LAS VEGAS – What a difference a year makes for the U.S. Army Top Fuel driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown as they head to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this weekend’s 18th annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, the season’s fourth of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour.
Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) arrive in Las Vegas as the series’ most recent winners while Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR are the defending Las Vegas event titlists. Schumacher and Brown are second and third, respectively, at the top of the standings behind only fellow DSR driver Leah Pritchett, who scored back-to-back wins at the season’s opening two events at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California and Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on the outskirts of Phoenix.
A year ago, Schumacher and Brown arrived in Las Vegas eighth and 10th in the standings, respectively, after failing to get past the second round at the season’s opening three events. And things didn’t get any better for “The Sarge” at Las Vegas as he dropped his first-round matchup Sunday against J.R. Todd while Brown came alive and ran the table Sunday for his first of seven event titles enroute to his third career Top Fuel world championship and second in a row.
This year, the record eight-time world champion Schumacher and the U.S. Army team have advanced to Sunday’s semifinal round or better at all three events, thus far. He dropped his semifinal matchups against Pritchett and Brittany Force at Pomona and Phoenix, respectively, but at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida two weeks ago, he was the No. 1 qualifier for the record 81st time in his career and easily got by semifinal opponent Steve Torrence to set up a dramatic final-round matchup against his teammate and fellow U.S. Army driver Brown.
In that Gainesville final, Schumacher was faced with a 28-34 won-loss record against Brown, including 5-7 in final rounds. But “The Sarge” prevailed with a stout run of 3.703 seconds at 329.26 mph while Brown crossed the finish line in 3.764 seconds at 322.65 mph. The win made Schumacher the winningest Top Fuel driver at Gainesville with his fifth career event title there, and it upped his record total of career event titles to 83. Schumacher now is the winningest driver at 10 of the 21 tracks on the current Mello Yello series schedule, including Las Vegas with eight career victories. His most recent Las Vegas titles came back-to-back in the 2013 and 2014 spring events.
After advancing to his first final round of the season at Gainesville, Brown looks to make it back-to-back spring event wins at Las Vegas this weekend. He qualified third a year ago this weekend and swept his elimination-round matchups against Scott Palmer, Pritchett, Dave Connolly and Troy Buff for his 38th career Top Fuel event title, and it vaulted him from 10th to second in the standings. He owns three career Las Vegas event titles, including the 2011 spring event.
With their early season momentum leading both U.S. Army Top Fuel drivers to solid, top-three positions, they’ll be pulling out all the stops this weekend in an effort to put the Army in victory lane once again.
Qualifying for the 18th annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals begins Friday with FS1 providing live coverage at 6:30 p.m. EDT Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday. Sunday’s elimination rounds will be broadcast live on FS1 beginning at 6 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
Your overall thoughts as you head to Las Vegas this weekend after scoring the U.S. Army team’s first victory of the season two weeks ago at the Gatornationals in Florida?
“We have a rock star team right now. (Crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Phil (Shuler) are just working together with their ideas, and it’s great to have the energy Mike introduced at the beginning of the year, kind of by saying, ‘We’re going for it, we’re not going to go out there being cautious, we don’t care where we’re running, we’re going for it.’ It was just a different Mike and I think it charges the guys up. With Phil pushing him, he’s the aggressive side of Mike in the first place. With Mike already having that attitude and Phil coming over and not letting Mike back down, I think we’ve got a car that’s going to go out and win some races.”
Safe to say you and the Army team are feeling good about having that first victory of the year in your pocket?
“It was absolutely huge. Antron is just a fantastic driver, a three-time world champ. But I’d been in that position before, to be able to separate our team from the other teams that won four (at Gainesville) and we got beat. And it’s one of those things when you have the opportunity, you’re racing a car like Antron’s, it’s all laid out there, it’s teed up, and you’ve got to step up. And that’s exactly what we did as a team – qualified No. 1, rocked the world, won the race, left nothing on the table, and took home everything, including the TRAXXAS Shootout chance to win in Indy. I can’t say enough about the Army team. They did a phenomenal job. The only points we left on the table was a planned shutoff in the left lane (during qualifying) when we could’ve run low ET, but we shut it off to find out where the bumps were so we could go out and win the race on Sunday.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing:
How would you gauge where you and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team are heading to the fourth event of the season this weekend at Las Vegas?
“It’s always one step at a time. For us as a whole, we want to win every race that we go to. We qualified in the top-three at the first three races, we’ve been to the semis and the final at Gainesville and we really felt that was our race to win. The Army team just did an incredible job. We had something that bit us but we’re growing from it. You don’t get better by doing the same things, you only get better in life by doing things that are different. (Co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald), that’s what they do. We are always innovating and making new things and now we’re starting to see traction from it earlier. Last year, it was later but, this year, we’re already seeing the benefits of it. We just have to keep grinding. This class is not going to be easy in Top Fuel this year. It never is. It gets harder every year, but we’re ready to go out there and battle.”
It was recently announced that you will co-host the TV show “Top Gear America” later this season alongside actor and racing enthusiast William Fichtner and automotive journalist Tom “Wookie” Ford. How do you feel about this new opportunity?
“Somebody better pinch me. We’ve started filming and it’s just a blast. I won’t be going 330 mph like I do in Don Schumacher Racing’s Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster, but we’ll be in some awesome and crazy rides. I’ve been interviewed a lot but I’m a rookie at being a host.”
- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.