There is something special about going to Florida in March. For the U.S. Army tandem of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, it’s an opportunity to become part of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history by capturing the first marquee event on this year’s 24-race schedule. After watching their Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Leah Pritchett score the first two Top Fuel events of the campaign, both drivers are prepared to put a stop to her winning streak at this weekend’s 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.
Schumacher, the eight-time world champion and winningest driver in Top Fuel history with 82 national event titles, learned early in life about the history of NHRA. He heard the tales and stories of drag racing lore from legends like “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney when they passed through Chicago and visited his father’s raceshop. The Gatornationals were always mentioned in the same breath as Indy and “The Sarge” never forgot that. Each season, he looks forward to March and his annual trip to Florida seeking another historic triumph. With Gatornationals wins in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010, Schumacher is already a central figure in the event’s history. He is tied for most wins in the Top Fuel class with NHRA iconic drivers Joe Amato, Larry Dixon and Garlits, but a victory this weekend would eclipse those legends and make Gainesville Raceway the 10th track on the current NHRA schedule where he is the all-time winningest driver.
He enters the event second in the championship standings following a pair of semifinal appearances in the season opener at Pomona and three weeks ago in Phoenix. Schumacher and his nine-man crew led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Phil Shuler have been machine-like with the U.S. Army Dragster of DSR making extremely consistent runs throughout the first two stops on tour. He qualified fifth at Pomona and followed that with three strong passes on elimination day. In Phoenix, he qualified third and won two more rounds before losing in the semifinals. Those results, along with the fact that in four of the previous seven Gatornationals Schumacher has reached the final, have the now-Austin, Texas resident confident in the chances for his U.S. Army team this weekend.
Traveling to Florida is always something that makes three-time and reigning Top Fuel world champion Brown smile. The driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR grew up in New Jersey and competing in the Gatornationals is a reminder of what inspired him to dream of a career in NHRA drag racing. It was his interaction as a youngster with Garlits, a Gainesville native, that planted a seed of what became his calling. Gainesville was also the site of the first national event Brown entered back in 1998, when he raced Pro Stock Motorcycles. He earned his first professional pole at the facility in 2001. He raced his way to the Top Fuel final in 2010 and became a Top Fuel Gatornationals winner in March 2013.
Last year’s winningest driver in Top Fuel would love to score his first win of the season in Gainesville this weekend and join eight drivers that have scored multiple Gatornationals victories.
FS1 will provide coverage of the Gatornationals, including qualifying shows Saturday morning at 12 a.m. EDT, Saturday evening at 11 p.m., and live coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds from 1 to 4 p.m.
|TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Moments after coming up short in your semifinal race at Phoenix, the focus immediately turned to Gainesville. What makes the Gatornationals special?
“I started talking about it right away, because we come out here and race to win. We want to win the next race and that happens to be the Gatornationals. The U.S. Army team has been extremely successful in Gainesville over the years and we are going there with an outstanding U.S. Army car. It’s a great event. It’s got so much history. It has been a big one in NHRA for a long time and it’s continues to be one of our marquee events every year. The track is incredible. And the timing of the event gets people to come out from everywhere to be there because of the history of the event. It’s like Indy. If you look at the list of winners, it’s a really good list and you want to be on in. We’re fortunate to be on that list already and excited to have the chance to move up on it.”
You have had an illustrious career and your name is all over the NHRA record book. If you can win this weekend, you will become the all-time winningest Top Fuel driver in the Gatornationals. Are those types of records and standards the driving force behind you continuing to compete at the highest level?
“I love the challenge. Going out and trying to be my best in that car is all I’ve ever known. When I wake up, I’m thinking about it. It makes me smile. I put on my battle horns and go after it. I say it’s a constant contest and those contests continue preparing you. Preparation is the key. Over prepare and go with the flow. I try to follow that motto, because when you do the battle is fun. Whether you win or lose, you know you brought everything to the game. The runs down the track are three and a half seconds, but the preparation for those runs are intense. That’s what drives me. I love being that intense. I love being surrounded by people capable of the moment and motivated to continue getting better. That’s what matters to me right now. There will be a day to look back at the record book and memorable races, but today it’s all about the preparation to be the best right now for that next run down the track.”
|ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
|With the first two races of the season in California and Arizona, what does coming to Florida mean for you and your Matco Tools/U.S. Army team?
“To me it’s a really big deal, because I’m an east coast guy and this is our first race on this side of the country. But it’s so much more than that. Gainesville has always been a great race as far as the history of NHRA goes. It’s a race that everybody is out there trying to win because it’s one of the monumental races in drag racing. You want to win them all, but when you can win the Gatornationals, you know you’ve done something special. All the cars come out of the woodwork and each class will have full fields. I’ve been fortunate to win the Gatornationals once. And I can tell you that when you win that race, it’s like winning the U.S. Nationals.”Through two races to start the season you have been qualifying well, but haven’t had theSunday success that you are looking for. Is that something you and your team have been focusing on the past couple of weeks in the shop?“It’s been something we have all been trying to figure out. I know Brian (Corradi), Mark (Oswald) and the entire Matco Tools/U.S. Army team spent the time between Phoenix and this weekend going over everything. We have been able to get some things figured out in qualifying, but coming out with win lights on Sunday is most important. We’ve got an incredible group here that continues to work. We’ve kept our heads down and focused on what we can do to come out on the better end of things this weekend. We aren’t too far off, but this class is so tight right now that you have to be at your best every pass. It’s been a good couple of weeks and I’m excited to see what we can do in the Gatornationals.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!