U.S. Army NHRA Racing Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Final Qualifying Report
The field is set for Sunday’s opening round of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. The U.S. Army Racing trio of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, Leah Pritchett and Antron Brown wound up second, third and sixth on the elimination ladder, respectively, after the final two rounds of qualifying Saturday for this weekend’s 34th annual Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania.
Schumacher made his championship aspirations clear Saturday behind the wheel of the U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) by laying down two more consistent passes, including his best run of the weekend during the final session. After posting a run of 3.792 seconds at 328.94 mph in Saturday’s first session, crew chief Mike Neff and assistant crew chief Phil Shuler went to work and provided “The Sarge” with the best car he had under him all weekend. The results proved it as he jumped up to the second position with his pass of 3.754 seconds at 328.86 mph. He will begin his quest for a sixth Maple Grove victory by facing Dave Mercier in Sunday’s first round.
“We have a great U.S. Army car and just closed qualifying with a great run,” said Schumacher. “We’ve been gun-shy and finally it was time. In that last run, we had the opportunity we needed. The conditions were good. We already knew how to make an average run, but we needed to make a fast one. We made a lot of changes and the car was extremely fast. I give a lot credit to Mike (Neff) and Phil (Shuler) and all the U.S. Army guys. They never gave up and continued to work. I’m so happy to be here in Reading. This is a great place to start the Countdown. We want to win this race. To win a championship, you have to win races and we have a great opportunity tomorrow.”
Brown, who used his 2015 and 2016 Maple Grove victories to secure back-to-back Top Fuel world championships, appears to be locked into championship mode following his runs down the track Saturday. The New Jersey native looked right at home in Saturday’s first session making a pass of 3. 767 seconds 328.22 mph, the third-best of the round. His Matco Tools/U.S. Army team led by co-crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brad Mason wanted more in the final session and nearly got it. Brown clocked a pass of 3.791 seconds at 326.71 mph despite a minor mechanical malfunction. The results set up a first-round matchup pairing not only the last two Top Fuel world champions, but also the two most recent Maple Grove winners in Brown and Brittany Force.
“It’s game on,” said Brown. “I’m feeling really good. Tomorrow the sun’s going to be out. We were trying to run good in that last qualifying pass. We wanted to move up into the top three and we were confident that we were going to do that. We still ran 3.79 (seconds) with a minor issue. We made three good qualifying runs and one we were just too aggressive. We are sitting in a good spot. We just have to take advantage of it tomorrow. We have lane choice and we just have to get through that round. We are going to give it everything we’ve got. At some point you are going to have to race everybody out there. It’s going to be a fun day tomorrow and we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re prepared for it. And we’re ready to get after this Countdown for the Championship.”
The day was also a success for Pritchett with two more consistent qualifying passes. The driver of the Dodge Mopar 1320/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR put up a lap of 3.799 seconds at 325.45 mph to start the day and closed the session with a pass of 3.799 seconds at 308.50 mph. The matching elapsed times today underscore the team’s ability to get down the track and they’ll look to continue that in Sunday’s first round when Pritchett takes on Audrey Worm.
“I feel like the countdown is Christmas and whoever can feel like it’s Christmas the longest is going to be the champion,” said Pritchett, who begins her third run for a Top Fuel world championship. “We get excited about going fast and we pushed super hard in Q4. Our plan was to merge our Q1 and Q2 runs and it stuck for a little while until we had some issues at the top end. Those are the things that challenge us, and we look forward to. Starting Sunday off in the third position…that’s incredible. That’s what we want. It gives us lane choice and the ability to concentrate on one round at a time. A lot of people want to put added pressure on these Countdown races. I think consistency is going to be the biggest component and we’ve shown that we have that throughout qualifying this weekend.”
Elimination rounds begin at 11 a.m. (EDT) Sunday with three hours of delayed coverage on FS1 set to air from 7:30 – 10:30 p.m.