Tony Schumacher continues to dominate the sport of NHRA Top Fuel, winning today's 54th Annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. Robert Hight, Dave Connolly and Steve Johnson also hoisted the most coveted Wallys in drag racing Monday night in Indy.
Schumacher had a slow start to the weekend, waiting until the final day of qualifications to secure a spot in The Big Go. News of crew chief Alan Johnson's departure from the team at the end of 2008 to pursue his own team allowed some to think the domination of The U.S. Army team may end in Indy.
Instead, Schumacher resumed re-writing the NHRA Top Fuel record books scoring his sixth straight event win, Top Fuel record 24th consecutive elimination round win and NHRA record 11th victory of the season. This is his second consecutive and seventh career U.S. Nationals win. Schumacher is now tied with Joe Amato at 52 for the most career Top Fuel wins.
"It takes a long time to get yourself in a position to meet the goals you've set for yourself," Schumacher shared. "Then all of the sudden you have one chance at them. To get to the final and know you're just one four second push on the throttle away from setting all those records, one shot to do it.
"[The records] are absolutely fantastic," The Sarge continued. "And to do it on top of winning Indy, so many things happened today, you don't know which reason you're smiling. Today was very special. It's going to go down on the trophy shelf as one of the greatest days ever."
"It's a fantastic feeling," father and team owner Don Schumacher shared regarding his son's accomplishments. "For him to come out here and accomplish these unbelievable goals. Nobody has ever set those type of goals for Tony, it just happened because they're a great, great team. One of the best ever."
The Sarge defeated Doug Kalitta in the Top Fuel final round with a 3.916 second run down 1000 feet with a top speed of 309 MPH. Kalitta came to Indianapolis worried he might not make The NHRA PowerAde Countdown to the Championship. However, his spot in the field was secured, along with teammate David Grubnic's, on Sunday after Morgan Lucas failed to qualify for the Indy field.
The Countdown begins with the race at the new zMax Raceway in Charlotte, NC in two weeks. Schumacher's impressive lead in the regular season points will be reduced to just 30 over Top Fuel rookie Antron Brown. "It will be gut check time," Schumacher said. "We've got to go down to Charlotte and make a statement so we can set the tone for the remaining races."
John Force is locked into the Funny Car Championship chase, but missed out on chasing another U.S. Nationals trophy after failing to qualify in the top sixteen for the second year in a row. Instead he spent the day standing at the start line cheering on his team, daughter Ashley, son-in-law Robert Hight and Mike Neff.
Hight had a consistent Funny Car on his way to clinching his second U.S. Nationals, but not necessarily in a good way. "It's been a weird, weird weekend," Hight shared. "We started out with a great run on Friday and were in the number one spot. Then we proceeded to make five consecutive runs smoking the tires in about the same spot each time, including today's first round. After that round I wouldn't have bet on my team for nothing.
"But they kept giving us chances," Hight continued, "and if you give Jimmy Prock [crew chief] enough chances he's going to fix it." Hight met Jack Beckman in the Funny Car final round. "[Beckman] was the most consistent all day. We knew we were going to really have to do something to beat him."
Hight rolled in really deep on his last move in to stage. "I didn't mean to put the top light out," Hight admitted. "I knew to roll in pretty good because I didn't think I had a chance to beat him. This isn't one of our prettiest wins, but I'm not giving it back." Hight's winning run was a 4.312 reaching a top speed of 283 MPH.
Hight considers Indy a second home now, with his team shop and the Eric Medlen Project facilities just a couple miles away in Brownsburg. "This morning on my way to the race track I stopped over at the cemetery to see Eric and passed John Medlen. He couldn't even talk, his eyes were filled with tears," an emotional Hight shared. "We have a statue at the shop out front of Eric at the Sonoma race in 2006 with his trophy and I'm going to take my trophy back there and hopefully I'm as proud of the trophy I'm holding as he is of his."
The last time Pro Stock Motorcycle pilot Steve Johnson won the U.S. Nationals he didn't know it until Tuesday. That was 2005 when the NHRA reviewed the video from the PSM final round and deemed Johnson the winner, the victim of a technical glitch. But this victory Johnson was able to savor immediately and he did just that, climbing the fence at the end of the strip in jubilation.
"I don't win many races, so to say that I've won Indy twice is pretty special," Johnson said. "When I won this race the first time, there was no love, but I still sign all my e-mails with 'Steve Johnson, U.S. Nationals champion.' That includes when I write my mom. That's how important this deal is."
Johnson met a formidable opponent in the Motorcycle final, three-time world champion Andrew Hines. Hines actually left the start line first, but Johnson was able to drive around the Harley, a task not easily accomplished, and claimed the victory by a margin of about 2 feet. His winning pass a 7.034 second run at 189 MPH.
"All I did today was my job," Johnson said. "I let go of the clutch and kept the bike straight. My light sucked, but it was good enough to win Indy. I never saw Andrew, but I guess they missed the tune-up, that's all."
The Pro Bike Countdown field was set during the first round of eliminations with Karen Stoffer and Hector Arana going head-to-head, knowing the winner would not only move on to the second round but continue the chase for the championship. Despite having Lucas Oil, namesake of the Indianapolis Colts state-of-the-art new stadium just a few miles away, on the side of his bike, Arana was eliminated by Stoffer who had the quicker reaction and won the matchup on a holeshot. Stoffer secured her spot in The Countdown.
Two former Indy winners met in the Pro Stock final, 2007 winner Dave Connolly and 1989 winner Larry Morgan. Morgan had a big wiggle mid-run and Connolly raced through with a 6.743 second run to capture his second consecutive Indy win and second consecutive season win.
"I [almost gave] up that final round," admitted Connolly. "I knew when I let the clutch out I was late. The bracket racer came out in me and I kept looking over to the left because I knew I was late on the Tree and the car blew the tires off. I kept looking over there, but I didn't see that Dodge stick its nose out. When that win light came on, I was shocked.
Despite missing the first five races of the season, Connolly is comfortably in The Countdown to the Championship. "We made a huge gain in the last four races getting to four finals and I'm excited to be in sixth position," Connolly said. "I was looking to be in the top 10 and to get those extra points, those important points can be useful. We have a long stretch ahead of us and we think we have a shot."
The Countdown to the Championship begins September 11th when teams head south to North Carolina for the inaugural race at zMax Raceway at Concord.