ENNIS, Texas – Having moved his family two months ago from his hometown of Chicago to the state capital and cultural mecca known as Austin, Texas, Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher has come to learn first-hand what people have always said about the Lone Star State – “Everything is bigger in Texas.”
Thus, the seven-time Top Fuel world champion and driver of the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) heads to his new home racetrack for the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis not at all surprised to be faced with a mission this weekend that became twice as big as it was just three days ago.
Bring it on, says Schumacher, who takes pride in the fact that every time he takes to the track, his U.S. Army Racing team 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.
This weekend’s Fall Nationals is round two of the six-event NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, but Schumacher and his fellow Top Fuel competitors hit town with some unfinished business to settle after last weekend’s playoff opener at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, North Carolina was postponed by NHRA officials after Sunday’s first round of eliminations because of rain. With the Charlotte quarterfinals, semifinals and final to be run concurrently with this Saturday’s Texas qualifying rounds, there are not one, but two chances to bring home an event title this weekend for the eight Top Fuel competitors who survived last Sunday’s first round of eliminations at Charlotte – Schumacher and the U.S. Army team, included.
Antron Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion and driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, was one of the eight drivers eliminated in the first round Sunday at Charlotte and will have his eyes focused firmly on scoring his third career event title at the Texas Motorplex. The winner of five of this season’s first 13 event titles en route to securing second place in the Top Fuel standings entering the Countdown last weekend fell in the first round for the second event in a row and dropped, for the time being, to fourth in the standings.
But Brown was in some pretty elite company at Charlotte as points leader Doug Kalitta and third-place Shawn Langdon, the defending Top Fuel champion, also were eliminated in the first round.
That threw the door wide open for Schumacher and the U.S. Army team, who started the Countdown fourth in the standings, for the chance to vault right into the points lead with at least a quarterfinal and semifinal round win Saturday. Schumacher is currently second in the standings, 33 points behind Kalitta, who was eliminated by Morgan Lucas at Charlotte. Schumacher disposed of Bob Vandergriff in the first round of eliminations Sunday, setting up a second-round meeting Saturday with part-time competitor Billy Torrence, who beat Pat Dakin in his first-round matchup at Charlotte.
Considering Schumacher has scored five of his record 74 career event titles at the Texas Motorplex and has made six final-round appearances in all, the outlook is a good one for the U.S. Army team this weekend to score a Texas-sized mother lode of points and the chance to bring home another pair of Wally trophies.
While Friday’s first- and second-round qualifying sessions for the Fall Nationals will be business as usual, Saturday’s third- and fourth-round qualifying runs will serve concurrently as elimination-round quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, for the eight Top Fuel competitors remaining from Charlotte. The winner of the Schumacher-Torrence quarterfinal will move to the semifinals against either J.R. Todd or Schumacher’s DSR teammate Spencer Massey, who eliminated Brown in the first round Sunday. Steve Torrence, Leah Pritchett, Khalid alBalooshi and Lucas are the other Top Fuel quarterfinalists from Charlotte. The Charlotte Top Fuel final will be an added race on the Saturday schedule at Texas at the end of the day’s regularly scheduled activity.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
It’s turned into a highly unusual weekend with the chance to take home not one, but two Wally trophies at the Texas Motorplex this weekend. With so much at stake, what are your thoughts as you head back to Ennis?
“It’s going to be fine. It is what it is. It was a good call to postpone the rest of the Charlotte program and move it to Texas this weekend. We had to do what we had to do. Listen, the Army is the Nation’s preeminent leadership experience, where the Nation’s future leaders are developed and empowered with the confidence to take decisive action when needed and the flexibility to excel in constantly evolving situations. And, talk about constantly evolving situations, this is an ultimate example. But we are ready to continue charging ahead. About the only thing I don’t particularly like about having to run qualifying rounds and elimination rounds concurrently is that, when I’m out there Saturday trying to win rounds for Charlotte, I’m also trying to score maximum qualifying points for Sunday at Texas. With as close and competitive our series is right now, each and every one of those possible three points, two points or one point for low ETs (elapsed time) during qualifying runs are going to be important. Hopefully, we’ll be able to go out on Saturday and win our races and get low ET for the sessions. Bottom line, we’re going to do what we need to do. I think we’re exactly in the spot we want to be, and I think everyone in the world would say the same thing – we have the car to watch out for. This U.S. Army team is a right-time, right-place team.”
You recently picked up stakes from your hometown roots of Chicago and moved your family to Austin, Texas. How do you and the family like it, so far?
“It’s absolutely great here. We love it. I’ve just had a smile on my face these last two months. It’s a fantastic place. You know, I’m about as far from being a Texas native as you can be, considering I was born and raised in Chicago. So I’ve just been trying to fit in around here. The people here are very, very kind. I love this town. Austin is fantastic. And, one of the best parts of all, I get to call the Texas Motorplex my new home track. Let’s see if we can light it up this weekend.”
What do you think of the facility, especially considering you’ve won five event titles and have made six final-round appearances there?
“It’s an all-concrete track. It allows the crew chiefs to really get after it early – the guys who want to make power. All that stuff, though, depends on the weather. If it’s cool out, we’ll go superfast. If it’s hot out, it doesn’t matter if you’re on duct tape, you’re going to spin the tires. Good crew chiefs and better teams are going to go fast there because the realm of possibilities dealing with the track surface and the conditions lends itself to going fast. I remember getting beat by J.R. Todd there after winning seven events in a row in 2008. And then we went out and won the next one at the end of that awesome 2008 season. But, at that race at Texas that year, it was one of those things where we had such an amazing thing going and we dropped our guard a little bit. We got outrun by a kid who was gunning for the Army car. He did a really great job to beat me, and it was one of those memories that’ll always stick with me. When you race against somebody like that, when you’re in that position, you’ve got to soldier on from the get-go, right from the beginning, and don’t drop your guard and don’t leave anything on the table.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
You head to Texas this weekend on the outside looking in with regard to the completion of last week’s Charlotte event there, but you will be off to a fresh start as far as trying to win round two of the Countdown. What is your outlook?
“We would have liked to get to Dallas and have two chances to win a Wally (trophy), but we’re just going to focus on what we need to do to get our Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster back to running the way we expect it to. We definitely can say we’re off to a better start in the Countdown than we were last year when we got to the Motorplex. We’re going to Dallas with five races left in the Countdown and we’ll be ready.”
Despite the first-round exit at Charlotte, you improved with each run during your five runs on the weekend. Was that particularly encouraging?
“We’ll look back at the whole weekend and see how we progressed. We got quicker with every run. We didn’t qualify where we wanted and we sure didn’t expect to lose in the first round. Our Matco Tools/U.S. Army team always strives to be better and we got better. We’re motivated and hungry right now – we’re starving right now. Trust me, it will be game-on when we get to Dallas.”
Your overall thoughts about the Texas Motorplex?
“Dallas is one of those tracks where it can be really good, or it can be really hot. But if it’s really hot, it’s all concrete, so it’s always a great track surface to race on. It’s one of the great race events on our tour. The fans are always welcoming us out there. Billy Meyer and his group out there always do a great job for us, so I’m always pumped up to go to Dallas. Two years ago, it was our turning point. We went out there and that’s where we really started our pull toward the championship when we stuck a big win. We got that win and it really gave us the edge going into St. Louis. And St. Louis, we went out there and it was our race, and the same thing at Reading (Pennsylvania). Dallas is a great track and we’re looking forward to going out there and having a great time like we did two years ago.”
- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.