For three solid days during this weekend’s inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals, Schumacher and Brown showed the wide-eyed locals that the Army is the Nation’s preeminent leadership experience, where the Nation’s future leaders are developed and empowered with the confidence to take decisive action when needed, and the flexibility to excel in constantly evolving situations.
Schumacher’s U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) was a model of consistency all weekend at this facility that hosted the 10,000-horsepower racing machines of the NHRA’s top series for the very first time. The seven-time Top Fuel world champion and points leader entering the weekend qualified fourth and beat Brittany Force in today’s opening round of eliminations. Both Schumacher and Force encountered wheel spin two-thirds of the way down the 1,000-foot straightaway, but the U.S. Army Dragster was first across the finish line with a run of 4.022 seconds at 291.76 mph.
That set up a second-round meeting against DSR teammate Spencer Massey, the eventual event titlist who had been running extremely well, himself, all weekend. As expected, the two engaged in the closest Top Fuel race of the day to that point with Massey prevailing by 26 thousandths of a second. Massey clocked in at 3.842 seconds at 323.97 mph while Schumacher crossed the line at 3.868 seconds at 321.73 mph.
“The cylinders might have been mixing up a little bit, but I can’t say that’s what cost us because we ran a 321 (mph),” said Schumacher, who leaves New Hampshire second in the points, 43 behind Top Fuel leader Shawn Langdon and 27 ahead of third-place Massey. “I am so proud of this U.S. Army team as it continues to show that only the strongest wear our colors. U.S. Army Soldiers possess a mental, emotional and physical strength like no other, and this U.S. Army team reflects those strengths. Today, our teammates just had a better car. Other than our qualifying run, they had a better car. An 81 (3.81) and an 81 in the first two rounds – man, that’s a good car. There was no doubt it was going to be a tough race, so it is what it is. They’re running well right now, running strong. We probably just gave the fans the best race of the weekend, so far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean squat when you come out on the losing end of it. Oh my goodness, the fans were fantastic here this weekend. That track’s great. It’s almost 100 degrees out and we ran an 84, an 86 and an 83. The people seem to want to come here, so we’ll be back and keep giving them what they want. And the track will just keep getting better.”
For defending Top Fuel champion Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster team for DSR, the roughest stretch of this season continued with his fourth consecutive first-round loss and sixth in the last seven events. After qualifying 10th, Brown was beaten in his first-round matchup against Bob Vandergriff, who put in a solid run of 3.856 seconds at 321.27 mph. Brown crossed the line at 4.043 seconds at 280.95 mph.
“We just have to work hard until we figure it out – keep on pressing, pressing, pressing – and get our combination worked out,” said Brown, who held onto his fourth position in the point standings but fell 210 markers behind leader Langdon. “That deal right there – look at the field, there was no issue that plagued just us. It plagued 70 percent of the field – 70 percent of the field spun the tires in the same spot. That track right there, you just have to be after it early and have it parked in the middle so it can skate through. I thought the track was better to run fast and it wasn’t better. It was actually worse in the middle, and that’s what got us. It got Tony (Schumacher) that way. It got (Steve) Torrence and (Clay) Millican the same way. It got a whole bunch of people in front of us the same way. It even got (Khalid Al-)Balooshi the same way. I had a slump like this in bikes and it lasted all year long. But you’ve just got to stay working and getting after it. You can’t let it get the best of you. It’s just a matter of time if we keep on working and working and working. It’s like a problem. The only way you lose is when you give up, and our team is nowhere near giving up on anything.”
The next event is next weekend’s (June 27-30) 16th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill. ESPN2’s delayed broadcast of the elimination rounds Sunday is set for 9 p.m. EDT.