But in the blink of an eye, both Schumacher and Brown got derailed on their way to a fifth Brainerd event title between them with ever-so-narrow semifinal-round losses.
Nonetheless, the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammates showed on this cold and gloomy, rain-delay-filled Sunday that only the strongest wear the colors of the U.S. Army, and that the Army-NHRA partnership provides Americans a platform to experience the speed, power, teamwork and technology that drives that strength.
Schumacher, the seven-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champion and three-time Brainerd event titlist, disposed of Leah Pritchett and arch-rival Shawn Langdon with solid first- and second-round elimination victories in his U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR. With conditions almost 20 degrees cooler than they were during Friday and Saturday qualifying rounds, Schumacher and the rest of the competitors in all classes laid down some of the fastest runs seen all season. Schumacher beat Pritchett with a run of 3.778 seconds at 324.51 mph, and ousted Langdon with a run of 3.763 seconds at 326.87 mph.
That set up his semifinal-round meeting with Top Fuel points leader and fellow two-time 2014 event titlist Doug Kalitta with a boat-load of momentum on his side. Schumacher's run of 3.740 seconds at 327.51 mph outdid Kalitta's run of 3.752 seconds at 324.67 mph. But Kalitta's reaction-time advantage of .070 of a second to Schumacher's .084 of a second gave the points leader the holeshot victory by a mere 36 inches at the finish line.
"It's not that hard to have a 70 light (.070 of a second reaction time) in the semifinals," said Schumacher, who is now 3-3 this season in head-to-head meetings against Kalitta. "All I needed was a 79 (.079) light. An 84 (.084) light just doesn't cut it. That just puts in perspective. I went in really quick and he took his sweet time, and then . it just kind of caught me off guard a little bit. It happens. We've got a really good car and then he had his guard down there. We should've beaten him. We ran good enough to beat him, and I just didn't pull my weight. I have to say this U.S. Army Racing team, despite the disappointment of runs like that, is uplifted every day by the pride we have and the honor of representing the more than 1 million Soldiers who protect our freedom and our way of life. We've got a great car. We just need to put it all together and we're on the verge of doing just that at the right time of the season. The last four events, we've done just great. We've just got to get it to all click. I drove much better the last couple races. I was a little slow here - just a little slow. I'm surprised. I don't know why that is. I've been just a couple hundredths slower at this race all weekend. We'll pick it up. We have the U.S. Nationals coming up next and we've done better there than anywhere else."
Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for DSR, parlayed the momentum of his third No. 1 qualifier position of the season into first- and second-round victories over J.R. Todd (3.804 seconds at 318.69 mph) and Larry Dixon (3.772 seconds at 293.86 mph) to set up his semifinal meeting today against Morgan Lucas, who was on a roll of his own this weekend despite running just a part-time schedule this season.
Brown got a better jump at the starting line and had a brief lead early against Lucas, but Lucas was able to get by Brown before the finish line and stopped the clocks in 3.729 seconds at 319.82 mph to Brown's 3.770 seconds at 319.82 mph.
"All in all, it was a good race weekend here at Brainerd," Brown said. "It just didn't work out in our favor in that semifinal round. We turn the page and move on to Indy and get ready for Indy and the U.S. Nationals. I'm pretty pumped up about the Traxxas Shootout and the U.S. Nationals. We've got a lot of really cool things coming up in the next few weeks leading up to the Nationals and I'm excited to live and be in Indy. We're going to use what happened today at Brainerd to fuel us at Indy, that's for sure. We're right there. The car is running good. So, we'll just go back and get ready for Indy and see what we can do for the U.S. Nationals. It's our All-Star Game, or our Super Bowl, and I'm amped up. I get so excited about it. If you do well at Indy, it can heal a lot of wounds."