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NHRA Top Fuel - U.S. Army Top Fuel Drivers Focused On Playoff Positioning At Lucas Oil Nationals

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BRAINERD, Aug. 16, 2012: With just two events remaining before the 2012 Countdown to the Championship begins, the mission couldn’t be more clear for U.S. Army NHRA Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown. That is to continue exercising maximum focus and determination like the 1 million Army Strong Soldiers they represent across the globe, refuse to accept defeat, and ultimately place themselves in prime position for the start of drag racing’s playoffs and the fight to win a Full Throttle World Championship.

Both U.S. Army drivers are among the four who already have clinched berths in this year’s 10-driver, six-race Countdown by virtue of their already stellar performances over the first 15 events this season. Brown, behind his four victories, including three of the last five events, sits in second place in the standings, five points behind his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Spencer Massey, the series leader. Schumacher, the seven-time NHRA Top Fuel champion who has one win and four runner-up finishes so far this season, currently holds down the third spot in the standings, 127 points out of the lead but just one point ahead of fourth-place Steve Torrence.

Thus, this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) Raceway will go a long way toward setting the stage for the always-dramatic final regular-season event Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis. After all, championship points are reset for the 10 championship contenders when the Countdown begins Sept. 14-16 in Charlotte, N.C. Each of the 10 contenders will be separated by 10 points, with the exception of the leader at the start of the Countdown, who will have a 30-point edge over second place.

If last year’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals was any indication, both Schumacher and Brown will be fighting it out until the bitter end. They advanced all the way to the Top Fuel final at Brainerd in 2011 with Brown coming out on top. It was his first career Top Fuel win at the Minnesota drag strip to go with his victories there in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 2000, 2003 and 2006.

Schumacher, as could be expected from a seven-time series champion, is no stranger to victory lane at Brainerd, either. He is a three-time winner at the facility, having beaten Doug Kalitta in the 2000 final, David Grubnic in the 2004 final, and Corey McClenethan in the 2008 final. Schumacher also advanced to the final in 2003, where Kalitta scored the victory.

Oh, and, lest anyone forget, Schumacher’s top speed of 337.58 mph set in second-round qualifying for the 2005 Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd is still the fastest quarter-mile run in drag racing history.

With that coveted first-place position in the standings entirely within reach for Brown at the final two regular-season events, it’s a bit of a stretch but nonetheless still a mathematical possibility for Schumacher. One thing for certain as they focus on the mission at hand this weekend at Brainerd, however, is both U.S. Army drivers will be giving it their all for the Army Strong Soldiers whose logo they proudly display on their uniforms and on their Top Fuel dragsters.

TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster:

You’re down to the final two races before the Countdown. What is your outlook as the U.S. Army Top Fuel team heads to Brainerd this weekend?

“We’ve had a weekend off to get ourselves ready for this closing stretch before the Countdown and I’m excited to get back to it. We’re headed to Brainerd after coming from Seattle, which is another tree-filled place that makes for a lot of oxygen, which means the potential for generating a lot of power. It’s a little tough to know exactly what we can expect this weekend because it really depends on the weather conditions, and they tend to vary a great deal up there at Brainerd. We’ve run there a lot and we’ve done well there, so we have great data. I’m really looking forward to going there and racing and representing the U.S. Army. We’re focused and determined because we know everybody’s going to be on their A-game because it’s the race before Indy. Everyone wants to do everything they can to be ready for the last regular-season event.”

Your U.S. Army teammate Antron Brown beat you in last year’s final round at Brainerd. Is it particularly difficult to get beat by a teammate, is it good for you and the team, or something in-between?

“I owe them so much because, if had not been for my teammates, I hadn’t been champion all those years. We have a stable of great people led by aggressive crew chiefs who do amazing things. We just have a phenomenal team. Our U.S. Army team is in third right now but we’d really like to go to Charlotte (for the first race of the Countdown) in first. But with just two races to go in the regular season, we’re far enough out where we might need some miracles to make it happen. The reality is we need to stay in third, to hold onto third. At the end of the day, when the championship is settled, we need to get there and kick some butt. The U.S. Army dragster is still the baddest hot rod in the world in my book.”

What are your thoughts about racing at Brainerd, in general?

“I love it at Brainerd for many reasons. We’ve done well there, we’ve set records there. Part of it is, when you get there, it reminds you of what it was like when you just started out racing. It’s in the woods. I grew up in Chicago at Great Lakes Dragway, where there are cornfields. Brainerd is like a drag race in the middle of vacation. It’s beautiful. You can go walleye fishing. Back when we had more time, we’d take our fly rods, go fishing and have a great time. But lately, we don’t have that kind of time with the kids growing up. Another thing about Brainerd is, the fans are absolutely phenomenal. Most of them don’t even get hotel rooms. They just camp out and have a great time all weekend in the infield. It really makes us really appreciate what we do for a living when you see the enjoyment they get out of being out there with us.”

ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster:

You’ve won three of the last five events heading to Brainerd. Talk about that momentum and what it might mean for your Matco/U.S. Army team this weekend.

“I definitely feel really confident going to Brainerd. It’s always been a great racetrack for the Matco/U.S. Army team. It’s always a fun event and it serves as a great tune-up for the U.S. Nationals and the Countdown. We’re in a tight points race and it would be crucial for us to go into the Countdown No. 1. If you do that, you’re in great shape. At the very least, we want to start the Countdown in the top-three, and that’s where we are right now. We’re going to Brainerd with a lot of momentum. But you still have to go there focused and not at all relying on what you’ve done in the past. One big thing about drag racing is you can be a hero one race and a zero the next race. We have to go in feeling poised and feeling hungry because drag racing is so humbling. We need to go in there and focus on qualifying. It’s all about points right now. We need to get as many bonus points as we can. Then, we need to focus on elimination and go as many rounds as can. We need to attack each round as if it’s our last. We have to get in that zone for the Countdown.”

You’re the defending race winner at Brainerd and you did it last year by beating your U.S. Army teammate Tony Schumacher in the final. How satisfying was that?

“The thing about it, teammates – especially me and Tony going at it – we definitely race each other up to another level. Tony’s the seven-time champion. We’ve been teammates for a while, now. We actually go off of him and our other team and really push each other. It’s a good rivalry against each other as teammates. When we race, it’s a straight-up, all-out battle. When we race Tony and can actually beat him, you’ve done something that a lot of people can’t do. Talk about somebody who’s very decorated in our sport when you look at it from the standpoint of winning races and winning seven championships – six in a row. That’s Army Strong. Nobody’s done that in our sport. He’s definitely in our history books. When you get a race win or a round win over him, that’s special.”

What are your thoughts about racing at Brainerd, in general?

“Brainerd has always been very, very special , not just because of last year’s win, but from (Pro Stock) motorcycles. That win last year was a big U.S. Army win. So, it will always be a special place to me. That being said, it’s always been a really good place to go to and really dig in. What makes Brainerd so special is the fans camping out in the infield known as ‘The Zoo.’ It’s so relaxing, but it also emits this air of electricity when we’re racing. When you’re out there with such passionate fans, that’s something that makes it so cool. It’s a really unique atmosphere to race in. It gives you confidence and puts you at ease because there’s so much going on that it keeps you from overthinking the small stuff and mess up. I love it there.”