NORWALK, Ohio – The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ only four-pack of event weekends closes out with the 10th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio after stopping the previous three weekends in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Northeast Tennessee.
While most teams are more than ready to take a break from such an exhausting travel grind, the U.S. Army Top Fuel duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown and their respective nine-man teams are feeling fresher than ever as they look to keep their momentum going this weekend in North Central Ohio.
The eight-time world champion Schumacher and the U.S. Army Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) is coming off their first two final-round appearances of the season, back-to-back, at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey and Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. And this four-pack of events kicked off with the Army team’s first semifinal appearance at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire, where he was ousted by Schumacher’s teammate Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, who went on to score their second event title of the season.
Schumacher returned the favor two-fold at the next two events, eliminating Brown in the second round at Englishtown and in the semifinals at Bristol. “The Sarge” dropped a pedalfest in the Englishtown final against Steve Torrence, and lost a cylinder early in his final-round matchup against third DSR Dragster driver Shawn Langdon, who nipped the Army car at the finish.
This weekend, Schumacher and his Army teammates, who scored their lone Norwalk event title in 2007 in their only final-round appearance at the facility, can’t help but feel the season’s first victory is imminent as their 10,000-horsepower racing machine has emerged as one of the fastest and most consistent in this most recent stretch on the schedule after struggling earlier this season.
Brown, whose first of two event titles this season came at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with another pair of final-round appearances at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina and Heartland Park Topeka (Kansas), scored his first career victory at Norwalk in 2014 and followed that up with another final-round appearance last year, when he lost a close race to Doug Kalitta.
Added motivation this weekend for the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team, which stands second in the Top Fuel standings, 53 points behind Kalitta, is that Norwalk is a homecoming for co-crew chief Brian Corradi, who hails from about an hour east of the track in the Cleveland area. The other crew chief, Mark Oswald, who currently resides near New Orleans, also is an Ohio native, hailing from Cincinnati.
FS1 will provide live coverage of the opening two rounds of Sunday eliminations from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. EDT. The entire three-hour race-day show will be broadcast first on FS2 at 6:30 p.m. Sunday and again on FS1 at midnight Monday morning. Additional one-hour daily qualifying shows will be broadcast by FS1 live at 8 p.m. Friday and delayed at 7 p.m. Saturday.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
We’re wrapping up a challenging four consecutive event weekends and heading into the summer stretch of races before the Countdown looking more and more like the championship U.S. Army teams of seasons past. Your thoughts headed to Norwalk?
“We’ve definitely been knocking on the door the last few weekends and we’re getting closer and closer. When you get to the final and don’t come away with the win, it stings a little bit when you’re in the moment. But when you step away and look at where we are now compared to how we were running the first part of the season, it’s all good. Like I’ve been saying all along, this is the ultimate exercise in patience for someone like me who wants to win every week. But our process is an incredibly meticulous one – the improvements we make come in very small steps and it takes time. But once we get to where we want to be, we then become almost unbeatable until we run out of parts and pieces. That’s the part I’m really looking forward to the most as we hit the summer season. The great part about this life is you continue to learn every day. Growing up you always looked forward to the summer. Vacations. Family. Friends and just having fun. I know the last 15 years have taught me so much and I appreciate the relationship I have with the U.S. Army and the relationship our team has. I’ve been able to do so many great things while men and women from this great country have been fighting for us and keeping our nation free. I’ve seen people come in as recruits. Serve their time both here in the U.S. and overseas and then see them move on to other things in their lives. It’s an incredible honor. We know we represent all Americans and we’re just working as hard as we can every race to give them something to cheer about and enjoy the passion we put into this.”
Every stop on the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is unique. What stands out about racing at Norwalk?
“There are so many things. The Bader family works extremely hard to keep the facility right at the top of the list of tracks we compete at. Racing there around this time of year always means they put on a tremendous fireworks display. Those qualifying sessions Friday night usually provide light-up-the-sky type of views and running both qualifying sessions at night should just add to it. We love winning, but haven’t been able to accomplish that at Norwalk since that first race back in 2007. I know (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) and all the Army guys are going to do their best to adapt to whatever conditions come at them so that we can be in the best position on Sunday to race for a victory. The knowledge these guys on this team have is incredible. Their passion to win is second to none. We’re excited for the challenge of getting the job done this weekend.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
How would you assess where the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team is at this point in the season, and to what can you attribute an overall rise in performance by the DSR teams in recent weeks?
“I would say that our team definitely has a B-plus or an A-minus rating. We are almost where we want to be. We are definitely gaining ground and we are learning so much. We definitely don’t have our program mastered, yet, but no one out here does. We are just trying to develop and make ourselves more efficient and I think we are definitely accomplishing that. As for the other DSR teams, the Army team looks like it’s close to being at the top of its game, and the Red Fuel team (with driver Shawn Langdon) got its first win last weekend. That’s all attributed to the way we’re all working together. We’re all going in and out of each other’s trailers, we’re working together as a fine unit right now. It’s paying dividends where we’re getting a lot more competitive across the board and we’re causing a little havoc for all the other race teams out here. Our main goal is to get that going, and we just want to keep on going to get to where we need to be for the Countdown. That’s the main goal right now. There aren’t too many races left (seven) before the Countdown begins, so all the races we’ve got left are very crucial.”
The first day of summer just occurred and that means Norwalk is about to start a busy run of races leading up to the Countdown. What makes your annual stop at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park so special?
“Norwalk is a tremendous facility. I’m always excited to go to there because, out of all our races, there is no other show like what the Bader family puts on. When you go there, you know you’re not just there for the pure excitement our sport brings, but you’re going to be entertained from start to finish. The firework shows are just phenomenal for kids and adults of all ages. For (co-crew chief) Brian (Corradi), this is as close to his home as we race and that’s a big deal. Those guys work so hard, both him and (co-crew chief) Mark (Oswald) and all the Matco Tools/U.S. Army guys. We’re going to do all we can to get one for Brian this weekend.”
– TSC –
- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.