird, for sure. But in addition to showcasing what an incredible job done this year by Antron and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team, it’s a testament to how incredibly competitive the Top Fuel class is from top to bottom. On any given weekend, there really isn’t much of a difference anymore between No. 1 and No. 16. Anybody can beat anybody and the biggest winners there are the fans of our great sport. And we can’t point fingers at anyone else for the situation we’re in now other than ourselves. We made some changes, we tried some new things once we clinched first place in the standings heading into the Countdown that were designed to make us that much better once the Countdown began. They didn’t quite work out right away, or quite like we planned and, at the same time as we were making them, Antron and his team went on a hell of a streak and did a phenomenal job winning the first three events. You can normally go on and make the kind of changes we did and, against any normal opponent under normal circumstances, you can almost get through without losing too much ground. But we have to take our hats off and pat them on the back for doing the great job that they did. All that said, the U.S. Army car is an incredible racecar, and this weekend’s race is a very important one because you sit for two months thinking about what happened at Pomona, win, lose or draw. We’re not going to win the championship – that’s a given – but we’ve got some really good teams with a shot at the second-place position we are currently in. Considering the incredible number of great cars and teams this series has provided the fans with, we have nothing to hang our heads about finishing in second place. That’s still very impressive in this day and age. Second place was not our goal at the beginning of the season but, if we go out and execute and have one of our typically great weekends, we can leave Pomona feeling proud. I mean, a lot of other really good teams wish they could be in the position we’re in.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Congratulations on clinching your second Top Fuel world championship two weekends ago at Las Vegas. What does that do for your approach this weekend at Pomona?
“Let me tell you something, they were trying to crown us champs in Las Vegas before the event was even over. We got the championship, yes, but the thing about it is, we were still in competition. I literally told them, ‘Pictures, you want to do them now?’ I’m like, ‘We’ve still got a race we’re racing. Our whole focus was still on Vegas. That’s the same thing for Pomona. We’re still trying to make a little bit more history before this year’s out. I mean, we would love to end the year with a win. Even though we have won the world championship – it’s all said and done – people may think that your work is done, but our work’s not done. It’s not complete, yet. We have one more race on the table. The only difference of it is, there’s no strategy involved in this last race. We’re going to Pomona, going up there to qualify. We’re not worried about the qualifying points. We can go out there and have some fun with it. You don’t have to worry about tap dancing or doing strategy anymore. Now we can go in there and let our hair down, but I don’t have no hair to let down, so we’ll give it all we’ve got, have some fun with it, go out and be aggressive. The weather’s going to be right and it’s going to be fast enough to go out there and throw down.”
You’ve certainly earned the championship with seven event titles and nine final-round appearances in the first 23 events. You’ve qualified No. 1 six times. You set a new national elapsed-time record at Brainerd. And you had only five first-round losses. You must feel incredibly proud of your Matco Tools/U.S. Army team.
“Absolutely. And the key was, you said only five first-round losses, right? The funny part is that, in 2012 when we won the championship, we only had two first-round losses, which happened at the last two races of the year. We came in with the same amount of points lead at that point and that we had this year and almost lost the championship to our teammate Tony Schumacher back then. That’s the funny part. It shows you how much tougher this class is, that we did have five first-round losses this year to very competitive teams. This whole year, I can honestly tell you that our team, we’re on pins and needles every race in the first round because we always had a tough first-round matchup. Even if we qualified No. 1, we lined up against Shawn Langdon or someone like that. It didn’t make a difference where you qualified because that’s how tough the field was. If one car had a mishap, ended up being in the bottom half of the field, couldn’t bounce back up because of the weather conditions on Saturday, you had to race them first round. Vice versa, we were on the bottom half of the field where we went rounds and won, too. It just shows you how tough it is. We look at it now where you’ve got to go out there and scrap. To get this championship done this year was very meaningful for our team. It’s almost like, if you could just win a race, it’s nearly impossible. But to win the championship, you have done an extremely difficult feat in the class we have right now.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine