MORRISON, Colorado – Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, the U.S. Army Top Fuel driver duo, are moving up in the world with their fellow NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors, and not just because they head to the foot of the Rocky Mountains for this weekend’s 37th annual Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in the Denver suburb of Morrisson, Colorado.
For the first time in the 65-year history of the NHRA, Sunday’s elimination rounds will be carried live on a broadcast television network. In fact, the next three Sunday’s worth of elimination rounds will be live on FOX as this year’s edition of the NHRA Western Swing travels through Denver, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, and Pacific Raceway in the Seattle suburb of Kent, Washington.
The chance to showcase the thrill and excitement of the unpredictable world of the NHRA’s Top Fuel class to its largest potential audience ever is certainly not lost on Schumacher and Brown, each of whom has a pair of event titles at tricky Bandimere Speedway and 10 final-round appearances between them.
Schumacher, the eight-time Top Fuel world champion in the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), has been on the verge of breaking through for his third career event title at Bandimere after qualifying first in 2014, the coming back to qualify second and march all the way to the final round last year, where he came up just short in a close drag race with Steve Torrence. The Sarge’s Bandimere event titles came in 2005 and 2008, and should he break through this weekend, it would be his first event title since a year ago this month at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.
The red-hot Brown, meanwhile, is coming off his third event title of the season at the last stop on the tour two weekends ago in Joliet. The driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR assumed the Top Fuel points lead with that victory on the outskirts of Chicago and heads to the outskirts of Denver this weekend looking to return to victory lane there for the first time since 2012, the year he won the first of his two Top Fuel world titles. Brown also scored an event title at Bandimere in 2009.
Daily qualifying coverage will be broadcast via delayed one-hour shows scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT Friday and 11 p.m. Saturday. Sunday’s elimination rounds will be carried live on FOX from 3 to 6 p.m. EDT.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
What’s on your mind as you prepare to kick off the Western Swing in Denver this weekend?
“It was good to have a weekend off after Chicago. It gives everyone a chance to recharge a little bit and get ready for this Western Swing. We’ve had a chance to regroup a bit and now we head out West, where we’ve had a lot of success over the years. Denver is a place I can just be thankful for the absolute lack of bad memories I have there. It’s zero. Even though we lost in the first round there two years ago, we were No. 1 qualifier for the first time that year and that sort of kicked off the momentum that carried us through the championship. Last year, we came back and qualified second and lost a close race to Steve Torrence in the final. There are no bad memories about Denver, from the Harley rides, to the fly fishing to the beautiful golf courses, and John Bandimere’s built us a beautiful racetrack, tucked into a mountain. You just can’t get enough of it and I really enjoy it. It’s a difficult race because you have to make horsepower in a set of circumstances that doesn’t really apply well to a Top Fuel Dragster. But, at the end of the day on Sunday, there’s a winner and you just have to be the guy who not necessarily sets a world record, but goes faster than everybody else. We’ve been fortunate enough to do that. We love going to Bandimere, we love going to Denver, and I just can’t wait to get there.”
What are the effects on the U.S. Army Dragster when it comes to racing at altitude in Denver as opposed to racing in a place like Gainesville, Florida?
“When you’re at sea level, like Gainesville, there’s more air. You walk outside and you can just flat breathe. You don’t get tired as easily. It’s the same thing with the car. In Denver, you’re starving the engine for fuel, and you can’t add as much fuel. What it takes to go fast is, the more nitromethane you can stuff into the motor, the faster you can go. The more air you have, the more nitro you can put to it. The blowers we have, which are basically like an air compressor sitting on top of the engine, they can only work so hard. They can only spin so fast. We’re not spinning them slower because we’re in a place like Gainesville, we’re trying to make more power and go faster. What happens in Denver is, you get up high in the mountains and your car’s having hard time breathing. You’re having hard time breathing and so is your car, so your car’s just going to run slower. All the cars are equal as far as that goes. We’re all starving for air, and the air’s the same in both the right lane and the left lane. It takes a good crew chief and a good driver to figure it out. The right combination for the right moments.”
You and your fellow NHRA competitors will be making history when the elimination rounds will be carried live on broadcast television for the first time in the series’ 65-year history. Any special thoughts on that?
“It was necessary and it’s absolutely fantastic. This is obviously my favorite sport and there’s been a need to take it to the world live every single chance we get to. We’ve been on live TV most of the time with our new TV deal with the FOX family of networks, which is the way it should be. You wouldn’t watch a poker game if you knew the outcome ahead of time because it’d bore you to death, and I think it’s the same thing with drag racing. You can’t know what’s going on after seeing it all over social media in real-time. In the old days, maybe you could get away with it but, now with social media, it was impossible to not know what happened by the time you saw it on TV. The FOX network has brought us exciting, new people. We needed that. We needed new people to come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen.’ We kind of lost that the last few years and it wasn’t getting much better. We’ve got the greatest sport in the world and I think we need to let people know that. More people than ever are going to be in for a real treat over the next three weekends on live FOX television.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You head to Denver with the Top Fuel points lead? How important will it be to hold that spot over the final five regular-season events so you can enter the Countdown to the Championship with that 30-point bonus?
“I don’t even think about it but it’s good that we got it. Those 30 points are crucial. It’s hard to make up 30 points when you only have 24 rounds of racing to win a championship. That’s almost worth winning two rounds. That’s going to be very crucial and we just have to keep working. Hopefully we can sneak it out and get those points that we need to help us for that title defense.”
The conditions in Denver are unlike anywhere else the NHRA visits. How does that affect your preparation?
“We change almost everything on the car before we go to Denver because Denver is just a way different setup with how we run the car. We put stuff that we’ve been running off to the side, then we’ll swap it back after Denver. You go to Denver like you’re playing craps. You just roll those dice and hope they come out right so you stumble on to a good combination that’s going to work. That’s been our Achilles heel the last couple of years because Denver’s been eating us up a little bit. We’ve won there twice and been runner-up four times. We just have to land back on that combination and be competitive. Denver’s just a hard track to run at.”
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