For U.S. Army NHRA Racing Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown, it was just a matter of waiting out the storm before they could continue their mission in the 58th annual U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Inclement weather last Sunday and Monday forced NHRA officials to postpone the conclusion of the sport’s biggest event one week for the first time since 2003.
Saturday night, Brown, the reigning U.S. Nationals Top Fuel champion, jumped from fifth to third in the ladder during the final qualifying session by posting a run of 3.762 seconds at 322.50 mph. Schumacher, the eight-time winner of this NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, pushed the U.S. Army ROTC Top Fuel Dragster to the limit trying to earn low ET (elapsed time), but came up short of making a full pass. Schumacher qualified fourth with his third-round run of 3.772 seconds and track-record speed of 326.79 mph last Saturday.
“The track was tight and to go out there and run like we did just gets you amped up and pumped up for race day,” said Brown, who leads the Full Throttle Top Fuel dragster point standings heading into Sunday’s eliminations. “You see the look in the guys’ faces – from the crew chiefs on down to every crewman – that’s what they were trying to run. It’s a good feeling and gives you a little confidence booster going into tomorrow, which we know is going to be a big day. This is the U.S. Nationals, the biggest race of the year before the Countdown, and it’s what NHRA racing is all about. We will refuse to lose.”
Schumacher turned in the first or second-fastest qualifying run in each round leading up to Saturday’s final pass. His last run of 5.155 seconds at 132.92 mph wasn’t the end result they were shooting for, but clearly it was an attempt to earn the top qualifier honors.
“When you see Antron go run a 3.762 (seconds), you go after it and try to go faster,” said Schumacher, who enters Sunday’s final points race before the Countdown to the Championship in third position. “You try to learn something. We almost had it, and we learned something. We’ve never had those settings on the car and it almost made it. If the track had been just a bit better, it would have been low ET (elapsed time) of the round but, like we say, it’s easy to look back. In this sport, it’s single elimination. If you are beat you are beat. But, like the Army Strong soldiers we represent, we are focused and determined on the ultimate goal, and that for us is to earn our ninth U.S. Nationals championship.”
Brown will face T.J. Zizzo in his first round matchup as he tries to become the sixth Top Fuel driver to win back-to-back U.S. Nationals.
“T.J. is always tough when I match up with him,” Brown said. “His guys always get him from A to B and get him from A to B very competitively. When you go out there and you’re racing somebody like T.J., you have to bring you’re A-plus game. Nobody comes to the U.S. Nationals just to say they qualified. They come here to win. You can never take anyone lightly, so we’re going to come out and give it our all.”
Schumacher, who is looking to break his tie with Don Garlits and become the only driver in Top Fuel history to have nine U.S. Nationals triumphs, will face Hillary Will in the No. 4 versus No. 13 matchup.
“I’ve always said that, if you have a good match from the start, it makes you sit up in the seat right away,” Schumacher said. “I’ve faced Hillary many, many times and she’s going to be tough. You have to bring your best every time. I would rather be in my spot than anyone else. Nobody is going to drop the ball tomorrow. It’s going to be a great day and a great day for drag racing.”
ESPN2 will provide coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds beginning at 3 p.m. EDT.
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