TONY SCHUMACHER & ANTRON BROWN
‘The Sarge’ Feeling Especially Positive Heading Back to Topeka
As U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster Duo Tackles NHRA Kansas Nationals
TOPEKA, Kansas (May 18, 2016) – What a difference a year makes as the U.S. Army driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown head to Heartland Park Topeka (Kansas) for this weekend’s 28th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals.
A year ago, Schumacher and Brown arrived in the capital city of Kansas as the dominant forces in the Top Fuel class with a solid foothold on the top-two positions in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings after the season’s first seven events. Each had an event title, and Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) were characteristically machine-like on Fridays and Saturdays with a remarkable average qualifying position of 2.86.
While Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster team for DSR powered their way to win six more event titles and their second Top Fuel world championship by season’s end, Schumacher and his U.S. Army team went on to add a pair of midsummer event titles before a rather humbling close to 2015 while embarking on the painstaking task of developing new parts, pieces and systems on the racecar in search of future championship-caliber consistency.
It’s continued to be an exercise in patience and persistence through the first seven events of this season for Schumacher and the U.S. Army team, whose average qualifying position is 6.43 thus far and who are still looking to advance beyond the second round during Sunday eliminations. But, as history has shown time and again, the time invested in development has its rewards.
Two years ago, Schumacher and the U.S. Army team had undergone a similarly challenging season-plus of development before everything fell into place at midseason and “The Sarge” emerged with his record eighth career Top Fuel world title, virtually unbeatable during the 2014 Countdown to the Championship.
That’s why, despite last weekend’s second-round exit from the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, Schumacher and the U.S. Army team were feeling unexpectedly positive heading into this weekend’s festivities in Kansas, where Schumacher was the 2010 event winner, 2014 runner-up, 2011 No. 1 qualifier, and last year set his career-best elapsed time mark of 3.719 seconds.
The feeling in the U.S. Army camp is that the championship groove is imminent, especially for Brown, who heads to Topeka on a streak of four consecutive trips to the semifinals or beyond, including his first event title of the season at Las Vegas.
FS1 will provide two hours of delayed coverage of Friday and Saturday qualifying at 11 p.m. EDT Saturday, and three hours of live coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds beginning at 2 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You’re heading to Topeka appearing to feel more positive than you have all season despite being eliminated in the second round for the fifth time in 2016 at Atlanta last weekend. Why?
“We’re almost giddy in that we feel we are so close to finding that groove that has been the Army team’s hallmark for so many years. Hey, we lost at Atlanta by just two-thousandths of a second to the No. 1 qualifier, the eventual race winner, and had we gone three thousandths quicker, we had a good chance of winning that race. It’s a timing thing. Our qualifying there hurt us more than anything. We’re really approaching that old, winning groove of a tuneup in a nice, calculated way. Everybody knows how good we are when we’re in that groove, and it’s usually not pretty while we’re on our way there. It takes us a long time to find it because we make very small, incremental changes as we go. But once we find it, it stays for a long time. There is nobody in the world out there hoping we find it except for the people who want to see us get back to our winning ways. There are people loving the fact we’re a little bit off right now. We’ve been off before, even in our heyday. But we’re on the verge of being back to our old ways. Once we work ourselves into that tuneup, because of the small changes we make to get there, we stand to hold onto that sweet spot for a long time because we don’t make radical changes. We’ve worked a long, long time to make it work this time and we’ve stuck with it. We all know it’s coming at some point, and I feel it’s definitely sooner than later. We’re probably the best in the business at maintaining a tuneup and hold it. When we start winning, we win for a long time. We’re the best at it. So many other teams makes such big, radical changes when they’re down and we just don’t do that. We stick with our way of doing things and that’s why we’ve been so successful over the long haul.”
You’re returning to the Heartland of America this weekend wearing the U.S. Army colors during the month of May. How special is it to be representing the Army at Kansas this weekend?
“It’s an incredible feeling to be representing the U.S. Army every single day of the year, there is absolutely no doubt about that. There’s something about going to the Kansas Nationals that makes it all the more special to be wearing the Army colors. I think it would be entirely fitting for us to be hoisting the Wally wearing those colors in the Heartland, once again. We had a solid weekend at Topeka three years ago and came close to winning our third race of the year that year. I’m really looking forward, as always, to hitting the track. Topeka is a really fun place to race. It’s the Heartland of America. There are great people there, great race fans, and they always get a good crowd. I enjoy being there. I’d not run well there early in my career, but we have a win and a top qualifying effort in recent years there and I feel we’re poised to get back to the winner’s circle. I really like our chances with where we are in our tuneup.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You’re on somewhat of a roll with an event title among your four straight runs to the semifinals or beyond heading to Topeka. What are your thoughts about this weekend?
“We’ve been pretty darn good, recently. We’ve been working on something to make our car stronger and we accomplished that last weekend in Atlanta. We’re looking good right now. Topeka is a race that we always want to do well at. We always qualify well there. We haven’t won there, yet, but we’re working hard to try and bring a win home from there this year. It’s one of the few racetracks that we haven’t won at. We’re looking for wins at Topeka, Epping and Bristol because I haven’t won at those, yet, so those are definitely on the top of my list.”
You’ve always had a certain fondness for Topeka. Why is that?
“There’s a lot of history at that racetrack. Gary Ormsby, one of my heroes and mentors, you see his name on the property when you pull in. That’s one of the things that really stands out to me when we go there. He was very innovative. He didn’t just bring out a Dragster with an enclosed canopy, like we now use at DSR, but he brought a fully streamlined car that covered the engine and everything that made it so aerodynamic. I got to see him at races when I was a little kid. I never met him or knew him other than as a fan getting his autograph. He was just a cool, soft-spoken, laid-back guy, yet he still was a serious racer. He was well-respected and a genuine, genuine nice guy and he was a hard-core racer. That’s something I’ve always tried to be – I’m very approachable, very nice, but you don’t want to line up against me on the starting line. So, the game plan is to go there and try to do the best that we can do and try to bring a win home.”
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