U.S. Army Racing: NHRA Kansas Nationals Preview

May 22, 2014

U.S. Army Top Fuel Duo Eyes Return to Memorial Day Weekend Racing at Kansas Nationals

TOPEKA, Kansas – As the nation honors those men and women who have paid the ultimate price while defending our freedom this Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown are proud and honored to take to the racetrack once again in representing the more than 1 million Soldiers who protect our freedom and our way of life every day.

It’s been eight years since the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has competed Memorial Day weekend. But the opportunity has returned this season by way of the 26th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals Friday through Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka. It marks the NHRA’s return to the racing calendar alongside such iconic events as the IndyCar Series’ Indianapolis 500, NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 and Formula 1’s Grand Prix of Monaco for the first time since it ended a six-year run of Memorial Day weekend events at Heartland Park in 2006.

Schumacher and Brown would like nothing better than to add to the four event titles they’ve won between them through the season’s first seven stops on the tour this Memorial Day weekend in the Heartland of America.

A year ago, Schumacher, the seven-time Top Fuel world champion and driver of the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), blazed his way to the final round of eliminations before falling just short of his second career Heartland Park title against rival Shawn Langdon. He scored the 2010 Top Fuel title at Heartland Park against Cory McLenathan to add to the top qualifying spot he earned at the track the following year.

Aside from his lone event title this season at Las Vegas, it’s been a challenging campaign thus far for Schumacher, who slipped to seventh in the standings after bowing out in the second round at Atlanta Dragway last weekend. But he and the U.S. Army team appear to be turning things around once and for all as they prepare to mount the kind of championship run their fans have grown accustomed to seeing year after year.

Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel champion and driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, is a three-time event winner so far in 2014 but is still seeking his first at Heartland Park to go with top qualifying efforts in 2009, 2010 and 2012. His streak of consecutive event titles was halted at Atlanta when DSR teammate Spencer Massey clipped him in the semifinals. Still, Brown, who’s currently second in the Top Fuel standings, has won five times in the last 11 events dating back to last September and, through seven events this season, has posted an incredible average qualifying position of 2.86. He’s looking to break through at Heartland Park this weekend, where he has yet to advance past the semifinal round of eliminations, including last season when he made an uncharacteristic first-round exit at the hands of Leah Pruett.

Now that these Kansas Nationals have the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competing on Memorial Day weekend once again, both Schumacher and Brown hope the spirit of the occasion is what helps push their respective teams over the top. After all, they know only the strongest wear the colors the colors of the U.S. Army, and the Army NHRA partnership provides Americans a platform to experience the speed, power, teamwork and technology that drives that strength.

TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:

You had a solid run to the final round at Topeka last season and nearly pulled off your second event title there since 2010. How do you feel about heading back there this weekend, particularly now that the event is back on Memorial Day weekend?

“It’s an incredible feeling to be representing the U.S. Army every single day of the year, there is absolutely no doubt about that. But with the Kansas Nationals being moved back to Memorial Day weekend, that makes it all the more special to be wearing the Army colors. I think it would be entirely fitting for us to be hoisting the Wally wearing those colors on Memorial Day weekend. We had a solid weekend at Topeka last year and came close to winning our third race of the year. I’m really looking forward, as always, to hitting the track. Topeka is a really fun place to race. It’s the Heartland of America. There are great people there, great race fans, and they always get a good crowd. I enjoy being there. I’d not run well there early in my career, but we have a win and a top qualifying effort the last few years and I feel we’re poised to turn this campaign around this year. I really like our chances.”

The U.S. Army team has been looking better and better each event during these last several events, even though the final results may not show that. Do you feel it’s ready to mount a solid run for the championship?

“Believe it or not, I think our car and our team are really, really solid and we’re definitely headed in the right direction. We may not be doing it in leaps and bounds, but we have been taking baby steps and feel like we’re right where we need to be right now. We’ve had a few stupid things happen, like broken pistons and broken spark plugs, that have frustrated us here and there. But the U.S. Army car is really where we’ve been hoping and praying it would be for quite a long time. We’re getting down the track time and again, and we’re starting to force the people we’re racing into making mistakes, instead of the other way around. The way things have gone for us for the last year, there have been times I would have loved to race us, if you know what I mean. Now, finally, I feel like the shoe’s on the other foot. And, as you get stronger and stronger, like we are right now, that’s when the breaks start going your way. We’re getting more comfortable with our tuneups. Man, when it finally gets there, it’s going to be really good.”

ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:  

What are your thoughts about racing on Memorial Day weekend at Topeka for the first time in a long time?

“Memorial Day is very special to me, and this will be a great time to salute our troops and everyone who has served to protect our country. I was proud to carry the colors of the U.S. Army for many years in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and I’m still involved with the Army through its education program. I love going to Topeka, but I want to see if it looks any greener from the winner’s circle. I’ve won three poles there but have never gotten to the final round. It’s been different things that have come up to bite us, and this could be the year we get four win lights. So far this year, everything’s been good for our Matco Tools/U.S. Army team, and this could be our year in Topeka.”

You’ve been so good at most every other track on the tour. What is will it take to finally break through at Topeka?

“It’s going to take some solid laps and that starts off in qualifying and getting a good qualifying spot. We’re going to take it one run at a time. That track can be tricky. It can be really good, then it can get slimy and slippery. It’s always been tricky, but we’re going to work hard to tame it and race smart. We’ve always wanted to win at Heartland Park. I think the problem is we’ve always wanted to win there so badly. But we are going to go in there this year and try a little different method. We’re going to take it one round at a time like we have at every race this year and, hopefully, some of the chips will fall our way. Hopefully, we can sneak out of there with a little gold man from Topeka and, a day later, tell him, ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore, Wally.’”

 

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