Every driver in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series looks forward to the annual late-season stop at picturesque Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. The track, which is celebrating its 50th season of competition, offers teams the chance to make history with record-setting runs that can go a long way toward determining the season’s champion, as well. This weekend’s 28th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals was an opportunity for U.S. Army Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown to showcase the level of engineering and teamwork that reflects the Army’s leading-edge technology.
The event, the fourth of six in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, got off to a fast start with record-setting runs and standing-room-only crowds Friday and Saturday. The scene was set Sunday for Schumacher and Brown to continue their ultimate mission of becoming champion of the the Top Fuel Dragster class during four rounds of eliminations. Unfortunately, the weather first delayed the start of eliminations two hours and 15 minutes, then ultimately forced NHRA officials to postpone the remainder of the show until Monday after managing to complete three of the four scheduled second-round matchups.
Schumacher came out victorious in the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster in today’s opening round by defeating Terry McMillen with an impressive run of 3.744 seconds at 326.71 mph. A rain shower delayed the start of the second round by more than an hour and, when action did resume, track conditions continued be in record-breaking shape. Schumacher was in the midst of another run in the 3.7-second range until a component failure not only cost the U.S. Army team a shot at a national record, it resulted in run of 3.821 seconds at 309.70 mph that was bettered by his opponent Brandon Bernstein, who posted the fastest elapsed time (ET) of his career with a run of 3.736 seconds at 330.31 mph. Bernstein’s run turned out to be the fifth-best ET in NHRA history. It also spelled elimination for Schumacher in the second round for the third consecutive week.
“It’s really disappointing we couldn’t finish off that second-round run because I really felt like we were on the right path today,” said Schumacher, who qualified third overall with Saturday morning’s run of 3.736 seconds at 324.20 mph. “Every one of the guys on this U.S. Army team is vital to the success of the car getting down the track. Our success as a team over the years is something every other team out here is trying to achieve. Just like our Army Soldiers, we take everyone’s best shot. (Bernstein) beat us by making the best ET of his career and, if we don’t have a mechanical failure, he doesn’t beat us.
“We know we are representing more than 1 million Army Strong Soldiers around the world, and we carry the colors only the strongest wear. We were in a position to set a record, which would have been a big boost in our championship charge. Our first-round number would have backed up anything we could have put on the board under the record. It’s just that quick how things change in racing. We go from having a chance of setting a record, to getting beat, to seeing Antron set a new record. And, he’s the one we’re chasing for the championship. It’s tough. These guys on this team put so much into this, it’s hard not to come out with the results we want.”
Brown and Morgan Lucas, who had established a new national record during qualifying Saturday, were the next pair on the track following Schumacher’s second-round race against Bernstein. Brown defeated Lucas with a record-setting run of his own – 3.722 seconds at 325.69 mph – aboard the special pink Matco “Tools for the Cause”/ U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster. The run will become a national record if no other driver goes quicker Monday, and it would earn Brown an additional 20 points in the championship standings.
Brown will look to continue his mission of winning three straight events when he meets Bernstein in one semifinal matchup Monday. Khalid alBalooshi awaits the winner of the remaining second-round matchup pitting Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta, which will be run Monday. Langdon and Kalitta both have clocked runs this weekend that could also back up a record pass of 3.722 seconds or faster.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army team won’t know exactly where they end up in the championship standings until Monday’s eliminations are complete. He and the U.S. Army team will return to action when the NHRA heads to Las Vegas for the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 25-28.
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