JOLIET, Ill. – Reaching the pinnacle in any form of competition is tough, and staying on top sometimes is even tougher. Both U.S. Army drag racing drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown have climbed the mountain and hoisted the championship hardware in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel division, and both are looking to position themselves for another title run this weekend as the 24-event campaign reaches its halfway point.
The 17th annual O’Reilly Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Joliet, Illinois is the next opportunity for both drivers and their Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teams to demonstrate the same attributes the U.S. Army looks for in its Soldiers – putting the mission first, a never-quit attitude and a refusal to accept defeat.
Schumacher returns to his home track not only as the event’s defending champion, but also the most recent Top Fuel winner. The seven-time Top Fuel champion and Chicago native raced the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR to his 74th career Top Fuel event title Sunday at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. “The Sarge” and his nine-man U.S. Army team are hoping his second victory of 2014 and a solid outcome this weekend will launch them further upward the standings during the final seven events before NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship begins in mid-September. Schumacher earned six consecutive Top Fuel titles from 2004 through 2009 and came agonizingly close to an eighth crown in 2012 when Brown edged him at the season finale to earn his first Top Fuel title.
Brown leads the U.S. Army Top Fuel contingent to Route 66 Raceway, which is recognized by most as one of the best facilities on the tour, with a series-best three victories in the first 11 events. His triumphs in Phoenix, Charlotte, North Carolina and Houston aboard the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR indicate he and his team are more than capable of another championship run. His 2012 title run got a jumpstart at Route 66 Raceway two years ago this weekend when he dominated the event en route to his first Top Fuel triumph at the facility. He was a two-time winner at the track in Pro Stock Motorcycle with his wins coming in 2000 and 2001. Last year, Brown qualified 11th and advanced to the semifinals, where he was narrowly defeated by Schumacher. Brown was defeated by Schumacher in the second round Sunday at New Hampshire and heads to Chicago second in the standings with 844 points, 157 behind Doug Kalitta.
The hometown victory for Schumacher last June tied him with Kenny Bernstein for most Top Fuel victories at the track with four. It was the sixth time he reached the Top Fuel final at the track and was the 125th final appearance of his career. Following his win last week, Schumacher enters the weekend fifth in the standings, trailing Kalitta by 331 markers.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You are returning home to Route 66 Raceway as the defending race winner and most recent winner after last Sunday’s triumph in New Hampshire. Could you have asked for a better lead-up to the event?
“Well, we could’ve just won our 10th race of the season. That might have been a little better lead-in but, honestly, no, we’re happy with where we are. This weekend is going to be a great race. We’re coming off a great win. We’ve got a great racecar and the timing is perfect. It’s always a huge race for us. We have so many people from friends and family members to school teachers and neighbors who come out to support us. I can’t wait to get there. We’re gaining momentum at the right time. We just started summer when the weather gets hot and I’ve said all along that, if we go past the second round, we’re hard to beat. This sport is cyclical. You have good times and bad times and you have to get through the ups and downs. And right now, we’re at the perfect time of the season to be getting good.”
There have been seven different winners in Top Fuel in 2014, but only you and your DSR teammates (Antron Brown and Spencer Massey) have won more than once. Is that an indication of the strength of the DSR organization?
“I’d say it tells you how hard everyone at DSR works, because winning races in this class is extremely tough. I know we have three great drivers, three great teams led by extremely talented crew chiefs, and we have partnerships with great sponsors. Our relationship with the U.S. Army has enabled us all to be inspired by the mental, emotional and physical strength our Soldiers display. We really can’t ask for anything more. We’re in the right place. That being said, we’re all chasing Doug Kalitta, who is way out in front of us in the championship standings, and his team car with J.R. Todd is no slouch. If we want to be the champs, we’re going to have to put a stop to their run. Kalitta has been in eight finals this year and that’s what enabled him to build such a big lead. If we want to catch him, we have to get him knocked out early and keep going rounds ourselves.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Last weekend was your second race with the current Matco Tools/U.S. Army chassis. You established a track record in qualifying before going out in the second round. Are you happy with the car heading into this weekend’s event in Chicago?
“We’re certainly excited about going back to Chicago. It’s a tremendous facility. We’re going to have four great sessions of night qualifying. I feel like we’ve got a great car to go there and be right up there with the best of them. You never like losing, but you’re not going to beat a .006 reaction time. Tony and that U.S. Army team are going strong right now. Actually, both of our DSR teammates are a couple of the toughest competitors in the class right now. We’re all getting better each week and I know we’re excited to get back to Chicago and see what we can do.”
Two years ago, you dominated the weekend at Route 66 Raceway and it seemed to be the starting point in your big push toward the 2012 title. Do you feel like having another dominant weekend in Chicago could lead to a second championship?
“Winning always gives you hope. That weekend two years ago helped us tremendously. We went on the ‘Western Swing’ and really picked up some momentum and that carried us into the Countdown. It was my first win at Route 66 in the Nitro car and it was important. Our goal for the weekend is to put ourselves in a position to be in the hunt for a win again. Last year, we didn’t qualify well (11th), but (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) found something on Sunday and we had a really good car. Tony just got us in the semis. We’re hoping to get another shot at it this weekend and, yes, if we can get another Wally, that would be our fourth of season and certainly gives us all a lot of confidence about our chances to win another championship.”
- Jonathan Paluga
Director of Marketing & Sales
Armor All & STP Brands