U.S. Army Drivers Seeking Bounce-Back Performance at Gatornationals
GAINESVILLE, Florida (March 15, 2016) – Getting rid of the sour taste of defeat is one of the most difficult tasks a driver is faced with. The U.S. Army tandem of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown are hungry to replace the results of the first two NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events with the sweet taste of victory this weekend in the 47th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.
Schumacher, the eight-time world champion and winningest driver in Top Fuel history with 80 national event titles, leads all active drivers with four wins in the prestigious Gatornationals and came oh so close aboard the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) last March to becoming the all-time winningest Top Fuel driver ever in one of the NHRA’s signature early season events. Not only will “The Sarge” be looking to avenge his holeshot loss in last year’s Gatornationals final, but also to rebound from a first-round loss in the season opener at Pomona and a second-round defeat three weeks ago in Phoenix.
The good news for Schumacher and his nine-man crew led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh is that the U.S. Army Dragster has been extremely fast in both the first two national events and at the NHRA’s Nitro Spring Training test. He posted the fastest pass at Spring Training and qualified third at Pomona and Phoenix. A pattern that the now-Austin, Texas resident would like to continue. In five of the previous six Gatornationals, Schumacher has qualified inside the top-five and, in four of those events, he reached the final.
Schumacher first tasted Gatornationals success in 2004 before defeating Larry Dixon in the 2007 final. With victories in 2008 and 2010, he finds himself tied for most Top Fuel wins in Gainesville with Dixon, Joe Amato and NHRA icon “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. And with four win lights Sunday, Schumacher can make Gainesville Raceway the 10th track on the current NHRA schedule where he is the all-time winningest driver.
For Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, the annual trek to the Gatornationals is a reminder of what inspired the New Jersey native to dream of a career in NHRA drag racing. The two-time and reigning Top Fuel world champion points to his interaction as a youngster with Garlits, a Gainesville native, to planting a seed of what became his calling. Gainesville was also the site of the first national event Brown entered back in 1998, when he raced Pro Stock Motorcycles. He earned his first professional pole at the facility in 2001. He raced his way to the Top Fuel final in 2010 and became a Top Fuel Gatornationals winner in March 2013. Last March, Brown defeated Dixon and J.R. Todd before losing to Spencer Massey in the semifinals.
This weekend’s return to the Sunshine State has additional importance for Brown in that Mark Oswald, the co-crew chief with Brian Corradi on the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster, will be inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in a ceremony Thursday evening in Gainesville.
FS1 will provide coverage of the Gatornationals, including qualifying shows Friday at 9 p.m. EDT, Saturday at 6:30 p.m., and live coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds from 1 to 4 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
After a busy February, you return to action this weekend with the prestigious Gatornationals looking to make your first deep run of the season. What are your expectations heading to Florida?
“We are really excited about the opportunity we have this weekend. I said in Phoenix that we have an incredible U.S. Army machine right now. We haven’t had the outcomes so far on Sundays, but we’ve been really good leading up to that. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can tell you we are ready to go after it in Gainesville. Any time you get your car to respond to changes the way the Army car has so far this year, you get a lot of confidence from that. I know (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) have been busy the past couple of weeks, looking over all the data and notes in order to give us the best chance this weekend. It’s been a crazy start to the season and we’re ready to put a complete weekend together and hopefully put ourselves in a great position Sunday.”
Last March, you lost a close race in the Gatornationals final. After the race, you were disappointed that you had an opportunity to make history and came up just short. Is that something you can use for motivation this weekend?
“Racing can be a pretty humbling sport. I say it a lot, but it’s the truth when I say I’ve been blessed. That’s a not me trying to be arrogant in any way. I say it because I’ve been blessed to be put in the situations I have surrounded by people capable of doing great things. I knew last year that we had a chance to become the winningest driver of the history of the Gatornationals. The Gatornationals is one of those special races and to have a chance to be the only guy to win five Top Fuel crowns was an incredible opportunity. I was blessed to be in that position. Gainesville is a special race for so many reasons and we head back there this year with a goal of trying to be right there on the starting line in the final again with that same chance.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The 24-event NHRA Mello Yello campaign takes you all across the map and to places rich in history. Where does Gainesville rank to you personally as one of the stops you make each season?
“Gainesville has always been a good race for us. We always seem to be right there when it counts. It has all that tradition and the connection with ‘Big Daddy’ that really brings out so many fans. There’s some real energy in Gainesville when the NHRA comes to town. It’s got us pumped up for this weekend, for sure. We’re going to come out swinging and ready to make some noise down there. We’ve got a good car, a great team but we know we can’t push it too far. We have to have fun at this. As long as we are doing that, the round wins and race wins will be coming to us.”
The weekend festivities begin with Mark Oswald being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. How special will it be for you to see Mark being recognized as one of the sport’s greats?
“Mark is a very special person. He’s my hero not only because of what he has done in this sport of NHRA drag racing, but how he has done it, with an incredible work ethic, the way he leads this team and how he does it from the heart. That’s what makes Mark special and that’s why I admire him. We’re lucky to have someone like him on this Matco Tools/U.S. Army team.”
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