The heat was on all 10 drivers in the NHRA’s Full Throttle Racing Series Top Fuel division this weekend. Not only were the Texas temperatures weighing on them, but pivotal points were there for the taking in round two of the six-race Countdown to the Championship. U.S. Army Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown returned to the site of their first professional victories – the Texas Motorplex in Ennis – looking to add the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals to their list of accomplishments and make a statement in their mission to become 2012 NHRA Top Fuel champions.
When the sun went down over the Texas prairie, it was Brown and his U.S. Army/Matco Tools crew that held their collective fists high after Sunday’s victory over fellow Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver Spencer Massey in the final round with a pass of 3.898 seconds at 311.49 mph. They did so wearing the U.S. Army colors that only the strongest wear and, like their U.S. Army brethren, by exhibiting mental, emotional and physical strength like no other.
“We got here this weekend with the mentality of our Soldiers to be Army Strong no matter what we faced,” Brown said after claiming his 20th career Top Fuel national event win and 36th NHRA win overall. “When we lost the input shaft last week in Charlotte, it really set us back, but these guys on this team just kept digging. We spent the weekend trying to figure out a new clutch, and it was giving us fits by being overaggressive. (Co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) kept backing it off until they got a good handle on it in the semis. All the credit goes to them for sticking together and this win was a perfect way for us to respond.”
It was a weekend during which the team was battled tested time after time, and it clearly resembled the more than 1 million Army Strong Soldiers it represents. Considering the U.S. Army is the Nation’s preeminent leadership experience, where the Nation’s future leaders are developed and where they are empowered with the confidence to take decisive action when needed and the flexibility to excel in constantly evolving situations, it was no surprise the team bounced back from last week’s disappointing early exit in Charlotte by surviving its first two match-ups despite not cracking the 3-second barrier.
Brown defeated fellow Countdown contenders Dave Grubnic, Shawn Langdon and Morgan Lucas en route to his 10th final appearance of the 2012 campaign. It was the fourth time he faced Massey in a final this year and his win gives him four career final-round triumphs over the Texas native.
“We had to give it everything we had against Spencer and the FRAM car in the final,” Brown said following his series-leading fifth Top Fuel win of 2012. “We edged them, and it felt really good to win and tie them for the points lead.”
Brown opened the Countdown in the number-one points position at Charlotte, but dropped to fourth after failing to advance past the opening round of eliminations. His victory today pulled the New Jersey native into a tie for the lead with Massey, each with 2,256 points.
“We have four races left and it’s going to be a slugfest to the end,” Brown said. “Everybody’s throwing haymakers. It’s an all-out battle royal right now.”
Schumacher came to Texas swinging after his victory in the U.S. Nationals two weeks ago and runner-up finish last weekend in Charlotte. The seven-time Top Fuel champion was looking to continue his dominance on the Texas quarter-mile Sunday and hold onto the top spot in the standings, where he started the Texas weekend.
“The Sarge” won his first-ever event at the track back in 1999 and had won four times in all in suburban Dallas, including in 2009 and 2010. The U.S. Army driver qualified second this weekend and defeated NHRA veteran Chris Karamesines in today’s opening round, but couldn’t get past Massey in the second round.
“I’m really disappointed that we couldn’t advance a little further today, but our refusal to lose, like the 1 million Army Strong Soldiers we represent, will shine through before this is all said and done,” Schumacher said following his run of 3.982 seconds at 295.85 mph. “We were running much better than those guys. Unfortunately, they got it together on race day. We just smoked the tires, but we should have made it down the track. We were pushing pretty hard in the middle. I really didn’t think they would make it down the track with as hot as it was. They did, and it was game over for us.”
Despite the second-round exit, Schumacher is well aware there will be many more trials and tribulations to deal with before this year’s Countdown to the Championship is history.
“It’s still early in the Countdown and, the way this thing is set up, you can always catch right back up, it seems,” said Schumacher, who leaves Texas in third trailing his first-place DSR teammates by 24 markers. “There are a lot of races still out there for us. It’s safe to say that we’re all going to stay close together at the top (of the standings) until we get to Pomona (for the season finale). Four or five cars will be there with a chance to win a championship. That’s where someone is going to really have to dig deep to win the title. I’m glad I’ll be there with the U.S. Army team. High-pressure moments are just what we thrive on.”
With four races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship, which culminates at the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA finals Nov. 8-11 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., the top-10 drivers competing for the title rank as follows:
1. Antron Brown (2,256 points)
Spencer Massey (2,576 points)
3. Tony Schumacher (2,232 points, - 24)
4. Shawn Langdon (2,215 points, - 41)
5. Morgan Lucas (2,173 points, -83)
6. Brandon Bernstein (2,166 points, -90)
7. Doug Kalitta (2,133 points, -123)
8. Steve Torrence (2,126 points, -130)
9. Bob Vandergriff (2,085 points, -171)
10. David Grubnic (2,075 points, -181)
The next event on the NHRA schedule – the third race of the six-race Countdown – is next weekend’s (Sept. 28-30) AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis. Four qualifying sessions – two Friday and two Saturday – will set the field for Sunday’s eliminations, which begin at noon EDT. ESPN2 will provide tape-delayed coverage beginning at 8 p.m.
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