SONOMA, California – Every championship season is filled with moments that can be identified as turning points. The U.S. Army drag racing tandem of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown are 14 events into the rigorous 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series campaign, and both have positioned themselves to experience greatness by demonstrating the same attributes the Army looks for in its Soldiers – putting the mission first, a never-quit attitude and a refusal to accept defeat.
The decorated Top Fuel drivers and their nine-man teams will look to continue their pursuit in the second race of the three-week NHRA Western Swing at this weekend’s 27th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. Both Schumacher and Brown have been extremely successful in Sonoma over the last eight seasons by utilizing a level of engineering and teamwork reflective of the Army’s leading-edge technology and the powerful, realistic training of its Army Strong Soldiers. They are eyeing a momentum-building venture to California with only four events remaining before the championship points are reset for the top-10 drivers in the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoff.
Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), continues to build momentum and climb his way higher in the championship standings. The seven-time Top Fuel champion has a pair of event wins in 2014 and is coming off a record-setting performance in qualifications in Denver last weekend. It was his first No. 1 qualifying effort of the season and the 73rd of his illustrious career.
“The Sarge” has advanced the Army colors to the final round frequently at Sonoma, winning back-to-back events in 2007 and 2008 and racing to the final in 2006, 2010 and 2011. Last year, he qualified 12th and was defeated in the first round by his DSR teammate Spencer Massey.
Brown enters the weekend as the only five-time winner in Top Fuel competition this season. Based on past results at Sonoma, the 2012 Top Fuel champion may be celebrating victory number six behind the wheel of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR. He scored Top Fuel triumphs at Sonoma in 2009, 2011 and 2012. In his most recent wins, he scored final-round victories over each of his fellow DSR Top Fuel drivers – Schumacher in 2011 and Massey in 2012.
Last July, Brown qualified seventh and advanced to the semifinals before being knocked out by eventual winner Shawn Langdon. Brown enters the weekend 25 points out of first place following his second-round appearance in Denver. His team is led by co-crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald and they are poised to resume their success in Sonoma this weekend.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
There is nothing easy about this sport. After a record-setting performance in qualifying at Denver, you weren’t able to advance past the first round. How tough is that on you and your team?
“We’ve been doing this a long time and you have to keep looking at the big picture. The U.S. Army team led by (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) continue to get us closer and closer to where we need to be. Being able to have a car like the U.S. Army machine, where they can fine-tune it at place like Denver and set a track record, is a really good thing. Getting beat in the first round isn’t. We know every time we hit the staging lanes that the other car is going to give us their best shot. That’s what those Army colors do to the competition. The good news is we’re still making progress each week and our goal continues to be running our best in those final six events. Sonoma’s been a good place for us in the past. It’s been a little while since we’ve won there, but if we can put four good runs together in qualifying and be ready for Sunday, I think we’ll have a great shot.”
People in the sport talk about sweeping the Western Swing. You accomplished that in 2008 and your teammate Antron Brown did it in 2009. With the level of competition there is in this class, do you see that happening again in the future?
“I don’t want to take anything away from J.R. Todd (last weekend’s event winner at Denver), but it’s a tough deal. He’s got a great car there and his teammate (Doug Kalitta) has made it to all kinds of finals this year. Everyone is so close and things have to go your way all weekend to win one, let alone sweep all three. Back when we were able to do it, the Army car was so strong and now, with the expansion of DSR and other multiple-car teams, it’s just hard to have a car that is so far superior. I hope I can come out and win this weekend and the talk about sweeping the swing can be done until next year.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
With the success you’ve had in the past at Sonoma, and the success you’ve had so far in 2014, this has to a weekend you are looking forward to?
“It’s absolutely a weekend we are looking forward to. You do your best on the mountain (Denver) and get back to sea level (Sonoma) and let your guys throw everything they can at it. We’ve had a tremendous year and have really closed the gap on the championship lead. We want that top spot heading into the Countdown and we know by continuing to work hard it’s there for the taking. I know (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) are hungry to taste victory again. Winning two of the last three gives you a great deal of confidence, but we’ve seen that anything can happen on Sunday.”
You mentioned closing in on the lead in the point standings. In 2012, you really gained a lot of steam during the Western Swing to position yourself for a run at that first title. Would duplicating the results from two years ago in Sonoma provide the same momentum?
“I really think it would. Winning helps in so many ways. Everyone at DSR puts so much into this just so we can have a chance to compete for championships. In 2012, we won here and kept on charging. It was big for us to cut into Doug’s (Kalitta) lead and, with a good weekend, we may find ourselves leading heading to Seattle. We can’t get too far ahead of things and just have to focus on Friday first. Make some good runs and earn a good spot on the ladder for Sunday. There are a lot of runs left to be made this year and, hopefully, we’ll make quite a few this weekend and keep pressing on.”
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