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NHRA Top Fuel - Championship At Stake For U.S. Army Top Fuel Duo Entering Penultimate Event At Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, Oct. 25, 2012: With all due respect to Las Vegas, what happens in Dallas, St. Louis and Reading stays in Dallas, St. Louis and Reading, at least in the minds of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and the U.S. Army Racing Top Fuel team as the pursuit of their eighth NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championship comes down to the wire.

Schumacher heads to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Big O Tires NHRA Nationals facing quite a challenge if he is to grasp the 2012 championship that is still very much within reach. After being eliminated in the second round in back-to-back-to-back fashion at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas, Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis, and Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa., the seven-time Top Fuel champion finds himself in third place, 136 points behind series leader and fellow U.S. Army driver Antron Brown with just two events remaining in this year’s Countdown to the Championship.

The U.S. Army team is buoyed by the confidence the recent triple-whammy of early exits means its uncharacteristic string of bad racing luck is behind it once and for all. And Schumacher and his teammates expect to benefit from their effort of Army Strong proportions, like that exhibited by the 1 million Soldiers they represent, to put the team in position to hoist the championship trophy at season’s end. After all, the Army is the strength of the Nation, and the Soldiers are the strength of our Army. And this Army-NHRA partnership provides Americans a platform to experience the power, speed, teamwork and technology that drives that strength.

To overhaul his teammate Brown and their fellow Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver Spencer Massey during the final two events of the season will be a challenge, to say the least, but certainly the type that has been conquered before. Quite recently, in fact.

Just a year ago, Del Worsham hit the Vegas Strip in fourth place in the standings, 51 points behind leader Brown with two races to go. Worsham swept the Las Vegas event and the season finale at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., and outscored Brown by the very same 136 points at those two events that Schumacher now trails by and won the 2011 Top Fuel title handily.

Schumacher, himself, has not once but twice pulled off the Las Vegas-Pomona sweep on his way to Top Fuel titles in 2005 and 2006. So, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility once again and history is on his side.

As was the case at Maple Grove three weekends ago, Schumacher heads to Las Vegas as the winningest Top Fuel driver at the track, having scored victories in the spring 2004, fall 2005, fall 2006, fall 2008, spring 2009 and fall 2010 events. He also reached the Top Fuel final there in 2002 and 2003, and was top qualifier eight times overall.

The odds of Schumacher successfully overcoming that 136-point deficit might be quite long by Las Vegas standards, but he’s sure to benefit from the level of engineering and teamwork on display by his team at the racetrack week in and week out that is reflective of the Army’s leading-edge technology and the powerful, realistic training of its Army Strong Soldiers. That amounts to quite the winning hand, to say the least. Only time will tell.

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

We’re right down to it with respect to the championship as you head to Las Vegas. Your thoughts, in general, with two events to go and a 136-point gap between you and first place?

“We’re right down to it these last two races and somebody is going to get crowned champion along the way. It doesn’t look right now like it can be us, but I’ve come back from further than this. It just seems like it’ll take so many miracles for a championship to happen for us. If ever there was a time to be Army Strong for this team, this is it. What we have going for us is that only the strongest wear the U.S. Army colors, and those 1 million Soldiers we represent possess a mental, emotional and physical strength like no other, and the U.S. Army Racing team reflects those strengths. One of our challenges right now is there’s not just one team we’re fighting with. We’re fighting with several good teams out there. The fact is, let’s forget about everything I just said about miracles and the other teams we’re fighting with out there. All we can really do is show up and push the pedal down as quickly as possible every time. We’ve lived by that for the last 16 years and it has brought us great success, so there’s no reason to change that now. It’s not like we can decide to throw them some sort of a curveball now and we’re going to win this game based on that. Nothing else matters than for us to just go out there, run as fast as we can and, at the end of the day, they’re going to tell us who’s the champ.”

No one has won more Top Fuel events at Las Vegas than you. What is it about that place and your ability to do so well there?

“Really, it’s all about the fact we have proven to be a high-pressure team over the years. Especially when it comes to the fall races at Las Vegas, we tend to thrive in the playoff atmosphere there. We’re way better with the pressure, I’ve always felt. It’s all about the desire to thrust yourself into a leadership position, one that is ingrained in every single member of this U.S. Army Racing team. The Army is the Nation’s preeminent leadership experience, where our Nation’s future leaders are developed. Our Soldiers are empowered with the confidence to take decisive action when needed and the flexibility to excel in constantly evolving situations. That’s tailor-made for these final Countdown races and our U.S. Army team has proven that. We’ve been really good at getting the results we need when they have to happen. What I can see happening is that we’ll go and win Vegas, but then the championship still could be just out of reach as we head to Pomona, and that’s just going to kill us. But, when you get down to it, it is what it is. It’s just been a tough stretch, here, and we need to put it behind us and put the hammer down these last two weekends of the season.”

Considering you’ve gotten the results you’ve needed at this time of year more often than not throughout your career, this recent stretch must be particularly frustrating for you?

“There’s no doubt about that. That’s why I can’t wait to get to Las Vegas and Pomona. We have way too good of a car and way too good of a team to get beat in the second round like we have, of late. We’re a better team than that. But, every time it seems like we have something stupid happen. There’s always a reason, but I’m also tired of having to have an excuse. We’re of the mindset that we just want to get to the next race and prove that we’re a bad-ass team. That’s all there is to it. We have a great car, we’ve just had some absolutely horrendous luck. There’s no reason our fuel system breaks, or this part or that part breaks – what do you change on that, other than doing everything your usual championship-caliber way and hope things don’t break. Hopefully, the bad stuff is behind us.”

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

You head to the next-to-last event of the season with a pretty good lead in the championship. What are your thoughts, in general, as you tackle the Las Vegas event this weekend?

“You know, we go into these final races – there are still two races left – but with a lot of racing to go. And, in one race, the points lead we have can disappear. We’re basically going to the last two races keeping our head down, and we want to stay on the offensive side, keep attacking. We have got to keep attacking if we want to have the hopes to actually bring this championship home. And that’s the way we’re looking at these last two races – that they’re do-or-die. We’ve got to go in there and not leave one I undotted and one T uncrossed, and we’ve got to go in there and just keep digging and digging and, hopefully, we can be there at the end and contend and try to bring this championship home.”

You’ve said before that the hallmark of your team is its ability to stay focused on the task at hand and not get carried away with looking ahead. Can we assume that is the case now, more than ever?

“Absolutely, when you get people who tend to look into the future, like if I could be in this final round or if I could be in this semifinal round, they’re taking their focus off the task they’ve got to do at that given moment, and we’ve learned that. And I mean, that’s why I think our teams at DSR are as strong as they are, because Don (Schumacher, team owner) has that philosophy that we go up there, and he says, ‘Hey, we’re going to go to the next race and we’re going to worry about the first qualifying round. We’re not going to worry about where we’re qualified at, we’re going to worry about getting in first.’ And that’s the approach all of our teams take and, as a driver, we take that one step at a time and say, ‘OK, we need to stage this car. Now, we’re worried about pointing the car to make sure it’s perfectly straight. Then we’re worried about making the right moves and hitting the tree hard. Then we worry about taking it down the racetrack.’ We worry about every little increment one step at a time and, any day you can look back and say, ‘Hey, I did every step to the best of my abilities, the whole team has, and this is where we’re at now.’ And I think that’s why you see a lot of our teams in those final rounds, and we’re all running for these championships. Each member of the U.S. Army Racing team plays a vital role in the success of the car on the track. It’s just like every 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. Championships are all about teamwork, and I’m proud to say I can’t imagine a team that embodies that concept better than our people at DSR.”