Shawn Langdon takes the Top Fuel win
Sometimes it doesn’t take an outright victory to leave town feeling like things are headed in the right direction. Such was the case for the U.S. Army duo of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher (in photo) and Antron Brown, whose Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Dragsters were arguably the class of the Top Fuel field headed into Sunday’s elimination rounds of the 14th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at the scenic Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.
It was a testament to the fact every member of the U.S. Army Racing team, from pit crew to the business staff, plays a vital role in the success of the car on the track. Similarly every Soldier, no matter which of the more than 150 career options he or she chooses in the U.S. Army, is vital to the success of the mission.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster team qualified third but entered Sunday’s competition feeling like the ones to beat after a perfect three rounds of qualifying – although a timing light malfunction Friday negated what was calculated to be the fastest Top Fuel run of the weekend.
The seven-time Top Fuel world champion started the day Sunday with his fourth consecutive sold run of the weekend, beating No. 14 qualifier Billy Torrence after crossing the line in 3.857 seconds at 323.89 mph. Torrence smoked his tires briefly and clocked a run of 4.008 seconds at 305.84 mph.
Schumacher’s second-round matchup against Bob Vandergriff started well but turned into a pedalfest as the U.S. Army Dragster carried a huge advantage to half-track but smoked his tires. Schumacher was briefly able to gather it back up but Vandergriff, who smoked his tires not long after leaving the starting line, had the momentum and beat Schumacher across the finish line.
“As is the case every day of the year, this U.S. Army Racing team is honored and takes great pride in representing the more than 1 million Soldiers who protect our freedom and our way of life, no matter the outcome on any given race weekend,” said Schumacher, who was vying for his series-leading sixth career win at Bristol. “We were making outstanding runs. Honestly, that’s how I drive a car. When it smokes (the tires) – and we were all expecting stuff like that in this heat today – I pedal it. Vandergriff did a heck of a job. Sometimes when you blow the tires off at the hit, you stop, you breathe for a second and get your grip on it. It’s a little bit easier that way. Today, I’m out there thinking I’ve got a perfect run going straight, and Vandy came around me, kind of caught me off guard, surprised me. It was a great race. The fans got a good show. Being that it’s Father’s Day and the Army’s birthday weekend, I wanted to win this one more than most. We’ve got a great car. We’ve got an excellent car going into the right time of the season. We just need a couple of breaks.”
In the end, seven of the eight Top Fuel competitors in the second round smoked their tires. The only one who didn’t was Brown, who laid down the only sub-four-second run of 3.883 seconds at 315.19 mph against tire-smoking DSR teammate Spencer Massey and reached the semifinals. Brown, who qualified fourth in his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster and stands second in the Top Fuel standings, met his match this day in the form of the points-leading Doug Kalitta. Both got down the track on their semifinal round with Kalitta clipping Brown with a run of 3.905 seconds at 312.64 mph to Brown’s 3.952 seconds at 304.74 mph.
“It was a good race and a tough one to lose, but we’ll just keep pushing forward,” said Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion who still has yet to score an event title at Bristol. “We gained a lot this weekend and we just wanted to win this race, especially for all of our distributors and all the U.S. Army Soldiers being that it’s the 239th birthday weekend for the U.S. Army. Tony’s Army car and our Matco Tools/U.S. Army car, we were pushing hard. We had great cars this weekend and race day the first round we definitely made a move in the right direction. The car was moving in the right direction and the car was going exactly like we wanted to. It’s just the luck of the draw, sometimes. We go to Epping, now. Our heads are up. Today, we look at the racecars pound for pound, our car was just on point today above everybody else’s. Doug (Kalitta), they threw a shot out there and they landed it. We’ll go to Epping and we’re going to have our guns blazing. Our heads are held high. We’re just excited to get to Epping and, fortunately, we don’t have a long wait for it.”
With 10 events complete in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the top-10 drivers in the Top Fuel standings are:
1. Doug Kalitta (902 points)
2. Antron Brown (782 points, -120)
3. Shawn Langdon (751 points, -151)
4. Spencer Massey (652 points, -250)
5. Steve Torrence (617 points, -285)
6. Tony Schumacher (557 points, -345)
7. Khalid alBalooshi (535 points, -367)
8. Brittany Force (502 points, -400)
9. J.R. Todd (464 points, -538)
10. Richie Crampton (429 points, -473)
Next up is next weekend’s second annual Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. ESPN2’s live, three-hour eliminations-day broadcast Sunday begins at 1 p.m. EDT.