U.S. Army Teammates Aim for Victory in NHRA’s Unique Four-Wide NHRA Nationals
CONCORD, N.C. – It’s no secret that Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and his U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) have a remarkable ability to rise to the occasion when the pressure to perform is the greatest. Time after time, they’ve been faced with the challenge of having to overcome incredible situations in the ultra-competitive NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. And, more often than not, their results have underlined the importance of possessing mental, emotional and physical strength like that displayed by our U.S. Army Soldiers, who inspire and play a huge part in their drive to be successful.
The pressure will be high again this weekend for the seven-time Top Fuel champion and his U.S. Army team in the fifth annual Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte. Schumacher will not only have to compete against one 10,000-horsepower Top Fuel Dragster at a time, he’ll be racing three others each time he makes a run in the U.S. Army machine beginning Friday afternoon. The goal by Sunday will be to finish first or second in the first two heats of four competitors, and then be the first to the 1,000-foot mark in the final.
“The Sarge” and his nine-man team led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant Neal Strausbaugh march to Charlotte with plenty of momentum following their victory over Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta in Las Vegas in the fourth of 24 NHRA events. The path to career win number 73 for Schumacher included a semifinal triumph over Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR. The triumph also ended a winless streak of 15 events that dated back to his hometown victory last June in Chicago. And, for the second consecutive season, he enters the Four-Wide Nationals looking to make it back-to-back event wins. In each of the last two, Schumacher has come up just short of winning the event. Fellow DSR driver Spencer Massey has beaten Schumacher to the stripe both times. In 2012, it was by 0.0596 of a second, and last April, he edged out Schumacher by 0.060 of a second. Charlotte has been the setting for several memorable performances by the U.S. Army team, including Schumacher eclipsing Joe Amato’s record of 52 career Top Fuel event wins in September 2008 during the track’s first-ever NHRA event. And he’s made it clear that he’s well aware he has yet to conquer the Four-Wide Nationals.
Brown has been extremely consistent since his appearance at zMAX last fall. He won two of the final four events in 2013 and started the 2014 campaign strong by scoring a victory in the second event of the season near Phoenix, a runner-up finish in Gainesville, Fla., and advanced to the Las Vegas semis after earning his first top qualifier award of the season. The 2012 Top Fuel champion, who currently ranks second in the standings, has twice made the final foursome in the Four-Wide Nationals —2010 and 2012 — and has one career victory at zMAX Dragway in the 2011 O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You and the U.S. Army team head to Charlotte coming off your first victory of the season and first since the middle of last year. How important was that win for you and the team?
“We’ve definitely been struggling, to say the least, and not performing to the level we expect with this U.S. Army team. Winning was huge for all of us. It seemed like we hadn’t been able to get past the second round forever and it’s been rough on us all, but we just kept sticking to the plan. Mike (Green) had a plan and we stayed the course. Not too many other teams could’ve withstood that kind of pressure and continued fighting for ways to win despite not being in a final since Chicago. That’s a long time for the Army car to not have a chance at victory. We never lost sight of our goal and that’s to win championships. And, because of that, you can get through the tough times together. Winning Las Vegas was incredible because it came at time when we really needed it. I have a real strong feeling it’s going to make the rest of the season go well. We’re hoping to keep the momentum going and stack another win in Charlotte.”
Speaking of Charlotte, you have been close to getting that first Four-Wide victory the last two years. What’s it going to take to come out first this weekend?
“A lot of the same things it took in Las Vegas. Timing. Perseverance. Being able to get off the line early. These U.S. Army guys have the fresh taste of victory and I know I want to taste it again. The Four-Wide is a race that I haven’t won and there’s intense pressure just trying to win it. It’s the only time all season where you’ll have cars on each side of you and, when you do, you feel like the sky’s falling on you. It’s so loud and pretty intense. We’ve been extremely close the last two years and just barely got beat. We love racing there and having four cars going at once is a huge show for the fans. We still have to go out there and be at our best each time down the track. It’s a unique event, but there’s still only one Top Fuel team celebrating at the end of the day Sunday and we’re hoping to be that team.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The NHRA schedule consists of a number of events with rich tradition. Despite this being only the fifth annual Four-Wide Nationals, it's quickly becoming one of the season's most anticipated races. What thoughts come to your mind when you think about this weekend's event?
“We know we’re going to ‘the Bellagio of dragstrips.’ Four-Wide Nationals is like our battle-royal, NHRA’s version of an all-star race. You’re going to see some extremely good racing, with the heavyweights going toe-to-toe not just two at a time, but four racing at once. At the end of the day, if you can hoist that Wally, you know you did something special. That’s what we’re shooting for. We’ve made it to the final foursome but haven’t got the job done, yet. We’re hoping this time we’re the last ones standing and can check winning the Four-Wide off our must-do list.”
You were recently asked if you could race against three other drivers, both former and current, in the Four-Wide Nationals. You listed several of your heroes and then stated that you wished you could race all the former NHRA champions. It’s just a hypothetical question, but did that question make you put into perspective just how awesome it is to have four cars running all at the same time?
“The hardest part to answering the question was limiting it to just three other drivers to race at once. I started with ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits because he’s my hero. And then Kenny Bernstein and Joe Amato came to mind. And then it hit me that racing my crew chief Mark Oswald had to be part of it. And, before you know it, I was thinking, ‘Man, it would be so cool to race all the former champions and see really who the best of the best is.’ It’s such a fun weekend and the fans only get to see it happen once a year at zMAX. It’s a showcase event for our sport and a great platform for both Tony and I and our race teams to demonstrate the same attributes the Army looks for in its Soldiers — putting the mission first, a never-quit attitude, and a refusal to accept defeat.”
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