POMONA, Calif. — Considering leadership goes hand-in-hand with all things U.S. Army, it’s no surprise the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel championship heads to this weekend’s season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals here with a U.S. Army driving duo occupying the top two spots in the standings.
It took a near-perfect penultimate round at Las Vegas two weekends ago for seven-time Top Fuel champ Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher of Long Grove and his U.S. Army Dragster to pull within 65 points of his championship-leading Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team.
Schumacher more than halved Brown’s 136-point lead in the standings at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by blazing to a top qualifying effort and then advancing all the way to the final round of eliminations. Brown, meanwhile, fought electrical gremlins throughout the weekend and was eliminated in the first round for only the third time in 22 events this season.
Schumacher has six career wins at Pomona to tie him with the legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits as the winningest drivers at Auto Club Raceway.
Here’s a quick Q&A with the two teammates about this weekend’s big race.
Q. How does this year’s championship chase compare to the others?
Schumacher: This is the best class of cars that has ever been put together. And I don’t believe I’ve ever been more proud to be representing the U.S. Army in this competitive environment. … There are more great cars than we’ve ever seen — great drivers, great teams.
The battles are incredible. There are nine or 10 cars that are extremely good.
Q. Does this particular run for the championship compare to any of your past championships?
Schumacher: “A couple of them. I mean, I came back from 336 points the year before the Countdown. That was simply amazing. It wasn’t nine cars, but (Doug) Kalitta was so hard to beat. And then, when I showed up at Pomona in ’07, I was in fourth place and I think I was 65 or 70 points out of the lead.
Q. What is it about crunch time that enables you to be so successful?
Schumacher: “I absolutely love the end of the year. The last eight runs, the last two race weekends, have always been our best. They’ve been the ones where you had to win, and we’ve performed the best for whatever reason.
I think it’s kind of funny we’re 65 points off. I’ve showed up at Pomona 45 points back, we went to the semis and we still won. Now, it’s 65 points and it’s like we needed something new, a little more of a challenge.
Q. You’ve had a solid year and are in position to win your first career Top Fuel title. Talk about how the year has gone.
Brown: At the beginning of the year, everybody is kind of just jelling. Everybody is trying to get in their groove. That’s what our team did.
Last year we went 18 points behind. This year we’re going in with a points lead and our main deal is we want to race here.
I just want to be competitive throughout the whole event and just go into race day taking it one round at a time like we did all year long, and that’s what we’re shooting for.
Q. Much is made of how Tony and his team seem to thrive on the pressure of the final event weekends. What are your thoughts on that?
Brown: Yeah, and the thing about it is me and Tony go back a ways with this deal, even when I wasn’t racing Top Fuel. One thing about it is, up at the Don Schumacher camp, when I was racing Pro Stock Motorcycle, I watched Tony win numerous championships, come from behind, dominate, won 15 races one season. And my deal was always that I was a student. I always sat back and looked, trying to learn what makes these people so great. This guy is making history all the time.
The one thing you can see is that he lives for those moments.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.