NHRA Top Fuel - Schumacher/Brown O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals Preview
INDIANAPOLIS, Sep. 12, 2012: “Pressure makes diamonds” is one of the simpler phrases of the volumes made famous by the distinguished Gen. George S. Patton. With the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series regular season now history, the all-important Countdown to the Championship – and the pressure to succeed that goes with it – begins for U.S. Army NHRA Top Fuel Dragster drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, Thus, those three simple words uttered by Gen. Patton couldn’t be a more powerful battle cry as drag racing’s playoffs get underway.
The U.S. Army duo and their respective Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teams head to zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., for this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals and round one of the six-event Countdown that will decide the Full Throttle NHRA Drag Racing Series World Championship. Thanks to their persistent refusal to accept defeat this season, much like the 1 million U.S. Army Strong Soldiers they represent worldwide, Schumacher and Brown each are poised to make a focused and determined bid for the prestigious title of World Champion over the next six NHRA Full Throttle events.Both U.S. Army drivers are seeded in the top-three among the 10 drivers who make up the Countdown field – Brown holding down the top spot in search of his first title while Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, sits third, 40 points behind. Their fellow DSR driver Spencer Massey is second, 30 points behind Brown in the point standings that were reset following last weekend’s conclusion of the rain-delayed U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis – the final regular-season event.
Both Schumacher and Brown are riding huge waves of momentum as the Countdown commences on the outskirts of Charlotte. Schumacher is coming off his record-setting ninth career U.S. Nationals crown after disposing of Massey in a thrilling final Sunday in Indianapolis. It was his second victory of the season, the 69th of his illustrious career, and it broke a tie with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits for most career U.S. Nationals wins. Brown, meanwhile, has been the most consistent performer this season with four victories overall – three of which came over a four-race stretch – and eight final-round appearances in the 17 regular-season events. His four victories this season have lifted his career total to 35.Considering the many historic drag strips the NHRA competitors visit each year, zMax Dragway is a relative newbie, having been constructed in 2008, but it is also one of the series’ more high-profile venues. The state-of-the-art facility features the only all-concrete, four-lane drag strip in the United States and its NHRA Four-Wide Nationals each April is a one-of-a-kind event that is among the most exciting and popular on the tour.
Schumacher and Brown advanced all the way to the final round in Top Fuel competition at the dragway’s inaugural NHRA event in September 2008 with Schumacher coming out on top en route to his sixth of seven career championships. Brown came back the following spring to reach the Four-Wide Nationals final, then kicked off last year’s Countdown by winning the September stop at zMax Dragway, beating Schumacher in the semifinals and Massey in the final.
With a short but successful racing history at zMax Dragway for both U.S. Army Top Fuel competitors, count on this year’s Countdown to get off to a rousing start for the DSR teammates. And, knowing their penchant for performing at their best under pressure – like the Army Strong Soldiers they represent – there just might be a diamond waiting at the end of the Countdown for one of them.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
What are your thoughts, overall, as you begin this year’s NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship?
“I’m going in on a winning streak, but we’re also going in in third, so we are focused on being Army Strong like the 1 million Soldiers we so proudly represent so we can come out on the other side in the No. 1 position. For the next six races, all of which are of supreme importance, we absolutely will not accept defeat. All the (regular-season) points have disappeared, and there are a lot of great cars and teams we’re up against, so this championship is going to be awesome. I truly believe you’re going to see the best finish of any season, ever. The number of cars that are good, quality racecars has never been seen before. And there are some great, veteran drivers and a lot of new blood coming up. Everybody buying tickets and coming to these races, they’re going to see the best there is. As a participant and as a fan, I can say that I believe we’re all watching the best Full Throttle NHRA Drag Racing that’s ever been seen.”
You’ve won seven championships in your career. People might think that would give you an advantage over a lot of the other drivers and teams at this time of year. Do you believe that to be the case?
“Absolutely not. Each new season is its own animal and, the way things are, almost anybody can win on any given weekend. There are so many good cars out there, it’s incredibly difficult to win races. It used to be we were a tenth (of a second) ahead of everybody and you just had to be on your game – you just couldn’t be late, but you were the better car. And, right now, you can’t go to any round, not even the first round, thinking, ‘I’ve got this.’ You’ve got to sit up in the seat, you’ve got to do your job. It makes the wins that much more gratifying. It’s what everybody shows up to watch and it’s what we as drivers are here to do.”
Your dad appeared to be a particularly proud fellow after you made history last week by winning your ninth U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. And it all came down to his three DSR Top Fuel Dragsters in the final four. How cool is that?
“He’s my dad and he’s built an amazing team and, while we love it when the other (DSR) cars win, I know he stands in my corner when we’re racing. We started this thing back in 2000 with the U.S. Army sponsorship and they’ve stuck with us, now, for an awfully long time and we are so proud to represent Army Strong Soldiers all around the world. As our team has grown, for me, personally, it’s more fun now that we have all the other cars at DSR because I know they’re great cars and I know they’re great teams and that makes me have to be a better driver than I ever had to be. To follow in Dad’s footsteps, it’s just an awesome legacy out there. If my kids ever race, they’re going to have to have a lot of energy to put forth because we have created an amazing race team and he’s done such a great job of bringing three of the best racers and three of the best crew chiefs out here. We’re 1-2-3 in the Countdown and that says a lot.”
By the time you leave Reading, Pa., in a few weeks, you will have raced six straight weeks, including the two in a row at Indy for the U.S. Nationals. Is that particularly tough on you and the team, particularly at this time of year?
“It’s not that it’s tough on the team, it’s tough on the families. The guys know how to work. They work really hard. It does wear on you, so it takes a good quality team to stay together in intense situations, especially if you don’t have great success early on in the Countdown. It takes some good leadership to hold it together and go out and win a championship. We’ve got six races. We’re starting in third. We need to win some races. If we’re going to be the Full Throttle champion for 2012, we need to continue moving forward from what we did at Indy last week, go to Charlotte and get a good start on it.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster:
Do you feel any particular pressure heading into the Countdown as the No. 1 seed after coming up just a bit short in your bid to win a second consecutive U.S. Nationals title last weekend?
“Not really. It’s quite the opposite, actually. All the boys are amped up, pumped up. Not winning at Indy was a great motivator going into the Countdown because we’ve got to make extra sure nothing goes wrong and we’ve got to be up on our P’s and Q’s. It really just fortifies that U.S. Army focus and determination that is prevalent throughout this entire organization. The competition is going to be tough. We’re getting ready for it. We’re hyped up. We’re amped up. We’re ready to go out there and take charge and give it everything we’ve got. Now it’s time to make that championship happen.”
As the top seed, you receive an extra 20 bonus points to start the Countdown. Is it a huge advantage?
“For sure. We’re going in 30 points ahead of our teammate Spencer Massey, who starts the Countdown in second place. No matter which way you look at it, trust me, when we get to Pomona (Calif., for the season finale), it’s definitely going to pay dividends. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re not going to change anything we’ve been doing. We’re just going to go out there and press hard like we’ve been pressing and let the chips fall where they fall. If all that happens, I can see our team being there at the end, contending for that championship and that’s where we want to be.”
You haven’t won a championship, yet, but you are part of an organization that has won a multitude of Top Fuel titles. What does it take to win a championship?
“It takes consistency. You have to stay focused, like the Army Strong Soldiers we represent, and keep it together and keep moving through the elimination rounds. And every round is tough. That’s what it’s going to take to win the championship. If we can just get to the semifinals every weekend, trust me, we’ll be right there for the championship.”
In addition to being the top seed entering this year’s Countdown, you’re also the defending event winner at Charlotte. What are your thoughts about racing there?
“I love going to Charlotte because it’s a big stage. It’s a great way to kick off the Countdown. It’s one of the best tracks on the tour, by far. When you go there, you better bring your A-game because the temperature is going to be in the low 80s there, the track surface might be 100, 110 degrees, so you’re going to run some great ETs. It’s like the same thing we were able to run at Indy. So we’re really looking forward to going to Charlotte and taking on the all-concrete dragstrip and see how we can do.”