The trickiest conditions of the season wreaked havoc on the efforts of a majority of the competitors at this weekend’s 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, and the U.S. Army duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown were among those who fell in the early elimination rounds Sunday.
Schumacher, eight-time Top Fuel world champion and five-time event winner at Bristol in his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), qualified sixth and matched up against a hungry Scott Palmer in today’s opening round looking to add a sixth career Thunder Valley event title. Schumacher launched well and appeared to have a clean run to the finish before losing traction just before the line, allowing Palmer to scoot past for the win light. Schumacher stopped the clock in 4.076 seconds at 186.51 mph in hot, humid and slick conditions. Palmer was able to hold things together and crossed the line in 3.969 seconds at 307.16 mph for his fourth round win in 11 events this season and the 12th round win of his career.
“It didn’t drop a cylinder or anything like that while everyone else did,” said a frustrated Schumacher after his second opening-round loss in three weeks. “We’re working on making it better and it goes out and doesn’t drop a cylinder, but it spins the tires. We’d have beaten almost everyone else out there that round. It’s timing. It’s just the way the game is played. We’re having incredibly bad luck when you beat almost every car out there but the one you’re racing. That’s the way it goes. These seasons are always about peaks and valleys. Peaks come and they usually come at the right time for this U.S. Army team. Our car has always been a car that at the end of the year has raced against somebody else for a championship. For many, many years, there’s always someone else there, but it’s also been us at some level in the fight. We’ll get it figured out. We’ll take the car back home. Brilliant minds will go to work, figure out a way, and we’ll go out and do it again at Norwalk.”
Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR arrived at Bristol in the Top Fuel points lead for the first time this season looking for his first career Bristol event title. He struggled in qualifying but laid down a solid lap in the heat of the day Saturday that placed him seventh on the elimination ladder and methodically beat a tire-smoking No. 10 qualifier Pat Dakin in the opening round with a run of 3.952 seconds at 286.62 mph. That matched him up against former DSR teammate Shawn Langdon. Both drivers launched well from the starting line in their second-round race but lost traction well down the track and it turned into a pedalfest. Langdon was able to gather up his Kalitta Motorsports Dragster and crossed the line in 4.251 seconds at 258.37 mph to Brown’s 4.310 seconds at 263.26 mph.
“We just lost a really close race against Shawn (Langdon) and that hurts,” said Brown, who has won event titles at every track on the current NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule except Bristol. “We were right there. We really wanted to win here at Bristol. This series is just so competitive and so close. This track has always been tricky and we had some very difficult conditions out here. We really haven’t faced this type of heat and humidity this year. But we learned some things that are going to help us down the road. We fell back in the points a little bit but there’s plenty of time left in the season. This is just going to make us go back and work even harder. We’re even hungrier now. This one left a bad taste in our mouths. So now we get ready for Norwalk, where we’ve always run well and we’re looking forward to competing there.”
After 11 of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour for 2017, the top-10 drivers in the Top Fuel class are:
1. Steve Torrence (954 points)
2. Leah Pritchett (943 points, -11)
3. Antron Brown (934 points, -20)
4. Tony Schumacher (801 points, -153)
5. Doug Kalitta (678 points, -276)
6. Brittany Force (649 points, -305)
7. Clay Millican (639 points, -315)
8. Troy Coughlin, Jr. (443 points, -511)
9. Scott Palmer (432 points, -522)
10. Terry McMillen (424 points, - 530)
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