Memphis Tony Schumacher Best Seat in the House

SCHUMACHER ENJOYING THE VIEW FROM HIS SPOT IN TOP FUEL TITLE CHASE MILLINGTON, Tenn. - Tony Schumacher's got the best seat in the house for drag racing's version of the big title fight. A self-proclaimed motorsports junkie, Schumacher, currently...

SCHUMACHER ENJOYING THE VIEW FROM HIS SPOT IN TOP FUEL TITLE CHASE MILLINGTON, Tenn. - Tony Schumacher's got the best seat in the house for drag racing's version of the big title fight. A self-proclaimed motorsports junkie, Schumacher, currently the points leader in the cut-throat world of NHRA Top Fuel racing, is enjoying the view of the action from his perch atop the category. "I'm probably the biggest spectator in the world," Schumacher said. "I'll always be one of drag racing's biggest fans. If I was in the stands watching, I'd have to say this is the best championship race ever in Top Fuel. I'm just glad to be a part of it." Indeed. The Park Ridge, Ill.-based second-generation racer has found a way to survive and remain in the thick of the championship battle despite not winning a race. With four final round appearances to his credit this season, Schumacher has been the poster child for consistency. He hopes to break through with his first career victory at the 12th annual NHRA AutoZone Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Oct. 7-10 at Memphis Motorsports Park. The $1.7 million race is the 19th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. "I've wanted to win a race for so long that it's almost embarrassing," said Schumacher, zero for eight in final rounds during his short career. "When I look back over eight finals and we haven't won, it's pretty hard to figure. But then I look at a guy like John Force, who went to nine finals before he ever won a race. If I'm heading in the same direction that he took over his career, that's fine with me. If it comes down to where I win the championship without winning a race, then the first trophy of my career will be the biggest Oscar of them all, and that's OK with me." The 29-year-old driver debuted his Exide Batteries dragster a little over a year ago with high expectations surrounding his entrance as a full-time competitor. The team opened with an erratic start late in 1998, but following several key hires during the winter break, the team has blossomed nicely. "We hired Dan Olson (crew chief) during the off-season and several new people," he said. "We've come a long way. I didn't plan on being in the lead this soon, but nobody's complaining." Rather, pit talk is mostly centered around strategies for holding off the competition. Schumacher is facing some of the toughest veterans in drag racing, including five-time NHRA champs Joe Amato and Kenny Bernstein. "It's going to get brutal," Schumacher said. "There's no room for mistakes. We saw a whole bunch of veteran teams make mistakes at Indy and go out in the first round, which gave us a big edge. That proves how tough this is. Everybody out there is running in the mid-60s. That's unbelievable." With a boost from the Indy massacre, Schumacher squeaked by season-long leader Mike Dunn and then strengthened his lead with a runner-up finish at Reading, Pa. and a semifinal outing at Topeka, Kan. "We have a lot of strong running cars," he said. "The thing that's been happening is that the top cars are facing each other in the early rounds. With the way things have been going, I don't look for anyone to run away with this thing. It's going to be a tight battle all the way to the end." And that's just the way any good spectator would want it. "When I'm watching the Super Bowl, I don't want to see a blowout," Schumacher said. "I want to see it go into overtime, with a miracle finish where some guy catches it off another guy's helmet for the winning touchdown. That's what everybody likes to see."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato