|With another Independence Day fresh in their minds, the U.S. Army duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown lead a dynamic field of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors to the city of broad shoulders this weekend focused on the next round of fireworks in the 20th annual NHRA Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.
The U.S. Army tandem would like nothing more than to tally up the most win lights Sunday and continue the U.S. Army’s run of success in Chicago by making it six consecutive seasons carrying the U.S. Army colors into the winners circle.
If history has anything to do with future results, Schumacher and his nine-man U.S. Army team may have the inside track to hoisting the hardware late Sunday afternoon at one of drag racing’s most unique venues. The eight-time Top Fuel world champion became the track’s all-time winningest driver in the class when he drove the U.S. Army Dragster of Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) to his fifth win in Chicago and 80th of his illustrious career two summers ago. He also won in 2013 and, if the Chicago native can continue his every-other-year victory streak in his hometown, he’ll become the first Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to reach 800 round wins.
Schumacher spent more than 40 years of his life living in Chicago and following in the footsteps of his father, Hall of Famer Don Schumacher. The impact of his father’s stature in the sport became part of “The Sarge’s” DNA and growing up interacting with legends of drag racing set the foundation for later success in life. As a child, Schumacher embraced the sports heroes of the Windy City like Walter Payton and Michael Jordan and only dreamed of becoming a Chicago champion himself. He earned his first Top Fuel world title in 1999 and continued his climb the following season when he and DSR aligned with the U.S. Army to form one of the longest active partnerships in sports. It’s been a remarkable 17-plus seasons that has taken the Chicago kid all around the globe and carried the U.S. Army to record-breaking moments in the NHRA. This season, the U.S. Army team led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant crew chief Phil Shuler are aiming to add another chapter in the storied career of “The Sarge”.
Schumacher has already made history in 2017 by becoming the winningest Top Fuel driver in Gatornationals history back in March. He currently ranks fourth in the championship standings, has earned his position in the Traxxas Shootout and, with the second half of the season starting this weekend, the immediate goal is another Chicago triumph, which would provide a momentum push leading into the annual Western Swing, the U.S. Nationals and the six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Route 66 Raceway is often described by Brown as the ultimate battlefield. The three-time and reigning Top Fuel champion has been a gladiator in his own right over the last five seasons in Schumacher’s hometown. The driver of the Matco Tools/U.S.Army Dragster for DSR has earned Top Fuel wins in 2012, 2014 and again last July for his iconic car owner. Brown admits when he rolls under the grandstands and up to the starting line, there’s a little something extra going on. The 2017 campaign has been a consistent one through 12 events with Brown claiming a pair of wins and reaching the Top Fuel final in three other events. He trails points leader Steve Torrence by 81 markers and his second-place DSR teammate Leah Pritchett by 31, but Brown and his crew chief tandem of Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald continue to put in the time behind the scenes in order to shine brightest when it matters most.
The Chicago dominance for DSR isn’t limited to the U.S. Army tandem of Schumacher and Brown. While those two have owned Top Fuel the last five years, DSR has scored multiple wins at Route 66 each of the past four seasons starting with Matt Hagan scoring back-to-back Funny Car wins in 2013 and 2014 before Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman earned their first Chicago wins the last two years. In all,
DSR has earned multiple wins in a weekend 69 times and, this weekend, the team would like nothing more than to make it 70 at home for Mr. Schumacher.
|TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing|
Even though you live in Austin, Texas now, you still have extremely strong ties to Chicago. How exciting is it for you to go back home to a track where you’ve had an incredible amount of success during your career?
“There is nothing like going home. Austin is where I live now, but I spent 40-plus years in the Windy City and it’s always special. The facility at Route 66 is incredible. Scott Paddock and his staff do an excellent job. The fans get to see some remarkable runs both under the lights in qualifying and during the heat of the day. Chicago is the city of broad shoulders and toughness is ingrained in people there. They love winners. A few years ago we came to town following Blackhawks celebrations for winning the Stanley Cup. The Cubs made history last October, and it was cool to be at Wrigley last year and hang out with my buddy and neighbor Jake Arietta and to represent not only the U.S. Army, but also NHRA on that stage. We’re excited to come home and look forward to trying to get another win in Chicago. Winning at home is really special.”
You have reached the start of the second half of the NHRA schedule. Six events until the Countdown starting with this weekend’s Route 66 Nationals. What makes these next few events so important to the big picture?
“Again, the key over the course of the next five races is to have yourself as prepared as possible for Indy. You hear me say it all the time – ‘Over prepare and go with the flow.’ That’s how we are looking at it. Chicago is a huge opportunity. It’s important for a lot of reasons. We’ve been working on some things and we’re hoping it all comes together. Denver is race that’s unlike any other and Sonoma is one of my favorite races of the season. You finish the Western Swing in Seattle and then you close out at Brainerd. That’s all we’ve got before it’s go time and I’m looking forward to taking on the challenge we have ahead of us with this U.S. Army team surrounding me.”
|ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing|
You’ve called Route 66 a battlefield in the past and your success there is pretty remarkable. What brings out the best in you when you compete in Chicago?
“I absolutely love racing at Route 66. When you roll out from underneath the tower, the stands are so unique and it’s like you’re a gladiator going into the battle-royale. It’s just incredible. And then you factor in the family aspect. Don (Schumacher) is family to me. Tony is family to me. And Chicago is where they are from and you always want to come out and do well in your family’s hometown. It’s truly a unique place and we’ve had a lot of fun racing there over the years. We’re so excited to get back up there this weekend and go after it again.”
The run of 24 races during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season is marathon, but it has to be tough at times to stay focused on the end of the year. Where do you feel like you are halfway through your run toward another championship?
“We’re plugging away at it. Some of the finals haven’t gone our way but going rounds is important. The competition is just unbelievable right now. We’re halfway through the season and the top three (drivers) are separated by four rounds of racing. We can trade spots each weekend. And if you look at it, we have all kind of moved around from week to week. It’s that close and anything can happen. We’ve been through this before and know that we just have to focus and take it one lap at a time like we always do. We can’t think about points or wins or anything like that. We just have to focus on getting down the track each and every lap and the rest will happen as it does.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!