The Season Is Still Young for U.S. Army Duo, Who Look To Win Big in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS – It’s been a challenging first three events on the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour for the U.S. Army Top Fuel duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown. So, what better place to visit next to try and turn things around than The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of this weekend’s 17th annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals.
Schumacher, the eight-time Top Fuel world champion, has scored event titles at Las Vegas eight times in his illustrious career while Brown, the reigning and two-time Top Fuel champion, is a two-time Las Vegas event titlist. Between them, they’ve reached the final round of Las Vegas eliminations 17 times, and they’ve earned the No. 1 qualifier position 13 times – nine for Schumacher and four for Brown, who last did it last October by setting the track elapsed time record of 3.722 seconds.
Unlike last year, when they arrived for the spring event at Las Vegas firmly embedded near the top of the Top Fuel standings, Schumacher and Brown find themselves eighth and 10th in the points, respectively, after an early season that has seen solid qualifying performances on Fridays and Saturdays from both U.S. Army drivers but early round hiccups during Sunday eliminations. They have a combined 4-6 won-loss record the first three Sundays of 2016 and neither has advanced past the second round.
It’s highly uncharacteristic of two of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history so far but, safe to say, neither driver nor his respective team has shown any cause for concern, whatsoever, with 21 events remaining until a champion is crowned in mid-October.
Both Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), and Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, stayed an extra day in Gainesville, Florida two weekends ago to iron out the bugs, testing with their respective teams after their early round exits from the 47th annual Gatornationals.
Confident they each made significant gains with that extra day on the track, and ever-so-mindful of the fact there is still seven-eighths of a season left to contest with the most important events at the end of the trail, Schumacher and Brown are certainly ready to begin showing the results their teams are known for beginning this weekend at The Strip.
FS1 will provide coverage each day from the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, including qualifying shows Friday at 11 p.m. EDT, Saturday at 9 p.m., 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:
You’ve been strong on Fridays and Saturdays through the first three events this season but it hasn’t translated to success during Sunday eliminations, thus far. Are you concerned?
“If you look back at my championship seasons, it seemed more often than not that we always struggled in the early part of the year, except for ’08, when we were just awesome from beginning to end. Last year, we were so strong at the beginning and then ended up struggling at the end of the season when it matters the most. What we have going on right now is just a slight case of adversity on Sundays and it’s really no big deal. Our guys are trained and our guys are so good. They’re positive and, sometimes, getting through stuff like we’re going through right now makes the end of the season fantastic. To have the kind of luck we’ve had on Sundays so far this year and still be sitting in eighth place – heck, we’ve only won two rounds and we’ve had a car that was capable of winning all three events – speaks to the fact just about everyone has been struggling to at least some degree. Hey, anybody who’s watched us closely for the last 20 years knows they have never seen panic in me or my team. Even if we finish dead last, it’s still the greatest job in the world and I get to wake up every day and represent the U.S. Army. We’re doing everything at the racetrack the way the Army preaches – overcome adversity by adapting and adjusting. We will come out on the winning end of this.”
What is it about Las Vegas that has enabled you and the U.S. Army team to experience so much success?
“We always seem to have a great racecar for Vegas. This is a great team and we certainly know how to knuckle down and get the job done there. It’s a great race to go to for a lot of reasons. It’s different than most other places we go to, and my crew chiefs seem to find the handle on that track better than others. We don’t have a ton of momentum going for us this year, so far, so we’re just looking forward to a bone-crushing weekend on the racetrack there once again.”
The NHRA lost one of the most endeared members of its race staff when starter Mark Lyle passed away over the weekend. Any special thoughts?
“It was really tragic and my family and our entire organization have focused our thoughts and prayers on Mark’s family and friends. He’s only the third starter the NHRA ever had. Ever since Mark took over, he did a fantastic job. He was always smiling and it was a blessing to see him out there every day. I can’t say I’ve ever seen him upset or angry, and that’s a rarity for someone in that position. He was a great guy in every way. People talked very highly of him all the time. He went out a hero and that should be no surprise to anyone.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You return this weekend to the track where you clinched your second Top Fuel title last fall. What’s on your mind as we head back to Las Vegas for round four of the 2016 season?
“Those are times you never forget. But this is a new year and everyone started out tied for first place. (Co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) don’t just look at the first few races as do-or-die. We always look to the big picture and that’s the Countdown (to the Championship playoff) at the end of the year. That’s when championships are won. When you struggle a little bit, that’s when you learn, and that’s what Brian and Mark know how to do. We’ve qualified well but haven’t had the performance we expect on Sunday during eliminations. We stayed in Gainesville to test on Monday (two weekends ago). We made four laps and we launched hard on all four and learned what we needed to. We shut off early each time and ran a 3.75 at 250 mph. We planned to shut it off way before the finish line. That could have been a 3.69. So, I’d like to think we’re ready for Vegas.”
You obviously like Las Vegas a lot. What is it about heading there the early part of the season?
“When we go to Vegas in the spring, we’re starting to hit our stride with everything coming together. Everything just seems to jell for us. We’re not where we want to be in the standings at the moment, but there’s certainly a long way to go and absolutely no cause for alarm. Our main focus this year is to keep working to constantly improve and get better at every race. We’re still a work in progress, as is the case every new season. We’re always building. Our main focus is to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”
- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.