The seven-time world-champion Schumacher earned the high of the No. 1 qualifier position Friday and Saturday in the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) before No. 16 qualifier Jenna Haddock took advantage of the U.S. Army Dragster's smoking tires three-quarters of the way down the 1,000-foot straightaway and illuminated the win light in her first career Top Fuel elimination run.
Schumacher, who set the track elapsed-time record with his Friday-night qualifying run of 3.823 seconds at 319.75 mph, got off to a strong start in his first-round elimination run against Haddock this morning but lost grip approaching the finish line and stopped the clock in 4.792 seconds at 182.16 mph. Haddock's run of 4.276 seconds at 232.71 mph was enough for the win. She was beaten Brittany Force in the second round while Schumacher and the U.S. Army team, a distant fourth in the Top Fuel standings behind third-place Shawn Langdon, were not able to capitalize on Langdon's first-round loss today.
"Win, lose or draw, the U.S. Army Racing team is honored and takes great pride in representing the more than 1 million Soldiers who protect our freedom and our way of life," said Schumacher, whose No. 1 qualifying effort was the 73rd of his illustrious career but his first at Bandimere and his first since February 2013 at Auto Club Speedway in Pomona, California. "Honestly, we're a better-performing car in my opinion against most everybody out here, right now. When we have a different kind of a round, when you've qualified No. 1 and you're running the No. 16 car, I think we back it down and it just doesn't have the inertia it needs when we bring the clutch in. I'm not a crew chief, by any means, but it seems like that's the pattern. Against the easier cars, we get into more trouble when we're trying to be conservative than we do when we're trying to go fast. We've had those moments this year where we just missed it, but we've missed it by such a small amount that it's difficult to fix. That thing was quivering and I knew it was trying to move forward. It was an awful lot like our third-round qualifying run, which was in similar conditions, and I pedaled it a little bit then. Today, I felt the danger in the same, exact spot. It just did it a little more. Maybe we were just a little slower, and when we tried to bring the clutch in, it just didn't like it. Hey, man, we just made that girl's life. She got her first round win in her very first Top Fuel run, ever, against the winningest team in Top Fuel history. I hate to lose but, for them, it's great. They're good Texas people. And I got beat with a car that runs my old cockpit."
Brown, meanwhile, arrived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and the always tricky conditions of Bandimere Speedway brought about by its 5,800-foot elevation on a high of his own after winning the last two NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois and Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio that gave him a series-high five event titles this season.
He and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR qualified a modest sixth here this weekend but found himself in the most compelling matchup of today's opening round of eliminations. Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion, entered the weekend in second place in the championship standings, 48 points behind Kalitta, who qualified 11th here this weekend.
Brown came through with a holeshot victory over Kalitta in 3.903 seconds at 311.56 mph. Brown's reaction time of .05 of a second enabled him to beat Kalitta to the finish line despite Kalitta's run of 3.899 seconds at 313.51 mph. Kalitta's reaction time was .07 of a second.
Brown's day came to an abrupt end, however, as three-time Top Fuel world champion Larry Dixon, who's running just a partial schedule in 2014, beat Brown across the finish line in a race during which both drivers smoked their tires along the way. Dixon won the pedalfest in 4.107 seconds at 272.39 mph while Brown clocked in at 4.331 seconds at 220.19 mph.
"We were just a little aggressive in the middle and it almost held on," said Brown, whose gap to first-place Kalitta atop the standings was closed to within 25 markers thanks to his first-round win over the championship leader. "But we'll go from here and just get ready for Sonoma. We like going there. We had a good racing weekend here. We made up some good points, so we'll just keep pressing. I'm very excited about Sonoma. It's always been a good racetrack for us."