Reading: Schumacher clinches Top Fuel title

Schumacher Clinches 2004 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel World Championship MOHNTON, Pa. - Tony Schumacher clinched the 2004 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world championship today during the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. It is the second...

Schumacher Clinches 2004 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel World Championship

MOHNTON, Pa. - Tony Schumacher clinched the 2004 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world championship today during the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.

It is the second title for Schumacher, also a champion of the world's most competitive and prestigious drag racing series in 1999. He earned a $400,000 bonus from NHRA and POWERade for the season crown.

Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army dragster, officially claimed the championship when he defeated Brandon Bernstein in the second round of eliminations, clocking a convincing 4.467 second run at 324.36 mph. Schumacher's closest points rival, Doug Kalitta, was mathematically eliminated from contention when he lost to Rhonda Hartman-Smith in the same round.

Schumacher led the points chase for all but two events during the year-following races in Topeka, Kan. and St. Louis. Bernstein led following Topeka and Kalitta led for the first time in his career after St. Louis. Schumacher quickly regained the lead at Denver and never looked back.

He scored eight victories in 11 final-round appearances and logged two No. 1 qualifying efforts. Among his titles were wins at some of the biggest races of the season-the 50th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, K&N Filters Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., and the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Florida.

"This has just been an incredible year," Schumacher said. "We've already won eight races including Indy, Pomona and Gainesville, all the ones you want to win when you're a kid growing up. They say if you can't win the championship, then the next best thing is winning the U.S. Nationals at Indy. We won both, so this is really what it's all about. If I get the record (for wins in a season) I might just retire because it just couldn't get any better."

With two races remaining on the '04 schedule, Schumacher is now aiming for the Top Fuel season win record of nine, held jointly by Gary Scelzi (2000) and Larry Dixon (2002).

"Now that this is done I would love to set a new record for Top Fuel wins in a season," Schumacher said. "I was planning on tying the record at home (Chicago) last weekend, but we got whupped (in the final round) by DougZilla (Doug Herbert). But that was a fun, close race. That's what drag racing is all about."

Schumacher, who used a very consistent race car to claim his 1999 world championship, was criticized by many for the way he won that year. Since that time he has walked away from two spectacular crashes and finished in the top five on a regular basis. This season, with crew chief Alan Johnson making all the right decisions, race wins have come often, and his critics have been in awe.

"People say we got lucky with the first one," Schumacher said. "I only won one race that year. But since then we've been second in the points and third in the points twice. So we've been right there. Now we've finally figured out how to get back on top. The journey we've taken is what has made it so fun for me. I have the best crew chief in the sport, and the best crew. We've been through the highs and lows together. Alan Johnson is a wizard. Everyone out here will tell you that."

The son of drag racing pioneer Don Schumacher, who serves as the team's owner, Tony has now joined an elite list of multiple-time NHRA world champions in the 6,000-horsepower category, including Don Garlits, Joe Amato, Gary Beck, Shirley Muldowney, Kenny Bernstein, Scott Kalitta, Dixon and Scelzi.

While Schumacher enjoys all the accolades that come with winning an NHRA POWERade world championship, he says the biggest joy is the personal bond he has created with his extended family of "teammates" -1 the thousands of American troops serving overseas.

"This is absolutely perfect timing for this to happen," Schumacher said. "The U.S. Army is in the middle of a lot of stuff all around the world, and they need a lift like this. I will admit I get a ton of satisfaction when I hear that something we did might have brightened some soldiers' day over there. Even if it only made them smile for a minute."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Shirley Muldowney , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Rhonda Hartman-Smith , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Don Garlits , Scott Kalitta , Brandon Bernstein , Don Schumacher