INDIANAPOLIS — Racing at the world’s biggest drag race has brought out some of the best moments in the incredible career of Tony Schumacher.
The eight-time Top Fuel world champion has won the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals nine times, tying him with Bob Glidden for the most Mello Yello Series victories in the history of the illustrious event. Schumacher now has a chance to stand alone at this weekend’s 62nd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis with a 10th victory.
The magnitude of what is on the line in Indy is not lost on Schumacher, but the 81-time event winner has always performed at his best when the spotlight has been its brightest and he will keep that same mindset this weekend in his 10,000-horsepower U.S. Army dragster.
“I look at the U.S. Nationals as an opportunity and I talk a lot about being gifted,” Schumacher said. “That’s not a statement of being arrogant, it’s a statement that I believe having a chance to be part of great moments is a gift. Being surrounded by a group of people capable of that moment is a gift. It’s been a gift to carry the U.S. Army colors for the last 16 years and it’s been such an incredible run.”
“I think being surrounded by people that have done it before is a huge part of having success at Indy. The leadership, the knowing you can win, the positive attitudes, those are things that win Indy. When I’m sitting in the car getting ready to go Friday night, I know that (crew chief) Mike (Green), (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) and the rest of my nine-man team are ready for what’s ahead of us. These are the four days you look forward to most.”
For the first time, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be aired live on FOX and FOX Sports 1 (FS1). It also serves as the last race of the 18-race regular season before the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship begins.
Schumacher, currently fifth in points, hopes to use a Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory as a springboard for another championship run, something that worked out almost perfectly when he won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout during the event in 2014. Winning that, coupled with a 10th Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory, might present a similar scenario and Schumacher has only one thought on his mind this weekend.
“I’m here to dominate and win,” Schumacher said. “We represent the Army and the perception that we win. This is one of those years that we are part of the battle and it’s a good battle. I speak 200 times a year and the speech is so much about adversity and figuring it out.”
“We don’t know what is going to happen at this year’s U.S. Nationals, but we know that success at Indy is something that can really launch you into the Countdown with momentum. Most of the time when you can get momentum going its something you just keep working at to build more and more of. Two years ago, we won the Traxxas Shootout and then won the first two races of the Countdown and never looked back on our way to a world championship. We want to win this weekend. Period.”
Schumacher’s last Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals win came in 2012, as a slew of first-time winners – Shawn Langdon (2013), Richie Crampton (2014) and Lucas – have raced to victory since. Teammate, defending world champion and current points leader Antron Brown’s win in 2011 marks four first-time winners in the past five years, a trend Schumacher hopes to stop in 2016.
But Schumacher seems to be making rapid improvements. He picked up his first win of the year in Denver and has dipped into the 3.60-second run category in back-to-back races, posting a career-best 3.686 in Seattle. With an increased amount of points in play via the point-and-a-half system for this event (150 points to the winner), Schumacher could also make a significant jump in the standings heading into the Countdown.
To do so, Schumacher will have to ward off potential first-time winners Steve Torrence, a runner-up at the race in 2013 and 2014, veteran Doug Kalitta, three-time 2016 winner Brittany Force, J.R. Todd, Clay Millican, and Leah Pritchett and Terry McMillen, who will also be duking it out for the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
“We’ve been building and we have been for the last eight or nine races,” Schumacher said. “It’s the big picture, winning a world championship that we have been working on. Mike and Neal and all the Army guys know how to make a car fast, but it’s about finding a way to make a car faster than everyone else and that takes time and commitment. We’re getting better and better. We still need to keep fine-tuning this thing. We need to get out of being close with the other cars. We need to get back to where we were and that’s better than everyone else. We have great people on this team and together we will get back to having the great performances that we’ve had in the past.”
That would continue to build a legacy that has been unmatched in Top Fuel, especially when it comes to Schumacher’s remarkable run in Indy.
Topping what he has already done may be difficult but the longtime standout continues to be up for the challenge.
“By now, what makes Indy so special is the legacy we are leaving behind is increasingly getting better and I think it’s going to be more difficult to break or match those records that we are part of, so we’ve got to, while we still have a chance, build on it so it becomes almost impossible to catch,” Schumacher said.
“We have always been a pressure team and if you look at our results you can see that the Army team thrives when the pressure is at its highest point. There is pressure in winning Indy. There is pressure to give yourself a chance to win a world championship. There is pressure in having to make a world-record pass to win a championship. We’ve been working all season to be at our best when it matters most.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications