U.S. Army Top Fuel Trio Closes the Books on 2018 at Pomona NHRA Finals
POMONA, CA – The U.S. Army Top Fuel driver trio of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett bring down the curtain on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, which, fittingly, come to a close Sunday as the nation celebrates Veterans Day.
While the coveted Top Fuel world championship was clinched at the penultimate event two weekends ago at Las Vegas by the season’s winningest and most consistent performer Steve Torrence, the U.S. Army drivers hit Southern California with plenty to race for as they’ll jockey for final finishing positions in the Countdown to the Championship playoff standings.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) are third in the standings, an insurmountable 264 points behind Torrence but just 33 points behind second-place Clay Millican, a deficit that is attainable especially with this weekend’s points-and-a-half payout – or 30 points per elimination round win Sunday – and extra bonus points awarded during four rounds of qualifying Friday and Saturday. Schumacher and his team have laid down some of the most memorable performances in NHRA history at the Pomona finale during their 18 full seasons representing the U.S. Army, including the clinching of two of The Sarge’s record eight Top Fuel world titles on the very last run of the season. They’ll look to work some Pomona magic once again this weekend and grab the No. 2 spot in the final standings under first-year crew chief Mike Neff, who scored his first career Top Fuel win as a crew chief in June at Bristol, Tennessee.
Brown, the three-time Top Fuel world champion in his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR, has seen his share of struggles navigating this year’s 24-event Mello Yello Series campaign, captured his milestone 50th career Top Fuel event title and 65th overall at Seattle in August, but it remains his only victory of the season. He arrives at Pomona sixth in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Brittany Force, the defending champion, and 103 points out of fourth.
Pritchett and her Mopar/U.S. Army Dragster team for DSR hold down that fourth-place spot and, like Schumacher, have their eyes firmly focused on leaving Pomona with the No. 2 spot in the standings. It’s a longshot as they are 93 points behind Millican, but third place, just 60 points ahead, is a more realistic goal if they get a little help on elimination day. Pritchett’s event titles this season at Atlanta and Denver leads the three-driver Army contingent in wins. The native of nearby Redlands, California, has three No. 1 qualifying efforts and five final-round appearances in all, including two weekends ago at Las Vegas where Torrence swept to his record fifth title in this year’s first five Countdown events.
Qualifying for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona begins Friday with FS1 providing one hour of delayed coverage at 10:30 p.m. EST Friday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Three hours of live FS1 coverage of Sunday’s elimination rounds is set for 4 p.m.
TONY “THE SARGE” SCHUMACHER, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
Your thoughts about heading to Pomona for the last event of the season?
“The championship is out of reach but, believe it or not, we’re really looking forward to Pomona, which is pretty much the case every race weekend with this U.S. Army team. We want to say hats off to Steve Torrence for the incredible year he and his team have had. We always say it’s nice to once in a while enjoy someone else’s good fortune. Life’s too short to feel otherwise. We’re an awesome race team with an incredible winning record, a championship heritage. Having won championships, we can really enjoy someone else’s championship efforts because we know every little thing that goes into winning them, just what it takes to earn it. As for what we expect this weekend, it’ll be business as usual. We are going to try and win the race. We’re well aware of the points situation and the fact we can finish as high as second in the points if we have the kind of weekend we’re capable of. That would be all well and good, but we’ve first got to go in with the mindset of trying to win this race. The points will take care of themselves, as they always do. If you’re not No. 1 at the end of the season, it really doesn’t matter where you end up, does it? It’s all about winning. This is the best time to win because, if you don’t, you really have a long wait until you get your next chance. This weekend marks the end of our partnership with the U.S. Army and I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed 18 full seasons with them. What we’ve done for the Army and representing them – number one, building the youth into wanting a future in the Army – our job was done extremely well, and the recruiting mission was very, very successful.”
You’ve had some truly memorable moments at the Pomona season finale during your career. Safe to say you have a real fondness for the place?
“Pomona’s been truly amazing for us over the years. To me, so many times, it’s been what every single American boy dreams of – you’re up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count. Whether you end up winning it or not, you’ve had that experience, you’ve lived that dream and, later in life, when you’re chatting about great moments you’d like to relive if you’re given the chance, Pomona is going to come up more than any of the others.”
ANTRON BROWN, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
You’re down to the last event of the season. How are you approaching this weekend at Pomona?
“We’re definitely getting to the realm where we want to be at. You can see the confidence in the team. We just need a little luck to go our way on race day. We need to get over on the other side of where we’ve been. First thing when we go out to Pomona this weekend, we need try and qualify better. Last race in Vegas, we qualified fifth. If we would’ve qualified where Tony qualified (ninth), or if we would’ve qualified where Leah did (fourth), if wouldn’t have mattered which one but we would’ve won that first round and the weekend would have been a whole lot different. ‘Shoulda, woulda coulda.’ But, you know what, we’ll just start with qualifying at Pomona, get ourselves a good spot, and go on from there and end this year on a good note. It’s going to be the end of our run with the U.S. Army and with that I have to say I am honored to have represented the Army over the last 14 years. To support the soldiers and drive for them was a true blessing. The Army will forever be a part of me. This partnership and all of the great people involved gave me the strength to push forward to switch from PSM (Pro Stock Motorcycle) to TF (Top Fuel). The never-settle attitude and the motivation to keep striving for your dreams have been instilled in me for the rest of my life.”
LEAH PRITCHETT, driver of the Mopar/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing
Your thoughts about heading to Pomona for the last event of the season?
“The season may be coming to a close, but there is still the most on the line for our Mopar/U.S. Army team with the potential to finish second in the world. Coming off of a very consistent performance in Vegas, we know the chances and confidence are high as we look forward to continuing our momentum at my official home track. Qualifying will be key as it always is. We began the season with the incredible opportunity to represent the men and women of the U.S. Army and their recruiting efforts with an emphasis on STEM. We have grown in this short time as a team from the values they represent and resilience to be the best in everything they do. As this chapter closes on the official partnership, we will forever continue to be proud of our service men and women and pursue wins on the track in their honor. There are no words to describe how humbled and proud I am to have carried the star all season long, and look forward to being one of the final panelist at the last YES program, especially in my hometown community.”