U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher has hoisted the coveted trophy seven times in his career and he's still hoping to earn his eighth this season despite a 138-point deficit to make up in the season's final two events. With this weekend's 28th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., now complete after persistent rains Sunday forced postponement of the final two-plus rounds until Monday, it's going to take a U.S. Army Soldier-type effort in which Schumacher and his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) crew exercise the mental, emotional and physical strength like no other - like the U.S. Army Soldiers they represent - to claim an eighth Top Fuel crown.
Schumacher trails his championship-leading DSR teammate and fellow U.S. Army driver Antron Brown by 136 points with two races remaining in the six-race Countdown to the Championship. But "The Sarge" has a history of closing strong when winning championships. Four times he's won the final event to clinch the Top Fuel title in the sport's ultimate mission, and twice he did it in dramatic fashion.
"This U.S. Army team will be up for the fight all the way to the end," said Schumacher, who won the final two events at Las Vegas and Pomona to close his 2005 and 2006 championship seasons. "Rising to the top when the pressure is most intense is what winning is all about. We were on a good run after winning the U.S. Nationals and beginning the Countdown by going to the final in Charlotte. We've had some adversity these past three races, so our only option now is to be like the more than 1 million Army Strong Soldiers around the world who we represent and finish the mission. Winning is our only outcome. Like the Soldiers, we will refuse to lose."
Brown, meanwhile, is surging toward his first Top Fuel title with his stellar performances the last three events. After winning in Dallas and St. Louis, Brown raced to his third consecutive final Monday in Reading. He got there by posting record-breaking runs aboard the special pink Matco "Tools for the Cause"/ U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster.
Brown established a new national elapsed time (ET) record of 3.722 seconds in his second-round victory over Morgan Lucas Sunday, only to see Shawn Langdon eclipse the time Monday morning with a run of 3.712 seconds in his rain-delayed second-round victory. Brown re-established the record with his pass of 3.701 seconds at 328.78 mph during his semifinal victory today over Brandon Bernstein, who eliminated Schumacher in the second round Sunday. Brown wasn't able to claim his third consecutive event win after hazing the tires in today's final against Khalid alBalooshi of Al-Anabi Racing, but he does leave Maple Grove with a national record and a commanding lead in the championship chase.
"I was just in awe and stunned when they told me what I had run," Brown said about his historic pass. "It was a great, hard-fought battle (to get the record) all weekend. Morgan had the record first, then we got it from him, then Shawn Langdon took it from us, and then we took it back. It switched four times. That shows you just how great this Maple Grove Raceway was all weekend. It's definitely one of the best tracks on tour and that's why we love coming here.
"(Losing in the final is) nothing to be disappointed about. We've just been firing off our best shots each round. We got a record, got an extra 20 points, and we aren't laying down. All in all, it was a great weekend for points. We just have to get ready for Vegas and go out there and attack that race."
The next event on the NHRA schedule - the fifth race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship - is the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 25-28. Four qualifying sessions - two Friday and two Saturday - will set the field for Sunday's elimination rounds, which begin at 2 p.m. EDT. ESPN2 will provide tape-delayed coverage beginning at 8 p.m. (EDT).