All of that was on display at Heartland Park Topeka (Kan.) as Schumacher opened the weekend by blazing to Friday's top qualifying run, performed flawlessly in winning convincingly in the first, second and semifinal rounds of eliminations, and even recorded the weekend's top speed before being nipped at the finish line by just 8 feet in today's thrilling final-round run against Shawn Langdon.
It was the fifth final-round appearance by Schumacher's in eight events this season and the 124th of his career, but his attempt to deliver his third event title of 2013 was snatched by the closest of margins by Langdon's run of 3.750 seconds at 324.20 mph. Schumacher's reaction time of .030 of a second bested Langdon's .044 of a second, and his top speed of 327.27 mph was more than 3 mph faster. But Langdon's elapsed time - the best Top Fuel time of the weekend - was enough to bring the Al Anabi Racing driver his third event title of the season and vault him into second place in the Top Fuel standings, 34 points behind the championship-leading Schumacher.
"It was an absolutely great weekend, but you hate to get that far and get beat," said Schumacher, who beat Cory McLenathan in the 2010 Topeka final for his lone event title at Heartland Park. "I am so proud of this U.S. Army team. Each and every one of those guys plays a vital role in the success of the Army car on the track. Similarly, every Soldier, no matter which of the more than 150 career options he or she chooses in the Army, is vital to the success of the mission. Shawn made a run in that final that would've beaten anybody. It was a stout run. He just went out and did what A.J. (Al Anabi Racing team manager Alan Johnson, Schumacher's former crew chief) and Langdon do. He went fast and he wasn't late on the tree. Either one of them makes a mistake and they get beat. We were machine-like. They just outperformed us. He's a great dude. It's a great team. It's my old guys and it's going to be a battle to the end. No one's ever doubted that."
Langdon, who Saturday bested Schumacher's top qualifying effort by just two-thousandths of a second, also beat Schumacher in the final of the season-opener in Pomona, Calif., in February, and he eliminated Schumacher in the first round at Houston last month. Today's march to the final by Schumacher featured convincing wins over Bob Vandergriff, Clay Millican and Leah Pruett in the opening three rounds, respectively.
Meanwhile, his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate and fellow U.S. Army driver Antron Brown found himself making an early exit this weekend after being eliminated by Leah Pruett in the first round. Pruett beat the defending series champion and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster with a run of 3.855 seconds at 316.52 mph.
Brown, the No. 6 qualifier here this weekend, ran a respectable 3.887 seconds at 316.52 mph in his first-round matchup with. Brown suspected an electrical gremlin that had plagued the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster all weekend prevented him from advancing past the second round for the sixth time in six career visits to Heartland Park.
"That was a tough first round with Leah (Pruett)," said Brown, the top qualifier here in 2009, 2010 and 2012. "They ran great all weekend here at Topeka. It looks like we have an electrical problem right now. We just have to figure out where and what. The motor parts looked fine, but it just wasn't hitting on all cylinders, so we have to go back and find out what happened. We're going to replace some things on the car like the ignition wires and make it all brand new for Englishtown. The car just didn't have the power we're used to having. If it did, it should have run a 3.79 or an .80. We put it on our .80 pass from Friday night when we ran that 3.803. That run on Friday night, it dropped two holes well before the finish line. We put it back on that run from Friday and that's what it should have run, but it just didn't get the job done. The curse of Topeka continues."