TONY SCHUMACHER & ANTRON BROWN
U.S. Army Duo Kicks Off 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Campaign at Pomona
Looking for Fourth Combined Top Fuel World Title in Five Seasons and Third in a Row
POMONA, California (Feb. 9, 2016) – The U.S. Army duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, owners of the last two NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championships and three of the last four, will be focused on bringing the U.S. Army its third straight title and four of the last five when the 2016 season kicks off with this weekend’s 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.
They and their respective teams are coming off a solid three days of testing last weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix during the NHRA’s newly relocated Nitro Spring Training and look to use that momentum at the season opener in Pomona.
Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) laid down a monster run of 3.683 seconds at 325.37 mph Friday at Wild Horse Pass to lay claim to the fastest run of the three-day test by more than three-hundredths of a second. He backed it up with another lightning-fast pass of 3.718 seconds at 320.58 mph later Friday. Both runs topped The Sarge’s official career-best elapsed time of 3.719 seconds set in the first round of Sunday eliminations last May at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas. And it came within two-thousandths of a second of Brown’s official national elapsed time record of 3.680 seconds set last August at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.
Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, was a model of consistency at Phoenix last weekend, just like the team was all through its 2015 Top Fuel title run during which it scored a career-high seven event titles for Brown, seven No. 1 qualifying efforts and a remarkable 51-17 won-loss record in elimination rounds in topping the runner-up Schumacher in the final standings.
Like Schumacher, whose 2014 Top Fuel title was the eighth of his illustrious career, Brown laid down both of his best Spring Training runs Friday. His best was 3.746 seconds at 298.34 mph, followed by an effort of 3.751 seconds at 317.34 mph.
The U.S. Army duo relishes another return trip to historic Auto Club Raceway, birthplace of the NHRA and the site of nine career event titles between them. Schumacher has won six times at the facility, Brown three, but Brown’s most memorable visit there was the 2012 season finale, when despite early elimination he still clinched his first career Top Fuel title by a mere seven points over runner-up Schumacher in the final standings.
Also this weekend, the Mello Yello series enters a new era as new broadcast partner FOX Sports joins the family with a beefed-up TV schedule that features live coverage of Sunday elimination rounds at 17 of the 24 events this season and 500 hours of total coverage on its family of networks, anchored by FS1.
Sunday’s elimination rounds from Pomona will be carried live on FS1 from 5 to 8 p.m. EST, with additional delayed coverage of Friday and Saturday qualifying rounds each night.
If all holds true to form, the U.S. Army duo hopes to be battling it out come final-round time Sunday afternoon at Pomona to kick off their respective seasons in style.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
It’s time to start a new season after the U.S. Army team’s runner-up in the championship last year. The team certainly looked stronger than ever last weekend in the series’ first official winter test at Phoenix. Your thoughts about heading to Pomona?
“Surprisingly, it was our first test for the new season. It’s been a long, long time – many years – since we’ve gone as long without running a car down the racetrack. We ended in Pomona and haven’t been in a car since then. Usually, in early December we head out to West Palm Beach and test. This year, it’s just a different world. We decided we would start things at Phoenix. Ultimately, it was a great call because we don’t race at West Palm, as good as that track is. So we got out there at Phoenix and got after it and I think we have more than enough laps to be able to go out and race in Pomona. I’ve enjoyed the time off to be with family and friends, but it’s time to go racing and I can’t wait to get to Pomona. As for our success at the Phoenix test, sometimes you try new stuff and nothing works, but it was running fast with new parts and a lot of new people working on it. It’s pretty cool getting to work with some new crew guys that used to be adversaries on other teams. The test went well and now we’re ready to do it for real at Pomona.”
What is your strategy to navigate the 24-event schedule this season and end up with your ninth Top Fuel world championship?
“It’s going to come down to winning the most important races, which are the six Countdown races at the end of the year. But I don’t think most of us start out trying to be conservative at the start of the season. Most of us go out and try and go fast right off the bat, especially the way the rules are set up and the way the schedule is set up. You don’t have to win the first bunch of races, you have to win the last six. So we’re going to hit it hard and figure it out at the beginning of the season and do a lot of testing right away. We’re going to start figuring out what our end-of-the-year combination is going to be because, early in the season, the conditions are most like they are at the end of the season. We race in Pomona and in Vegas at the beginning of the year, and we also go back to those places at the end of the season. So, we’ve got to find those tuneups as quickly as we can so we can try and close the season with wins at those places, as the Army car has done so often. To win the championship, you have to win at the end of the season.”
It’s the beginning of a new era for the NHRA as FOX Sports has become the series’ new TV broadcast partner. Any special thoughts on that?
“It was necessary. As good as ESPN was to us, we weren’t getting the love and, at the end of the day, our sport is too darned good. It’s my favorite sport and there’s been a need to take it to the world live every single chance we get to. We’re going to be on live TV most of the time with our new TV deal, which is the way it should be. You wouldn’t watch a poker game if you knew the outcome ahead of time because it’d bore you to death, and I think it’s the same thing with drag racing. You can’t know what’s going on after seeing it all over social media in real-time. In the old days, maybe you could get away with it but, now with social media, it was impossible to not know what happened by the time you saw it on TV. The FOX network is also going to bring us exciting, new people. We need that. We need new people who come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen.’ We kind of lost that after a while and it wasn’t getting much better. We’ve got the greatest sport in the world and I think we need to let people know that.”
You’re also kicking off your 16th season representing the U.S. Army. It’s been a long and successful relationship. What is it like to represent the world’s greatest fighting force?
“You know, my son and I went to see the movie ’13 Hours,’ last night – the Benghazi story – and I’ll tell you what, every time I see a movie about sacrifice and dedication and I hear stories about what these guys do, I don’t want to be anywhere else, ever. It’s the greatest team anybody’s ever been asked to represent for a career full of awesome moments. And it’s not just the wins at the racetrack. The people I have met have been a blessing in every way, every shape and every form. Watching the movie last night, it was cool being able to explain to my son that I know half these people. Half these guys I’ve crossed paths with. If I don’t know this one, I know about what they do, I know where they’ve trained and the effort they’ve put in. It is unbelievable what they do and to be able to represent them and to be part of a team so great. What else can you ask for? And then, to go out and win for them, to share trophies and share time with them, to share moments, it’s just fantastic.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You’re coming off your second career Top Fuel title and heading back to Pomona to start a new season. What’s your plan of attack to try and be a back-to-back champion?
“The formula hasn’t changed but, to repeat, we have to evolve and get even better. Everybody else in the class has made adjustments to improve and that’s what we’re striving to do. We have to be just as efficient but even quicker. In this age, you have to be the quickest and most efficient. That’s where the level is at in this class. We just have to keep on pushing to try and make more history. It takes a whole team to have that strong competitive drive and that’s what makes our team so special. Each team member keeps everyone in check and that’s what it takes to be successful.”
What is it about your Matco Tools/U.S. Army team that can make a repeat performance of last season’s success a possibility?
“When you assemble all the same people together who share that same passion, that’s when you can make unbelievable things a reality. I think, as a team, we’re ready to defend this title. We have a little building to do but that will come in time. It’s important to get back on that same jell level. To see how we grew last year, it was very exciting. (Crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) were planning to peak at the right time and we just kept getting better and better. We grew throughout the whole year and capitalized on that when we got to the Countdown. To win seven races and as many rounds as we did with the competition level in this class, it was just phenomenal.”
Your overall thoughts about racing at Pomona this weekend?
“It’s always extra exciting to start the season because you have so much time off. You want to see all the work in the offseason come to fruition and hopefully we are ready to go out there and pick up where we left off. With all the buzz from the fans on social media that I’ve seen, people are ready to go back out to the races. It’s always great going back to Pomona because it’s a historic place for our sport. Plus, we know that we can throw down there and go and run for records.”
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