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NHRA Top Fuel - U.S. Army Duo Bears Down For Second Half Of Countdown

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READING, Oct. 4, 2012: No driver has scored more NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel victories at historic Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., than U.S. Army Dragster driver Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher.

His four career wins at the track that opened in 1962 is twice more than a slew of legendary drag racing greats, including Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein, Larry Dixon, Darrell Gwynn, Scott Kalitta and Gary Scelzi, each of whom have won twice at Maple Grove in their illustrious careers.

Three of Schumachers wins at Maple Grove came back-to-back-to-back in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but the seven-time Top Fuel champion hasn’t scored a Maple Grove win since 2008, when he won his fifth of six consecutive NHRA titles.

As the series heads back to Maple Grove for this weekend’s Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals – the fourth of six events in the 2012 Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship – Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) know the time is now to get back to victory lane with their eyes focused firmly on the mission of winning another world championship.

Just like the U.S. Army is the strength of the Nation, and the Soldiers are the strength of our Army, the U.S. Army NHRA team has exhibited a strength like no other when it has been in peak form. With the second half of the 2012 Countdown getting underway, the season’s closing stretch of races beginning this weekend at Maple Grove is the best time to display the power, speed, teamwork and technology that has driven that strength all season long, like it does our Army Strong Soldiers every day.

With three races left to go, Schumacher finds himself third in the driver standings behind DSR teammates Antron Brown and Spencer Massey. He trails fellow U.S. Army driver Brown, the points leader, by 83 markers while Massey is in second, 21 points back. After reaching the Top Fuel final and assuming the points lead himself in the Countdown’s opening round at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., three weekends ago, Schumacher exited each of the next two events at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis and Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., in the second round of eliminations. Meanwhile, Brown and Massey advanced to the final at both events with Brown emerging victorious each time to take charge of the championship chase at its halfway point.

Brown’s back-to-back wins were the 36th and 37th of his NHRA career and his 20th and 21st in Top Fuel competition. They also gave him a series-leading six wins on the season and provide a boat-load of momentum this weekend heads to Maple Grove, where he’ll be vying for his first career NHRA win.

Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster will turn it up another notch and will rely on a level of engineering and teamwork on display at Maple Grove this weekend that is reflective of the Army’s leading-edge technology and the powerful, realistic training of its Army Strong Soldiers as it pulls out all the stops in mounting a winning streak of his own during these all-important final three races of the Countdown.

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

You’ve been going at it for six consecutive weeks, now, and it’s really getting to be crunch time in the Countdown to the Championship. How are you and the U.S. Army team dealing with it all as you head to Maple Grove?

“Six straight weeks – it’s tough. At the beginning of it, when you’re winning at Indy and almost winning at Charlotte, it’s pretty easy to deal with. It’s really coming down to these final races. It’s ‘no-mistake’ time, and we’re really good at that. We’re 83 points out of first with three races to go, so the championship is still very much there. We just have to tighten up our belts and be at our best. We have to channel a heaping helping of that mental, emotional and physical strength like no other that our U.S. Army Soldiers utilize every day to complete their mission. Only the strongest wear the U.S. Army colors and we are determined to prove that we are the strongest Top Fuel team out there. If that happens, we’ll have the results to show for it. Our Soldiers are shining examples of the ‘refuse to lose’ mentality it takes to win championships.”

Your teammates Antron Brown and Spencer Massey have opened up a bit of a gap in the points. What will it take to close that gap?

“Everything has to be spot-on from the time we unload from the trailer this weekend. If you look at the last race at St. Louis, you almost get a little bit down because the car drove extremely well, we had a great reaction time and got beat and it was just dumb luck. We lost that battle but we can still win the war. But those are the ones you can hardly afford to get beat with, in the end. It was a back-breaker for a simple run where you get beat despite having a good light that would’ve beaten the two points leaders in the other bracket. I would’ve left both of them. But the guy I was racing had a better light against me, and that’s what makes it tough. It’s a timing thing and that’s what racing’s all about. The points situation has certainly evolved into where we are right now – in third place. In our mission to be on top three races from now, we must continue to exhibit leadership, to mirror the premiere leadership model on the planet and that is the U.S. Army. The Army is our Nation’s preeminent leadership experience, where our Nation’s future leaders are developed. They’re empowered with the confidence to take decisive action when needed and the flexibility to excel in constantly evolving situations. That is what we must do in the situation we are in right now.”

So then, safe to say you’ve moved on from what you called a disappointing turn of events the last two weekends in eliminations?

“It’s already gone. It’s life. It’s racing. I’ve been doing this for a long, long, time. Our teammates are on a pretty good roll right now, but we’re still right there with them. It looks like you almost have to get them early in the elimination rounds because that’s when we’ve been at our best, of late. I’m just a little concerned about this weekend because the weather at Reading doesn’t look good at all. If it rains, we’re going to get some runs cut off, so we’re going to need those runs we are able to get in to fine-tune our setup for race day. It’s going to be tough. But it’s going to be tough for everybody.”

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

You’ve been on quite a roll here, of late. It seems you are emerging as the guy to beat for the Top Fuel title. What are your thoughts as you carry that momentum to Maple Grove this weekend?

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, so we don’t smell a championship in the making, if that’s what you’re asking. That’s how we operate. We’re just taking it one step at a time, as we always have. We’ve been going to each race just focusing on the first qualifying session, then the second one, the third one, and the fourth one. And then, once you make the show, you focus on the first round of eliminations. That’s what’s gotten all of our (DSR) teams to this point because we go by that philosophy. We just go one step at a time. And you want to execute that step to the best of the team’s ability each time out there. Right now, all the teams at DSR have been doing an incredible job. That just speaks to the infrastructure that we have, back to the guys at the shop, to the guys on the road, to the guys who put the cars together. Each member of the team plays a vital role in the success of the car on the track, similar to how every U.S. Army Soldier, no matter which of the more than 150 career options he or she chooses in the Army, is vital to the success of the mission. In the end, our mission is the championship. As drivers, we lean on each other thanks to the teams we have behind us, and together we are able to make those unbelievable things believable from all of the hard work and team effort that’s put forth.”

But you’re still in the driver’s seat with respect to the championship. That has to lead to confidence as you approach these final three events in the Countdown, no?

“The competition in this class is incredible. The guys we’re racing against, they’re not playing around, anymore. The only thing you can do is go out there and do what you do and forget about the big picture, right now. When you press to the limit every single time out there, mistakes can happen, but good things happen when you hit all your marks. That’s how you learn. I just go out and do the best job I can do. It’s a total team effort and it takes everybody to get the end result. We’re certainly enjoying a pretty nice run, here, but we know all of that can disappear in the blink of an eye.”