U.S. Army Duo Heads to Houston with Points Lead, Last Two Event Wins
Looking To Celebrate Army Reserve’s 109th Birthday in Ultimate Fashion
BAYTOWN, TX – Last we saw of the U.S. Army driver duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown three weekends ago, both left Las Vegas on top – Schumacher as the new leader in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel standings and Brown having successfully defended his spring Las Vegas event title from the previous season.
This weekend, they head to Royal Purple Raceway for the NHRA Spring Nationals on the outskirts of Houston looking to make it three event titles in a row between them after Schumacher beat Brown in the Top Fuel final at the prestigious NHRA Gatornationals in mid-March, and Brown returned the favor in their rematch in the Top Fuel final at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this month.
Another event title Sunday in Houston would certainly add the ultimate exclamation point to a major celebration already planned for Saturday, when Schumacher and Brown will participate in cake-cutting ceremonies in recognition of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 109th birthday. Born April 23, 1908, the Army Reserve is the U.S. Army’s pool of extra resources and personnel in place to perform critical Army jobs. Army Reserve Soldiers serve part-time, allowing them to earn an extra paycheck, go to school, or work a civilian job while still maintaining many of the benefits of military service.
Off to one of their best starts in recent seasons, the eight-time world-champion Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) find themselves leading the points for the first time in 33 events dating back to the 2015 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. After solid, top-five qualifying efforts at each of the season’s first four events – including Schumacher’s record 81st No. 1 en route to the Gainesville win – the U.S. Army team reached the Sunday semifinals at the season-opening event at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California and the next event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, followed by the final-round matchups he split against teammate Brown at Gainesville and Las Vegas.
Schumacher will be looking for his third career Houston event title this weekend and his first since his maiden victory with then-new Army crew chief Mike Green en route to the 2009 Top Fuel world title. Schumacher’s best recent effort at Houston was a final-round appearance against Doug Kalitta in 2015.
Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, also two-time Houston event titlists, look to continue the momentum of their Las Vegas victory, which earned Brown the distinction of becoming the only Top Fuel driver to score at least one event title for 10 consecutive seasons. Brown’s Houston titles came in 2008 and 2014, and he also reached the Sunday final in 2010 and 2012.
Look for the Schumacher and the U.S. Army team to mount a fast and furious effort to extend their six-point lead over third DSR Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett – this year’s Pomona and Phoenix event titlist – and Brown to try and close his 25-point gap to Schumacher from his No. 3 position in the standings.
Qualifying for the 30th annual NHRA Spring Nationals begins Friday with FS1 providing live coverage at 8:30 p.m. EDT. Saturday’s final qualifying will be carried by FS1 delayed at 2 a.m. Sunday, while the three-hour delayed broadcast of Sunday’s elimination rounds is set for 6 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
You head to Houston this weekend leading the points after a very consistent start to the season. Your thoughts about continuing that momentum?
“This U.S. Army team hit the ground running at the start of this season and what it all comes down to is the fact we’ve got a great racecar, which leads to a great attitude for the driver and everyone on the team. That’s not to say our attitude isn’t always where it should be because we do the same things every day, every race weekend. It’s just that there are times like this when the car is running better and that’s the way it is because sometimes it’s not. We’re running well right now and everyone on the team is really happy to be showing up for work. We’ve been qualifying well and going rounds on Sundays and that’s what it takes to win championships. Houston this weekend is one of my two home racetracks, now, so that makes it all the more special. As for leading the championship at this point in the season, just take that for what it’s worth because there is a downside to leading the points, and that is you can only go down from there. But the upside is that, right now, it’s nice to see we’ve got a car capable of being in the lead.”
You’ve won the Houston event twice in your career and you’ve reached five other final rounds there. What stands out in your mind about racing at Royal Purple Raceway?
“Houston, it’s been good to me over the years. We’ve won some races there at important times. It’s now only a three-and-a-half-hour drive from home (in Austin), so that makes it a home track for me and all that goes with that. When I think of Houston, I think of winning with (then-new crew chief) Mike Green for the first time in 2009. We had a lot of pressure. So many people were out there saying we wouldn’t be able to win without Alan Johnson. It took us four races, and getting that first win was huge. Mike has proven over the years that he is absolutely one of the best at getting these cars right. He assembled an incredible crew with guys like (new assistant crew chief) Phil (Shuler), and things seem to be running on all cylinders. The U.S. Army team has always thrived when it’s pressure time and that all started with Mike back in 2009. That Houston win proved we could do it, and we’re still winning now. That was the last time we won there, so hopefully we can add another one there this weekend.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
You and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team broke through for your first win of the season at Las Vegas three weeks ago. That made you the only Top Fuel driver ever to score at least one event title for 10 consecutive seasons. How big was it to get that first win of the season under your belt, and to achieve that milestone?
“That’s a testament to the team we’ve got here. It’s not just our Matco Tools/U.S. Army team, but it’s everyone back in the Don Schumacher Racing shop. There are a lot of people who make this thing work with their blood, sweat and tears, and that’s what makes something like winning the way we did at Las Vegas possible. We just take it one round at a time. We just focus. You don’t know going into a race weekend if you’re going to win a round. We don’t show up on Sunday morning knowing we are going to go four rounds. You just worry about one round at a time. You go through that process and that’s what makes winning feel so good. You look at the end result and, when you make it happen, you look at all the work it took and you know it’s well worth it. You never know when you’re going to win again, so you don’t take it for granted. You stay humble and you put the work in.”
Any particular thoughts about this weekend’s event in Houston?
“It’s always great to get back to Houston. That’s where I won my first Top Fuel race and a place where we’ve been pretty good. We’ve won there a couple of times and made the final a few other times, so hopefully this year we can get back there and win it again. We’ve had a pretty good start to the year and our goal is just to continue going rounds. The weather can always be an equalizer in Houston. You’ve got some lower elevation, so there is an opportunity to use more horsepower, but it just depends on how hot it gets. You can usually count on two qualifying sessions where you can – what I like to say, ‘Throw down.’ That means you can really get aggressive and go for it. We’re ready.”