EPPING, New Hampshire – A year ago this weekend, the inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire gave the U.S. Army Top Fuel driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown a rare opportunity to make a first impression in front of a whole new legion of fans that had never hosted an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event in their historic part of the country.
Schumacher and Brown agree that their respective teams and the series, as a whole, certainly delivered the level of engineering and teamwork that is reflective of the Army’s leading-edge technology and the powerful, realistic training of its Soldiers.
The final result for their respective Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teams during the inaugural weekend in Epping, Schumacher and Brown agree, certainly fell short of their extremely high standards by way of second- and first-round exits, respectively, in Sunday’s elimination rounds.
Absolutely not the first impressions they had hoped to make in terms of individual performance. This weekend, the U.S. Army duo returns for the second annual Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals highly motivated to make a lasting impression in front of the New England fans, who turned out in record numbers a year ago and welcomed their NHRA guests with incredible enthusiasm.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR qualified fourth last year at Epping and disposed of Brittany Force in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations. The seven-time Top Fuel world champion with 73 career event titles then was clipped by DSR teammate Spencer Massey in a hard-fought, side-by-side battle all the way down the 1,000-foot straightaway. Massey won by just 28 thousandths of a second and went on to beat Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon en route to the inaugural New England event title.
Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR, meanwhile, qualified 10th and smoked the tires at half-track while dropping an opening-round matchup against Bob Vandergriff in last year’s New England inaugural. Still, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion rallied the second half of the season and through the Countdown to the Championship and nearly pulled of his second consecutive Top Fuel title.
On a historic note, this weekend’s return to New England Dragway brings Schumacher and Brown back to within a stone’s throw of where it all began for the U.S. Army back in 1775. Just an hour south lies Boston, which is one of the sites where the first Continental Army was assembled for the purpose of protecting our Nation from impending invasion by the British. It’s a fitting place to race after last weekend’s 239th birthday celebration for the U.S. Army at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.
If all remains true to form this weekend, Schumacher, Brown and their respective teams will be hard at work and heavily motivated to prove U.S. Army Racing demonstrates the same attributes the Army looks for in its Soldiers – putting the mission first, a never-quit attitude and a refusal to accept defeat.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Your overall thoughts as you and the U.S. Army team head back to New England Dragway after last year’s inaugural event?
“A year ago, the U.S. Army Racing team showed a brand new part of this great Nation of ours – as far as NHRA Drag Racing is concerned – that we are tremendously honored and take great pride in representing the more than 1 million Soldiers who protect our freedom and our way of life. We brought the U.S. Army team, which represents the strength of our Nation, and whose Soldiers are the strength of our Army, to a whole new audience, live and in-person. We proudly put on display our Army-NHRA partnership, which provides Americans a platform to experience the power, speed, teamwork and technology that drives that strength. Now, unfortunately we went down early when all was said and done during Sunday eliminations. But we learned an awful lot that will hopefully put us ahead of the game when we go back there this weekend.”
What do you remember most about your inaugural visit to New England Dragway last year?
“Well, what it all came down to was that our teammate (Spencer Massey) just had a better car. Other than our qualifying run, they had a better car. There was no doubt it was going to be a tough race in the second round, so it was what it was. They were running really well at the time, running strong. We probably gave the fans the best race of the weekend to that point. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean squat when you come out on the losing end of it. Oh my goodness, the fans were fantastic there last year. That track’s great. It was almost 100 degrees out and we ran an 84 (3.84 seconds), an 86 and an 83. The people seemed to really want to come out and support the event. I’m thankful we have the opportunity to go back and keep giving them what they want. And that track will just keep getting better. We’ll hope to make the absolute most of it this weekend.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
The Matco Tools/U.S. Army team debuted an all-new racecar at Bristol last weekend and it appeared to be one of the cars to beat straight off the transporter. How would you assess this latest Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster?
“The car was moving in the right direction and doing exactly what we wanted it to. It’s just the luck of the draw, sometimes, when it comes to the final result. The guys back at the DSR fab shop always build us the best Dragsters. Our machine shop takes good care of us, too. And our Matco Tools/U.S. Army crew puts all the pieces together. It was a good race (with Doug Kalitta in the Bristol semifinals) and a tough one to lose, but we left there definitely continuing to push forward. We gained a lot through the course of the weekend. We really wanted to win for our Matco distributors and the U.S. Army, which celebrated its 239th birthday. It was a shame we couldn’t deliver the ultimate result, but I can proudly say we represented well with an extremely solid racecar.”
Last year’s inaugural weekend for the NHRA’s top competitors at New England Dragway turned out to be quite tricky for a majority of the field. What are your thoughts as you look back on last year, and come back with high hopes this weekend?
“We’ve worked hard since we left there last year on what the right approach for this weekend will be. When you get down to it, there was no particular issue that plagued just us. It plagued 70 percent of the field – 70 percent of the field spun the tires in the same spot. The way the track was last year, you just had to be after it early and have it parked in the middle so it could skate through. I thought the track was better to run fast and it wasn’t better. It was actually worse in the middle, and that’s what got us. It got Tony (Schumacher) that way. It got (Steve) Torrence and (Clay) Millican the same way. It got a whole bunch of people the same way. It even got Khalid alBalooshi the same way. We’ll go back there with a fresh approach and we’re going to have our guns blazing, like we said after Bristol last weekend. Our heads are held high and, fortunately, we will not have had long to wait.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine