EPPING, New Hampshire – During the past 15-plus seasons of partnering with the U.S. Army in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competition, Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher has experienced a number of incredible moments. Whether it be racing for world championships, establishing national records or staging the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) in season-changing matchups, the eight-time Top Fuel world champion feels gifted to have been part of them all and doing so proudly wearing the U.S. Army colors.
Heading into this weekend’s fourth annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire, Schumacher is hoping to repeat last year’s memorable performance and make it three consecutive wins in front of NHRA’s newest legion of fans.
Last June, Schumacher capped a memorable weekend with the famed Continental Color Guard standing at attention behind the U.S. Army Dragster at the starting line. “The Sarge” stormed to victory on the 240th birthday of the U.S. Army less than an hour away from the outskirts of Boston. An emotional Schumacher and his nine-man U.S. Army team were pleased to deliver time after time on a day filled with battles that forced them to adapt and overcome in order to achieve the ultimate result.
Schumacher and his U.S. Army Racing teammate Antron Brown begin a critical four-race stretch in New Hampshire with events every weekend in June. Both drivers are looking to begin their 10-race push toward the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs with a solid weekend at New England Dragway, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
With an all-time record of 9-1 in elimination rounds at the facility, Schumacher leads all professional drivers into the event. In 2013, he qualified fourth and defeated Brittany Force in the first round before narrowly losing to Spencer Massey. Since that loss, Schumacher has reeled off eight straight round wins there. He turned on four consecutive wins lights in 2014 in scoring his initial triumph at the track and his second of five national event wins en route to the 2014 world championship. Last June, he began the weekend by capturing the No. 1 qualifier position and, during eliminations, he overcame an overboost situation that led to a fiery explosion in his opening-round victory over Morgan Lucas. His U.S. Army team led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh performed significant repairs and kept ahead of the curve as Schumacher defeated Clay Millican and Spencer Massey to reach the final versus Larry Dixon. In the final, he was machine-like and raced to his 79th career Top Fuel win and his milestone 75th win for Army Racing.
Schumacher is coming off a second-round loss two weeks ago in the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. The race was his 1,100th round of action during his 21st season of competition. He leads all active drivers in the Top Fuel class with 748 elimination round wins with Brown’s 583 and current points leader and winner of the previous three races Doug Kalitta’s 565 closest in pursuit. If he can reach the semifinals for the first time in 2016, he’ll become only the third driver in NHRA history to record 750 round wins.
Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, enters the weekend looking to continue his 2016 streak of runs to the semifinals. The two-time and reigning Top Fuel champion has won the 17th annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas on April 3 and has reached the semifinals in each of the last four events. Kalitta defeated Brown in the semifinal round in Atlanta before the two met again in Topeka final, where Kalitta took the win again and increased his lead in the championship standings. Brown, who was the last Top Fuel driver to win three consecutive events, is looking to close the gap on Kalitta by breaking through this weekend and becoming the third Top Fuel driver to win the New England NHRA Nationals.
FS1 will provide coverage of the U.S. Army Racing tandem’s quest for victory in New Hampshire, including live qualifying Saturday at 2:30-3:30 p.m. EDT, as well as delayed coverage of Sunday’s eliminations at 4 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
Throughout your career, you’ve been part of a number of memorable moments. You mentioned last year how special it was to win on the 240th birthday of U.S. Army. Why was that victory so special?
“This is a really tough profession and it requires a tremendous effort from so many people. And we don’t always get to walk away with the trophy. I really feel like I’ve been blessed and our team has been blessed for going on 16 years to be associated with the U.S. Army.
It’s the greatest team there is and built by so many incredible individuals. We talk about how they utilize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to do their jobs at the highest efficiency and that’s what we have to do here with this racecar to perform at our best. I rely on Mike (Green), Neal (Strausbaugh) and all my guys to be at their best. I’ve said it for years that it’s a gift to be put in a situation like we were last year at Epping. And being surrounded by guys capable of the moment is what allowed us to come out on top. To win on the birthday of the U.S. Army and seeing the guys from the Continental Color Guard up there with us, all of it was special. Just a really proud day for all of us. We’re really hoping to be in that same situation this weekend.”
You come into Epping with the best record of any driver at the facility. Does that give you added confidence entering the weekend?
“You always like going places where you’ve had success before, but you have to be careful. Previous success at a particular place doesn’t guarantee you anything. It still takes a lot of work to accomplish what we need to this weekend. We’ve been gaining on it all season. I know we have a U.S. Army racecar ready to go the distance this weekend. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a complete weekend of good qualifying runs and a long day of action on Sunday. That’s our goal. We are going to do everything we can to win rounds and put ourselves in a position to win Sunday. We are a pressure driven team and we know the pressure is on. We want a spot in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout and it’s in our hands to go out and make it happen.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
Despite winning just one event this season, you and your team have been extremely consistent. Is maintaining that consistency going to be the key to winning another world championship?
“Consistency is a major component in winning a championship. It’s been a really good five-race stretch for (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) and these Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys. We were hoping to get the victory in Topeka but just came up a little short, but that just drove us all to keep pushing and that’s something that we do very well We just have to keep doing what we do, and that’s going rounds. Doug (Kalitta) has been doing exceptionally well, but it’s hard to maintain that level for an extended period of time. We’re going to keep working so that we can hopefully put a run together like he is on when it matters most.”
Success has come at a lot of facilities for you in your career where you’ve got a lot of experience. New England Dragway is one where you’ve had the fewest number of events. Is not having the track time there a disadvantage?
“We are all in the same boat with amount of track time we’ve had in Epping. Some guys like Tony have just been able to go longer on Sunday there and been able to add a little more to their notebook. I’m excited to get up there this weekend and have another go at it. We’ve been running really good this year and we’re staring a pretty tough stretch of races. It’s been a lot of fun going up there and racing. I’m an East Coast guy, so anytime we get to race anywhere close to home, I’m all for it.”
– TSC –
- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.