KENT, Washington – It’s the most grueling part of the annual NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, the three-event Western Swing that travels through the mile-high altitude at the foot of the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver, the beautiful California Wine Country just north of the San Francisco Bay, and the pine tree-laden shadows of snowcapped Mount Ranier just south of Seattle on consecutive weekends.
As the series heads to Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington to wrap up this year’s Western Swing with this weekend’s 29th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals, a good many travel-weary competitors are ready to get it overwith. But that’s certainly not the case for U.S. Army Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, who are focused on closing it out in the best possible way.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) opened this all-important stretch of the schedule with a highly anticipated win at Bandimere Speedway in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Colorado two weekends ago. And he’d like nothing better than to finish things off with another one in Washington after last weekend’s second-round exit at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, meanwhile, certainly feels deserving of a win this weekend after reaching the final round at Bandimere two weekends ago and making some stunning runs during qualifying at Sonoma last week before also being eliminated in the second round Sunday.
This weekend’s stop at Pacific Raceways could be just the place for the U.S. Army tandem. For Schumacher, the Washington stop on the tour has been his most successful stop on the Western Swing each year with seven final-round appearances in the last 12 seasons, including event titles in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. His 2004 and 2008 wins came from the No. 1 qualifying position, and the latter win closed out a sweep of that year’s Western Swing. Two years ago, Schumacher qualified No. 1 at Pacific Raceways for the third time in his career and advanced to a semifinal-round meeting with Brown, who came out on top in a close race.
Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion, scored his lone career Pacific Raceways event title in 2009 to close out a sweep of the three-race Western Swing that year. He also was runner-up in 2010 and 2014 and was No. 1 qualifier in 2011.
With three event titles this season, Brown continues to sit atop the Top Fuel standings by a 37-point margin over Doug Kalitta while Schumacher is fifth, just 38 points behind fourth-place Brittany Force with three events remaining until the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin. There is also a career milestone at stake this weekend for Brown, who with his next victory during Sunday elimination rounds will reach 600 for his career. His career won-loss record is 599-289 in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle-class competition.
Daily qualifying coverage this weekend will be broadcast via one-hour shows scheduled for 10 p.m. EDT Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday. Sunday’s elimination rounds will be carried live on FOX from 4 to 7 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
You started this year’s Western Swing with a big win in Denver before the second-round exit at Sonoma last week. Yet, it seems the Army team is getting closer and closer to being at the top of its game. Your thoughts as we head to Seattle?
“It’s very comforting. The most comfortable part about it is the changes we make reflect in what the car does going down the track. We’ve had stretches where we’ve made changes and it does the opposite, and you’re fighting that for a long, long time. Right now, it seems to be when we do something to the car, it is fairly predictable. When we miss it, we miss it by just a little bit and that’s usually when we’re trying to go faster and we have the opportunity to do that. It’s a great time to start getting really good. The end of the year is the premier time to peak, and it’s incredibly comforting heading toward the Countdown with a good car.”
Your thoughts on Seattle, in particular?
“At Seattle, we’ve probably had more success than the first two races (of the Western Swing) put together. We have a great car at that place – very fast – and the crowd seems to be building there. Hopefully, we can go out and win it and go off and be in position to win a championship. Seattle is a fast racetrack and there’s good side-by-side racing. It’s the end of a grueling part of the schedule, so you can be the team that’s not thinking, ‘Let’s get this over with,’ but thinking, ‘Let’s close this out and do it right.’”
After this weekend, you have a weekend off before closing out the regular season at Brainerd and Indianapolis. Where do you feel the team is at this point in the season?
“I think just driving well gives our team, our engineers Mike Green and Neal Strausbaugh, confidence to go into Brainerd and Indy. We understand what it’s like to get there, how big those moments are and how good you’re going to have to be in those moments. That’s how you win titles, going into it knowing you can do it. You show up knowing we’ve done this before and you just try to be a machine. We’re in the position to fight for it and that’s all you can ask for – to be in the position for the battle. I couldn’t ask for any more. I just have to go out and do my job because the car is running well and I don’t want to be the weak link.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
The competition this year continues to be more balanced throughout the entire Top Fuel ranks than perhaps ever before. And your Matco Tools/U.S. Army team continues to look like a contender to win no matter where you go. Is that the case, in your mind?
“One thing about this Matco Tools/U.S. Army team is we challenge for it every weekend. Like our U.S. Army Soldiers, you can’t ever count us out. We persevere and, out here with the competition the way it is, that’s what you have to do. I think it shows every weekend how tough it is to win out here. It’s a battle each and every weekend and it’s not going to get any easier with the Countdown (to the Championship playoffs) coming up.”
It’s been seven years since you scored your lone win at Seattle, yet you’ve had some chances to win since. What will it take to win there this weekend?
“Seattle is unique. It’s got that little bit of old-school feeling to it. You go back in there, it’s in the trees and it’s just different than anywhere else you go. We would really like to send these guys home with a win from this Western Swing. We came close in Denver and we would like to seal the deal in Seattle. I don’t think about how many of this or that I have. We just need to stay focused.”
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- Jonathan Paluga
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