BRISTOL, Tennessee – Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) have never claimed to be trend followers so much as trendsetters in their 15-plus record-setting seasons together. But heading into this weekend’s 16th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, they’re more than willing to follow something of a mini-trend that has taken place during the most recent stops on the tour.
Seems the Top Fuel winner at the last two NHRA events was the Top Fuel runner-up at the previous event. Fellow U.S. Army driver and DSR teammate Antron Brown lost in a pedalfest to Doug Kalitta in the final at Topeka last month before storming to the title in the series’ next outing at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire two weekends ago. His victim in the Epping final was Steve Torrence, who last weekend ran the table during Sunday eliminations at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, surviving a pedalfest of his own over none other than Schumacher in the Top Fuel final.
Needless to say, Schuamcher hopes that trend continues Sunday at Bristol and culminates with the U.S. Army team’s first event title of the season. And, considering Bristol is one of Schumacher and the Army team’s most successful tracks, with five event titles, another final-round appearance and four No. 1 qualifier positions, another win this weekend certainly wouldn’t be surprising.
A year ago at Bristol, Schumacher appeared to be on his way to a second event title in a row after having hoisted the Wally trophy the week prior during the Army’s 240th birthday celebration at Epping. He qualified No. 1 at Bristol for the second race in a row and disposed of Troy Buff in the first round of Top Fuel eliminations. But after second-round opponent J.R. Todd and his team elected to make a late lane swap in his run against Schumacher, the U.S. Army team had trouble starting the racecar and, while Todd was already performing his prerace burnout, the parachutes accidentally deployed at the rear of the Army Dragster and the team had to abort the run. To add insult to injury, Todd smoked his tires near the end of his solo run and limped across the finish line in just under five seconds.
Thus, all trends aside, no one would blame Schumacher and the Army team for feeling like Bristol owes them one after last year’s unfortunate turn of events. But they also don’t think that way, preferring instead to arrive at Thunder Valley in attack mode and take care of business themselves after their two best weekends of the season. After failing to advance past the second round of Sunday eliminations at this season’s first eight events, Schumacher reached the semifinals at Epping two weekends ago, where he red-lighted at the start of his run against Brown, the eventual event titlist. And last weekend at Englishtown, Schumacher and the Army team showed signs of their old, championship selves as they motored their way past Terry McMillen, Brown and Shawn Langdon on the way to the final-round pedalfest against Torrence.
Meanwhile Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, will be looking for his first career win at Bristol this weekend. It is one of only two tracks of the 21 where the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competes that Brown has yet to conquer – Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas being the other. His lone appearance in the final round at Bristol came in 2011, when he lost a close race against three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon. Still, the two-time and defending-champion Brown remains confident he can finally break through at Bristol this weekend and bring his total of event titles this season to three.
FS1 will provide two hours of live qualifying coverage from the Thunder Valley Nationals beginning at 2 p.m. EDT Saturday, and three hours of delayed coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds beginning at 4 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You’re coming off your best two weekends of the season and are headed to one of your best tracks in Bristol Dragway. What’s on your mind as you head to the hills of Northeast Tennessee?
“I can’t wait to get to Bristol. I felt that way since we finished our run in the final last Sunday. Englishtown has never been a great track for us, so I kind of struggled with knowing we had this great car but we were racing at a track that hasn’t been our best, historically. I’d already been looking ahead to Bristol, to be totally honest. It turns out we almost won last week, which would have been great to get our first of the year. We not only had a great car by the end of the weekend, we solved a huge, huge problem that we’d been fighting, so now I feel like we have a car that’s capable winning every weekend. There’s nowhere better at this point in time than Bristol. It’s Father’s Day weekend and it’s going to be great.”
What is it about Bristol that has led to so much success for the U.S. Army team there?
“Everybody seems to have tracks where they are good and, fortunately, Bristol is one of those for the U.S. Army team. Ever since we solved a major issue we’ve had and made it to the final last week, I was ready to just keep the momentum going. Bristol being Bristol, that just has us all the more fired up to go out there and represent the U.S. Army once again. It’s a special place to race, for sure. There is some altitude to deal with there, but mostly it’s just that I love Thunder Valley. I always go into that race feeling successful. I think, anytime you win races at a track, it gets easier the next time. That’s why I go into Bristol with a completely positive attitude and the results have been the proof.
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
What are your thoughts as you head to Bristol for this weekend’s Thunder Valley Nationals?
“Bristol always has been a special place. It’s always been good to us, to an extent. Just like Englishtown, where we finally won for the first time last year, Bristol is a place we’d love to finally break through. You’re right in the middle of a valley and it’s one of those premiere tracks where you want to go out there and you want to do well. We’ve qualified well there before, we’ve been No. 1, we’ve been out there and we’ve done well in the past. We’ve been in the final where we’ve lost because you’re pushing too hard because you really want to win. It’s been one of those tracks where we really want to win, for sure, and cross it off the bucket list. We’ve just got to attack, just like we did at Epping two weeks ago. We’ve our work cut out for us. Bristol is tough, but we’ve got to start off with good qualifying like we’ve been doing. And that’s our goal there, to get off to a good start. It’s going to be hot in Bristol, it’s not going to be easy. We’ve just got to put our best foot forward and see if we can keep our consistency going.”
One of the highlights of your visit to your home track last week at Englishtown was getting a street named after you in your hometown of Chesterfield, New Jersey. What was that like?
“No award could compare to the honor of having a street named after you. Whenever I think about having a street named after me, I’m like, ‘Am I worthy?’ I’m honored and humbled at the same time. Presidents get streets named after them, and I’m not a president.”
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- Charlie Brim
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