|Date: July 24, 2016
Event: 37th Annual Mile-High NHRA Nationals (Round 14 of 24)
Series: Top Fuel class of theNHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
Location: Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado
Winner: Tony Schumacher of Don Schumacher Racing
U.S. Army Racing Finish:
Tony Schumacher qualified ninth, beat Antron Brown in the final round.
Antron Brown qualified second, lost to Schumacher in the final round.
It’s been just over a year in the making, but the pendulum of victory finally swung in the favor of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) as they kicked off the annual NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Western Swing with a resounding march through Sunday’s elimination rounds of the 37th annual Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Raceway in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Colorado.
In the first all-U.S. Army final-round matchup since last October at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania, Schumacher’s title-clinching victory came against fellow DSR driver Antron Brown in the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, and he did it with a stellar run of 3.802 seconds at 324.28 mph in the absolute heat of the day.
It earned the eight-time Top Fuel world champion his 81st career event title and his third in nine career final rounds at Bandimere, as well as the last of seven earnable spots in the eight-driver, $100,000-to-win Traxxas Shootout at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.
“It feels amazing,” said Schumacher, who when all was said and done clocked two of the three fastest Top Fuel runs of the day. “I do 200 speeches a year to kids and I tell them that preparation is important, and it’s all about overcoming adversity and digging and digging and digging. And you get to the end of this Traxxas (Shootout) thing and sometimes you get so concerned about winning your way into the Shootout, but people were saying, ‘Don’t worry, there’s always the (fan) vote, the vote.’ My feeling is, I’m winning a race to get in or else I’m telling the people, ‘Do not vote for me.’ I’m serious. I can’t go through 200 speeches a year telling kids they have to earn everything, that you don’t get free trophies, and then ask people to vote for me even though I didn’t earn it just because I want a shot. I understand why they do that – it’s a great program – but the vote is set up for teams that don’t race every weekend to have a chance to get into the Traxxas Shootout, not the Army car that has the capability of winning on any given day. And I thank God that we figured it out and we worked at it because you start to lose a little faith when you make big changes to a car and you don’t see those win lights. It’s a very difficult thing. But, to win a championship, you don’t try to bring out a car equal to everybody else. You try to have very smart people design very smart cars that do things other people’s cars don’t do. And it’s what we are great at – the adaptability we talk about so much with the Army car and the Army team, being able to look at the situation and adapt to it, win races like this. We don’t have a race anywhere else on the circuit like it, and we can come here and pull off a victory – it’s just a fantastic day.”
The Sarge’s day began with a sign of things to come as, without lane choice against No. 8 qualifier Doug Kalitta, he laid down the best Top Fuel run of the day in 3.788 seconds at 321.19 mph. Kalitta just so happened to lay down the second-fastest run among the 16 Top Fuel qualifiers, an effort of 3.800 seconds at 320.74 mph. That earned the eight-time world-champion Schumacher a second-round meeting against No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence, who beat Schumacher in last year’s Mile High Nationals final and had been nothing short of spectacular once again in qualifying this weekend. But The Sarge got the better of Torrence in a pedalfest, beating him across the finish line in 4.083 seconds at 275.73 mph to Torrence’s 4.381 seconds at 194.49 mph.
“That caught me off-guard,” Schumacher said. “We smoked the tires after having set what turned out to be low ET of the day. When that win light came on, I was probably as excited as I was in the final round.”
In his semifinal matchup with No. 5 qualifier Clay Millican, Schumacher once again didn’t have lane choice but was able to cross the finish line inches ahead of his opponent in a close battle. Schumacher’s 3.839 seconds at 319.90 mph bested Millican’s 3.841 seconds at 317.49 mph gave him the victory by .0093 of a second.
Brown, the No. 2 qualifier thanks to a clutch final-round run Saturday night that vaulted him from the No. 9 spot, opened with a methodical victory over No. 15 qualifier Rob Passey in 3.870 seconds at 308.28 mph. The two-time and defending Top Fuel champion ousted DSR teammate Shawn Langdon in the second round on a baby holeshot in 3.840 seconds at 317.05 mph to Langdon’s 3.831 seconds at 316.90 mph. Brown had a .060-of-a-second reaction time to Langdon’s .076 of a second.
Brown met J.R. Todd in the semifinal round and beat the Kalitta Motorsports driver for the fifth time this season without a loss and for the 15th time in 16 meetings all-time with a run of 3.826 seconds at 307.86 mph. Todd lost a cylinder as he approached the finish line, which he crossed in 3.915 seconds at 274.05 mph.
“All in all, it was a great weekend for our Matco Tools/U.S. Army team,” said Brown, who thanks to Schumacher’s first-round win over Kalitta was able to open his lead atop the Top Fuel standings from two points to 57 by day’s end. “We went out there and made it to the final. The main thing is, this weekend we got some great points on Kalitta, who is in second, and extended our points lead a little bit and have a little bit of a cushion. We are looking forward to Sonoma. Hats off to the Army team – they ran great all day long. We were going up there to give it all we had. The track definitely got a little bit hotter and we just didn’t get down it. We’re just going to go to the next race and we’re ready to get it on. The mountain tried to kick our butt a little bit in qualifying but Mark (Oswald), Brian (Corradi, co-crew chiefs) and this whole Matco/U.S. Army crew did what they always do and that’s figure it out, and we always put our best foot forward to race competitively on race day. I couldn’t be more proud to be on this team and doing what we are doing.”
After 14 rounds of the 24-event NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for 2016, the top-10 drivers the Top Fuel standings are:
1. Antron Brown (1,145 points)
2. Doug Kalitta (1,088 points, -57)
3. Steve Torrence (982 points, -163)
4. Brittany Force (953 points, -192)
5. Tony Schumacher (916 points, -229)
6. Shawn Langdon (800 points, -345)
7. J.R. Todd (799 points, -346)
8. Clay Millican (681 points, -464)
9. Richie Crampton (660 points, -485)
10. Leah Pritchett (552 points, -555)
The second leg of the three-event Western Swing is next weekend’s 29th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. Sunday’s elimination rounds will once again be carried live by the FOX broadcast network beginning at 4 p.m. EDT.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!