Considering 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, the seven-time world champion, and Brown, the reigning Top Fuel champion, continue to have their eyes on the ultimate prize despite a rather abrupt end to this year's three-event Western Swing at this weekend's 26th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash.
After rain washed out the opening two rounds of qualifying Friday, Schumacher and his U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) powered to the No. 3 qualifying spot Saturday on his second of two exceptional runs on the day, and Brown was nearly as impressive by qualifying sixth in his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR.
Then came T.J. Zizzo, who's running a part-time schedule this season and took advantage of miscues by the U.S. Army duo and beat Schumacher to the finish line in today's opening round of eliminations, then beat Brown in the second round.
"Believe it or not, we've got an awesome U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster," said Schumacher, who despite an impressive holeshot against Zizzo lost his advantage when he lost a cylinder at the 300-foot mark down the 1,000-foot dragstrip. "The level of engineering and teamwork on display at the racetrack is reflective of the Army's leading-edge technology and the powerful, realistic training of its Army Strong Soldiers. As a result of that, we ended up getting the car to do exactly what we wanted it to in each of the limited number of runs we had this weekend. We needed all four runs in qualifying this weekend because we made some big changes since Sonoma. Unfortunately, you can't move forward before you get through the initial stuff, and our progress was just cut short because of the weather. Nothing we can do about that. Fortunately, we've got it doing the most important thing we wanted it to. It just put a hole out against Zizzo and now we know we can fix that. I'm looking forward to the next race, and the good thing is, I'm not going to Brainerd wondering if we've got a good racecar. We've got a good racecar. We just needed a few more runs this weekend."
Despite the dropped cylinder, Schumacher crossed the finish line in 3.902 seconds at 302.62 mph. Zizzo crossed the line in 3.843 seconds at 313.22 mph.
Brown's first-round victory over Bob Vandergriff came courtesy of an impressive holeshot. The defending champion's reaction time of .054 of a second to Vandergriff's .114 of a second trumped Vandergriff's elapsed time advantage of 3.826 seconds to Brown's 3.866 seconds. Brown smoked the tires at half-track against Zizzo in the second round and crossed the line in 4.626 seconds at 179.56 mph while Zizzo's clocked a run of 3.975 seconds at 276.75 mph.
"The good thing is, we made a lot of points up on (Doug) Kalitta today," Brown said. "The only thing we can do now is go to Brainerd and do a little more. We pushed little hard on that second-round run and didn't back it off enough. We've still got a little work to do to get some stuff figured out about the Matco Tools/U.S. Army car. But it's a constant work in progress. We're starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel, so we've just got to keep on pushing, keep on pushing. Today, we just got too aggressive out there and started applying the clutch right there in the middle of the track where it got worse, and we just didn't back off enough right there, that's all. Obviously he (Zizzo) did and he left it wide open. We probably could've run a 4-flat (four seconds) and beat him, but we were out there trying to run a 3.88 and it was just too much. That's the hard part. Our basic deal is we're trying to get back in the zone we're used to being in. We've got to stay patient because it's going to be a little bit of work. We just have to keep after it. That's the whole name of the game."
After taking next weekend off, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series resumes at the 32nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Aug. 16-18 at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.