If Tony Schumacher had to grade his overall performance at his first race back after a three-year hiatus, he’d assign himself a B, but says his Maynard Family Racing team is worthy of an A grade.
In his first NHRA Winternationals outing since 2018, Schumacher qualified twelfth on the elimination ladder to set up a round-one meeting between two Top Fuel titans at the season-opening event. Lining up opposite fellow nitro veteran Doug Kalitta, Schumacher was laser-focused on kicking off the 2022 season with a round win, and delivering a winning time slip to team sponsors, Joe and Cathi Maynard. He posted a 3.726 E.T. to outpace Kalitta’s solid 3.730-second effort and advance to round two. Against Austin Prock in the quarterfinals, Schumacher encountered troubles right out of the gate, allowing his opponent the decisive round win, but Schumacher is adamant that his team’s early exit is not indicative of things to come.
“The team is really coming together, the tune-up is coming together; I’m pleased overall” said Schumacher, who, save for a seven-race stint in 2020, has sat idle since the conclusion of the 2018 season. “I didn’t drive up to my abilities in that second round and I think I’ve still got a lot of regrouping to do, but in the end, the car, the team, myself, we’re going to be a really good, really strong team this year.
“You really couldn’t write a better script having to run Doug Kalitta and his new Alan Johnson-led team at the first race of the year, and my first race back. I drove well on that run, but I just didn’t pull my weight on that second run. We didn’t need to make a super ‘throw-down run’ in E2. Prock ran a 78. We just had to get it down with a 72 or 73 like we were trying to do, but it just didn’t happen; I squeezed the throttle a little bit. I need more time in the seat, and that’ll happen with us running a full program this season. I spent a long time away. I used to make 200 runs a year, and I need to get a couple of runs under my belt to get back to that spot. But, overall, I’m super proud of my guys.
“(Crew chiefs) Todd (Okuhara) and Marc (Denner) are extremely excited about what they’re seeing on their timing maps and in their tune-ups. That first-round-time was the quickest run that we’ve made together. I’ve been out of the game for three years so to go out and make that run, and do it with the weight of the world sitting on you, was just too cool. You only get one ‘first time’ as a team running a Kalitta car. First round of Pomona, first round of the year, and we got it done. I’m happy that I’m back, I’m having a good time. Now I just need to convert the good times to round wins.”
The Maynard Family Racing team heads to Phoenix next for the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Feb. 25-27, where Schumacher returns as a five-time event champion.
Qualified: No. 12 (3.787 E.T. at 315.86 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.726 E.T. at 324.28 MPH defeated Doug Kalitta 3.730 E.T. at 327.11 MPH
E2: 8.516 E.T. at 74.03 MPH defeated by Austin Prock 3.780 E.T. at 329.10 MPH
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Point Standings (unofficial):