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 and DSR's U.S. Army team are certainly no strangers when it comes to fighting for championships.
With two events to go in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series campaign, Schumacher trails Top Fuel points leader Shawn Langdon by 139 markers. A year ago this weekend, Schumacher left Maple Grove trailing DSR teammate and eventual Top Fuel champion Antron Brown by 136 points, but mounted a charge at the final two stops on the tour and came within seven points of the season's ultimate prize.
Schumacher's day at Maple Grove began Sunday by laying down the gauntlet in the U.S. Army Dragster with an eye-catching run of 3.767 seconds at 326.40 mph – the best run of the weekend among all competitors here this weekend. He eliminated Terry McMillen in the opening run despite McMillen's very respectable run of 3.810 seconds at 324.12 mph alongside him.
But the stumbling block that has plagued Schumacher and the U.S. Army team seemingly more often than not in recent weeks reared its ugly head in the seven-time champ's second-round run against fellow Countdown to the Championship contender Doug Kalitta. Like he did in both third- and fourth-round qualifying runs Saturday, Schumacher smoked the tires during the latter stages of his trip down the 1,000-foot straightaway while Kalitta clocked a solid run of 3.810 seconds at 324.12 mph to earn the win light.
"It's hard to give a definitive answer as to what the problem is because, if we knew what it was, we'd fix it," said Schumacher, who started the weekend 72 points behind Countdown leader Langdon. "We're using a pretty complicated clutch system. Sometimes it does exactly what we want and we go low ET (elapsed time). Sometimes when we make a change, it does something we're not expecting. When we smoked the tires yesterday and today, it did exactly the same thing. We're definitely working on it. Only the strongest wear our colors. U.S. Army Soldiers possess a mental, emotional and physical strength like no other, and the U.S. Army Racing team reflects those strengths. We have a great team. All you can do when you have a great team going through stuff like we're going through is to stick together and pull it out. We've been so good for so long, so much is expected of us. At some point, we were going to have to take two steps back to go one forward. These other cars that aren't doing what we're doing right now are eventually going to have to because of the amount of power we're putting out. I was further back last year but I had a car that was going down the track more often. Still, I don't count miracles out until my season's over. We are really good at this type of thing. We've made some really good runs here, of late, but we find ourselves a long way out in the points with five guys ahead of us, so we've got to get it figured out."
Meanwhile, Brown, the defending Top Fuel champion, almost won for the second weekend in a row as the No. 5 qualifier logged four consecutive runs in the 3.8-second range and came up just short against points leader Langdon in the Top Fuel final. Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR eliminated Billy Torrence, Brandon Bernstein and DSR teammate Spencer Massey in the opening three rounds before his run of 3.806 seconds at 322.04 mph was eclipsed by Langdon's 3.779 seconds at 323.81 mph.
"The last two weekends, we got seven out of eight round wins," said Brown, who scored his third event title of the season last weekend at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis but only his first since early May. "We just want to finish the year out strong, just like that. If we do that in the next two races, I think it puts us right there contending for the championship at the end. We just have to keep on pushing. Today showed that anything is possible with a lot of people going out early. We're going to keep giving it our all and take it one round at a time and just do what we can do. We're still in the fight for the championship and we just have to focus on one round at a time and try to get those win lights. We have two weeks off to kind of take a breath and get recharged to go after it in Las Vegas."
Brown, who suffered a major setback by failing to qualify for Sunday eliminations during the opening Countdown event weekend at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C., leaves Maple Grove 129 points back of Langdon in the championship.