SONOMA, Calif. - Tony Schumacher not only became the fastest man on the planet in 1999, he also became top dog in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Winston Drag Racing Series.
It certainly was a sizzling season for the Top Fuel drag racer from Park Ridge (Ill.), who was just a blip on the radar screen in 1998 with a distant 15th-place showing in the standings. Schumacher turned the tables in 1999, electrifying crowds from coast-to-coast by recording the top five speeds in NHRA history, including a booming 330 mph-plus run in his Exide Batteries Dragster that earned him a spot in the NHRA record books.
In all, Schumacher qualified for all 22 national events and had one victory in five final-round appearances. It was his consistency that vaulted Schumacher to the coveted NHRA Winston Top Fuel title. It also made him one of the favorites for both the 2000 Winston crown and the 13th annual Fram Autolite Nationals title at Sears Point Raceway, August 4-6.
Schumacher has already become the King of Speed at Sears Point with his record-breaking run of 320.74 mph in last year's semifinals. In fact, racers found the quarter-mile strip electric as the Top Fuel record was broken seven different times, twice by Schumacher, who lost to two-time champion Doug Kalitta in the finals.
Record speeds were also reached in the Funny Car division by champion Whit Bazemore, who twice broke the Sears Point mark aboard his Kendall Chevrolet Camaro. His run of 310.20 mph in a semifinal win over Tony Pedregon shattered the previous record by nearly 5 mph. Legendary Warren Johnson also became the first Pro Stock driver to crack the 200 mph barrier at Sears Point with a run of 200.77 mph.
"This track really surprised some people," Bazemore said. "We didn't expect the kind of numbers we were running here."
While Schumacher was a newcomer, the other two Winston Drag Racing champions certainly were not. John Force won his ninth Funny Car championship aboard his familiar Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, while Johnson captured his fifth Pro Stock title driving his familiar GM Goodwrench Services Plus Pontiac Firebird.
However, both Force and Johnson will be gunning for victory at Sears Point after disappointing efforts a year ago. Force was involved in a spectacular crash in a loss to Chuck Beal in final-round eliminations, while Johnson was bounced in the quarterfinals by Mike Edwards. Force will be seeking his fifth Fram Autolite Nationals crown, while Johnson has won three times at Sears Point.
"I really feel that if a kid comes out and is not motivated by money and has the heart to win, he or she can get me," Force said. " I am looking at a lot of teams out there. Whit Bazemore has a really good team out there, Timmy Richards, Tim Lehay, Ron Capps. Cristen Powell is going to be tough. Bottom line, there is going to be a mix-up in the soup bowl."
Jim Yates and his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird emerged on top of the soup bowl at Sears Point last year in the Pro Stock division. Yates won his third Fram Autolite Nationals title by edging Kurt Johnson, son of Warren Johnson.
In addition to Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, Sears Point will feature action in Federal-Mogul Dragster, Federal-Mogul Funny Car, Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp and Super Gas.
The Fram Autolite Nationals will feature two rounds each of professional qualifying on August 4 and 5. Final eliminations will begin on Sunday, August 6, at 11 a.m.