Heartland of America Awaits U.S. Army Trio Focused on Another Victory
TOPEKA, KS – Win No. 1 of the year for the U.S. Army Top Fuel driver trio of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett is finally in the books as Pritchett successfully powered her way through four elimination rounds at Atlanta Dragway two weekends ago and hoisted her sixth career Wally trophy.
This weekend, they head to Heartland Park Topeka in Eastern Kansas, where Brown brought the U.S. Army its first victory since Schumacher won there in 2010. All three drivers are determined to make it two wins in a row on the year and at Topeka for the U.S. Army.
Schumacher, the eight-time Top Fuel world champion in his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), hits town second in the championship through the season’s first seven events but is coming off back-to-back first-round defeats at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, North Carolina, and at Atlanta. A year ago at Topeka, he blazed to a track-record qualifying run of 3.660 seconds at 327.90 mph but could not get past second-round opponent Clay Millican in Sunday eliminations. In addition to his lone Topeka victory in 2010, he reached the final round in 2013, where he came up just short against that year’s Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon. The No. 1 qualifying effort at Topeka, was the record 83rd of his career for Schumacher, and he’s since added top qualifying efforts at Las Vegas last fall and this spring, and at Phoenix this spring to be bring his record career total to 86. His qualifying run of 3.649 seconds at Phoenix set the track record there and also became his career-best elapsed time.
Brown, the three-time Top Fuel world champion in his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, finally broke through for his first victory in his 10th visit to Heartland Park last year with his final-round win over Steve Torrence. Brown almost scored his first Topeka win in 2016 when he reached his first Top Fuel final at the track, but he was nipped at the finish by Doug Kalitta. Brown has four career No. 1 qualifying efforts at Topeka – 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2015 – and this weekend will be looking for his first of the year, which would be the 50th of his career in the Pro Stock Motorcycle and Top Fuel classes combined. His first victory of the year Sunday would also be the 50th of his career in Top Fuel. Brown is sixth in the Top Fuel standings, 192 points behind leader Torrence.
After enduring early season struggles thanks, for the most part, to an array of electronic and mechanical gremlins, Pritchett and her Schumacher Electric/U.S. Army for DSR team finally pieced together a weekend much more indicative of their championship caliber with their victory at Atlanta. Having watched both her U.S. Army counterparts fall in their first-round matchups during a bizarre, upset-filled Sunday afternoon in the Atlanta heat, Pritchett prevailed in her elimination-round matchups against Pat Dakin, Bill Litton, Mike Salinas and Blake Alexander. This weekend marks Pritchett’s fifth career visit to Heartland Park, where she reached the semifinals a year ago but was eliminated by teammate Brown, the event titlist. She is fifth in the Top Fuel standings.
Qualifying for the 30th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals begins Friday with FS1 providing a pair of delayed, one-hour qualifying highlight shows at 10:30 p.m. EDT Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday. FS1’s three-hour live broadcast of Sunday’s elimination rounds is set for 2 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
You’ve had a week off after a tough couple of weekends in Atlanta and Charlotte, and now you head to Topeka still second in the championship. Your thoughts as you return to a track where you qualified No. 1 a year ago?
“We’re just ready to go out there to Kansas and do our duty by getting one of those Wallys. Topeka is a very nice track. It’s good, it’s fast, it’s clean, and it doesn’t have some of the issues we have at some other tracks. I think what’s good about that track is it almost always is a good, two-lane track where both cars will get down cleanly and it becomes a driver-crew chief thing rather than a racetrack issue in one lane or the other. The fans are fantastic, they love the sport and they really come out and support the event. We left Atlanta two weeks ago feeling a little frustrated after having trouble in the first round Sunday for the second weekend in a row. You do everything you can to be ready, but sometimes in racing, something out of your control costs you. This U.S. Army team is filled with incredibly talented and smart people, and we will not give up. I know we will win races. This U.S. Army car is too good right now not to be winning. The good thing is, we all know that we will, and this weekend in Topeka is our next chance.”
You’re returning to the Heartland of America this weekend wearing the U.S. Army colors during the month of May. How special is it to be representing the Army at Topeka this weekend?
“It’s an incredible feeling to be representing the U.S. Army every single day of the year, there is absolutely no doubt about that. There’s something about going to the Heartland Nationals that makes it all the more special to be wearing the Army colors. I think it would be entirely fitting for us to be hoisting the Wally wearing those colors in the in that part of the country again. We had a great qualifying run at Topeka last year, and had a solid weekend there a few years ago and came close to winning our third race of the year that year. As always is the case with this U.S. Army team, I’m really looking forward to hitting the track.”
Being the winningest and most decorated driver in Top Fuel history, it seems the younger, newer drivers especially savor the chance to race against you and, on occasion, are able to come out ahead, as was the case at Atlanta. Your thoughts on that?
“It’s great when the youngsters, the newer drivers, come up and say they can’t wait to race you. Seriously, it’s just an honor. I watch some of those guys and gals and I know they’re capable of being in the position I’m in someday. They’re going to be the champs and that is just cool. I never try to hold anybody back. In fact, I teach each kid as much as I can about how to do it right. My theory has always been that, when I beat somebody, I want them to have every advantage and I want to beat them in a fair fight. That’s what the fans pay for and that’s what competition truly is all about.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
You’re heading to Topeka to try and win for the second time in a row there. Your thoughts?
“Topeka is one of those tracks where we always run well. It’s a throw-down track. The track is probably the smoothest track we go to –
period. You can go fast and you can hit it hard. We have been on the pole there (last time in 2015) and to finally win in Topeka last year in our Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota was really special. The weather is usually good. It tends to be overcast and a little bit windy, which keeps the track temps down and, when you add in how smooth it is, it becomes a really fast racetrack.”
You’ve always had a certain fondness for Topeka, even though it took until last year for you to get your first Top Fuel win there. Why is that?
“There’s a lot of history at that racetrack. Gary Ormsby, one of my heroes and mentors, you see his name on the property when you pull in. That’s one of the things that really stands out to me when we go there. He was very innovative. He didn’t just bring out a Dragster with an enclosed canopy, like we now use at DSR, but he brought a fully streamlined car that covered the engine and everything that made it so aerodynamic. I got to see him at races when I was a little kid. I never met him or knew him other than as a fan getting his autograph. He was just a cool, soft-spoken, laid-back guy, yet he still was a serious racer. He was well-respected and a genuinely nice guy and he was a hard-core racer. That’s something I’ve always tried to be – I’m very approachable, very nice, but you don’t want to line up against me on the starting line. So, the game plan is to go there and try to do the best that we can do and try to bring home another win.”
LEAH PRITCHETT, driver of the Schumacher Electric/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
Your thoughts as you head to Topeka this weekend coming off your first win of the year at Atlanta two weeks ago?
“Now that we have that first win out of the way, hopefully we can rack up some more for DSR and the U.S. Army. We moved up to fifth in the points at Atlanta, and I admit I can’t say we don’t have one eye on the Countdown, already, but there are plenty of capable cars running a full season and anything can happen. On the other hand, we’re just seven races into the season, so we’re not going to get super jacked up about exactly where we are right now because history has shown that a lot of things can happen leading into and during the Countdown. So, instead, we’re focused on diversifying our portfolio of skillsets for different tracks. Also, things for me, a lot of which I’m trying that are new for me to work on not just down the racetrack but inside the car, like starting-line perspective, etc. I feel like I haven’t done my team justice and I’m taking the hit on that, so we’re working on a couple of things. Once I get my part more fine-tuned and honed in, just like the team is with the car, I feel like we’re definitely going to do some things as the season goes on. I’m looking forward to Topeka. It always has the potential for incredible conditions where we can go really fast, and that’s something all the teams welcome in a big way coming off of our races at Charlotte and Atlanta, where it’s hot.”