Despite possessing mental, emotional and physical strength reflective of the more than more than 1 million Army Strong Soldiers they represent, both Schumacher and Brown, made an early exit in the season’s 13th event.
Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), qualified second and was looking to continue his winning streak over Chris “The Greek” Karamesines. Entering eliminations, Schumacher had a 5-0 all-time record versus “The Greek” and held an advantage of 657-20 in round wins. After a solid launch, “The Sarge” lost traction and began to pedal his machine back up to speed briefly before seeing Karamesines pull away toward his 21st career round win and first since Bristol in 2011.
“Those are the tough ones,” said Schumacher, who lost in the first round at Summitt Racing Motorsport Park for the first time in seven career starts at the facility. “I always say it’s harder to run those guys that are just happy to be in the field. When you are racing a (Doug) Kalitta in first round, you wake up and you’re pumped. “The Greek” is one of those guys that is happy to show up and race. He loves making it through qualifying and then just goes out and tries to run a 3.95 like he did. When he’s in the other lane, you have to go out and run fast. If you make a mistake, you get beat.”
Schumacher entered the event with momentum after claiming last weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals near his home in Chicago and was looking to win consecutive events for the first time since early in the 2009 campaign. He also was seeking his second win in Norwalk after scoring the inaugural 2007 race, but his run back to the final ended quickly. Karamesines posted a clean run of 3.949 seconds at 305.91 mph to best Schumacher, who got off the throttle after his U.S. Army dragster lost traction and coasted to a run of 5.677 seconds at 121.69 mph.
“We’re trying to figure out what happened,” said Schumacher, moments after the run. “If you look at the target, we were right on it, but we think something broke. We went up there knowing that we had cool conditions, and that the car should run a 3.76 and something happens. Generally speaking, it’s the product of a malfunction when something like that happens. When it’s hot out and it smokes the tires, you can say that you just missed it. When it’s cool, we have a pretty good handle on it. Something didn’t do what it was asked to do. It looked dead on target early, but then at 100 feet it just went away in a hurry. Even when it went up in smoke, I still felt like I was going to beat him. I tried to get back in it. I saw his car and he wasn’t smoking the tires. At that point, I knew there wasn’t any point in crossing the center line or oiling the track down, where you lose 10 points and get beat, so I just shut it off.”
Brown was in the final pair of what turned out to be a wild opening round. The reigning Top Fuel champion qualified the Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster of DSR seventh and matched up with Khalid alBalooshi. Both drivers lost traction before reaching half track, but alBalooshi had enough of margin to earn the win light over Brown for the fourth consecutive time with a run of 4.150 seconds at 257.53 mph. Brown got to the finish line in 4.610 seconds at 194.24 mph.
“This is a very humbling business,” said Brown. “We work hard and really wanted this race. We saw an opportunity, and I’m just bummed that we couldn’t take advantage of it. We can see that we’re in for one of those big fights this year where nothing is going to go easy for us. His car went a little bit farther than mine (before losing traction). Mine let up earlier, and I saw him out there. I got back in it and then he let up. We were catching him, but we just ran out of racetrack. We’ve got a week off before the Western Swing and our main focus is to return our Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster back to our normal level. We just have to keep on fighting.”
In Sunday’s Top Fuel final, alBalooshi defeated Kalitta to earn his first event victory of the season.
Schumacher’s early exit dropped him to second in the Top Fuel point standings. Shawn Langdon, who reached the semifinal before losing to Kalitta, regained the lead by one point over Schumacher (1013-1012) as the series heads west to Denver in two weeks for the 34th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, Co. Brown ranks fifth with 799 points.