U.S. Army Drivers Seeking Fifth Consecutive Phoenix Triumph
At CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals
CHANDLER, Arizona (Feb. 24, 2016) – The weekend goal for U.S. Army and Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammates Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown is quite simple – keep the streak alive. The U.S. Army tandem and two most recent NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world champions have won the previous four national events at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix and look to make it five in a row in this weekend’s 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.
Keeping the streak alive may come down to the team that can make the biggest difference during four sessions of qualifying – two Friday and a pair Saturday – and Sunday’selimination rounds during the second stop of the 24-event NHRA campaign. Both drivers and their nine man teams head into this weekend’s battle mirroring the Army with their specialized and elite teams that make a difference. Schumacher won the event in 2013 and 2015 while Brown, the reigning Top Fuel world champion, hoisted the Wally in 2012 and 2014.
Schumacher, the eight-time world champion and winningest driver in Top Fuel history with 80 national event wins, and his U.S. Army team won’t have to start with a blank notebook Friday as they begin their pursuit of a series-leading sixth Phoenix triumph in Top Fuel. “The Sarge” posted the quickest run during the NHRA’s newly relocated Nitro Spring Training at Wild Horse the first week of February behind the wheel of the U.S. Army Dragster for DSR. He posted a pair of runs during the test – 3.683 seconds at 325.37 mph and 3.718 seconds at 320.58 mph – that were quicker than his 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. The run of 3.683 came within three-thousandths of a second of Brown’s official national elapsed-time record of 3.680 seconds set last August at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway and was under the official track-record of 3.720 seconds, which Schumacher set in his final-round victory last year over Doug Kalitta.
That victory was Schumacher’s fifth in Phoenix – 2000, 2002, 2005, 2013 and 2015 – and the result of a complete weekend by the U.S. Army team led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh. The U.S. Army Dragster was extremely fast in all eight passes. Schumacher was the quickest in three of the four qualifying sessions and second fastest in the other session leading to his 77th career No. 1 qualifier award. “The Sarge” and the U.S. Army team were on their game in Sunday’seliminations, taking out Jenna Haddock, Spencer Massey, Brown and Kalitta en route to the victory.
Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster for DSR, posted six consecutive round wins at Wild Horse prior to his semifinal matchup with Schumacher last February. He also won six straight rounds in Phoenix with his 2012 victory and 2013 run to the semifinals. Stacking round wins has been a pattern for Brown and his crew led by co-crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald. The team posted 14 consecutive round wins to open last year’s Countdown to the NHRA Championship playoffs and ultimately won 19 of a possible 24 rounds in the six-event run to the championship.
The Army tandem opened the season two weeks ago with the 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California. Schumacher followed his Nitro Spring Training success with the best pass to open qualifying and ultimately qualified third, but lost his opening-round race with Terry McMillen after dropping a cylinder at the start of his 1,000-foot trip down the dragstrip. Brown experienced a similar fate in the second round when he was narrowly defeated by Kalitta after losing a cylinder midway through his run.
FS1 will provide coverage of the U.S. Army team’s quest to make it five straight wins at Wild Horse Motorsports Park, including a qualifying show Saturday at 10 p.m. EST, and live coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds from 5 to 8 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Things didn’t end up the way you had hoped in the season opener, but this weekend you return to a track where you’ve been extremely successful. Ideally, you’d like to repeat last year’s storyline where you bounced back from an opening-round loss at Ponoma to running the table in Phoenix. Will you approach this weekend the same as you did one year ago?
“We certainly would like to have the same results as we did last year in the U.S. Army machine. Honestly, last year’s victory was made possible by my guys. I didn’t feel like I was on my game, but they kept putting such a great car under me that it did its job better than everyone else we raced. I’d like to improve on my role this weekend and yes, have the same outcome. We have some notes from our test runs a few weeks back. We made some good passes. The key in the early season is finding the tuneup that’s going help you win a championship at the end of the year. There are a lot of ways you can do that. We love racing in Phoenix and I know (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) are going to be digging extremely deep in order for us to have a chance at getting not only our first win of the year, but a sixth victory in Phoenix and third in the last four years.”
There are 24 events on the race schedule and at each event you have the opportunity to do more than just win a race because of your relationship with the U.S. Army. Could you have ever imagined this partnership would have led to all the experiences you have been through?
“It’s been so rewarding to do what I have for the past 16 years. Putting on the Army colors gets me excited about each and every race weekend. I can’t wait to get to ArizonaWednesday and spend another race weekend surrounded by incredible people. It’s an honor to represent the greatest team there is. The inspirational stories shared by men and women that are dedicated to protecting this great country make me so proud. We typically start a weekend spending a day with members of the Army and talking with the next group of American heroes during school visits. For 16 years, I’ve been able to be part of something bigger than anything I ever dreamed possible. I’ve met some of the greatest leaders in the world and watched young men and women start and finish their military careers all while I’m able to do a job I love and share the experience of teamwork and growth by using the principles outlined in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). By the time I get to the track Friday I’m ready to work with my guys and compete at the highest level. And, in the process of doing that, being able to look around and see some of those real heroes in our pit and at the starting line to share those moments is just incredible.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
With a weekend of testing and one event under your belt, what do you see as some of the biggest challenges early in the season?
“The challenges are mostly what we expected. This class is ridiculously competitive right now and everyone is coming out swinging. We’re ready to get back to the track and make some noise ourselves. Our team was pretty excited to get things going in Pomona and we learned a lot and we gained a lot with some of the new stuff we’ve been bringing to the table. We were pleased to see that our package was strong enough to make good runs, but we just came up short. I know (crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) have been working hard to make sure we can bring it all together and build on it. Consistency down the track is what we are after. We’re looking forward to getting back to Phoenix after testing there earlier this month. We’ll see much different conditions than we had when we tested. It was cool then and we’re going to be dealing warmer temperatures and a much slicker track.”
There are several stops on the schedule where your eyes light up and Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park is one of them. Why have you been so successful there?
“It’s always held a special place in my heart. It’s a great racetrack and we always seem to be right there on Sundays. It’s been really good to us. You look at us getting two wins in the last four years and the other two times we’ve made runs to the semifinals and ended up watching our Army teammate come out on top. That gives you a lot of confidence going in that you know you are going to have an opportunity. Past performances don’t guarantee anything, but there is just something about that track that brings out our best. We’d sure like to make it a fourth time to the winner’s circle Sunday.”
- Charlie Brim
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