The US Army top fuel dragster will be back on the grid at the Gatornationals.
Not much rattles Tony Schumacher.
His confident demeanor around his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster has been built on seven NHRA world championships, 72 event titles in 125 championship rounds and by owning nearly every record in drag racing's premier category.
He has learned that championships aren't determined until after the last of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
You might think that someone so accustomed to winner's circle interviews and celebrations would be distraught that he'll arrive at this weekend's NHRA Gatornationals with his U.S. Army team led by crew chief Mike Green and assistant Neal Strausbaugh ranked eighth in points and a 1-2 record through the first two events of the season.
"We've had moments like that where it seemed like to become be the champion was overwhelming," Tony said. "We often were able to win but you don't want to be in that position. To stay away from that, you have to find a car that will win in the hot weather and win in the cold weather. That's what we're looking for: a tune-up that will let us dominate in different scenarios."
He notes the team is getting close.
After two subpar qualifying runs on the first day of the NHRA event near Phoenix two weeks ago, Schumacher improved significantly on the next day's first pass then vaulted to the No. 2 qualifying spot entering Sunday's eliminations. After winning his opening round, the team lost traction in the quarterfinals. That followed a No. 10 qualifying effort and first-round loss at Pomona to open the season.
"I'm not the slightest bit frustrated," Tony said.
"Even then we stayed at Phoenix on Monday and tested something different. What we found there made all of us want to go straight to Gainesville. That hardest thing has been waiting two weeks to get back to racing. I can't wait to get to Gainesville."
Tony owns four Top Fuel titles at Gainesville (2004, 2007-08 and 2010) and was runner-up there three times. He won poles in 2006 and 2011. He owns at least four event titles at 10 of the 21 tracks on the Mello Yello circuit.
Although as a racing veteran of 18 professional seasons he knows the U.S. Army team will begin to consistently turn on win-lights, but he feels some urgency.
"Right now, we need to win. We need to win for our team morale. As a veteran driver it doesn't bother me now because I understand the goal, and that's our eighth world championship.
"But I want our three new guys to see how the U.S. Army team rebounds. They came over to our team from very good teams, and they need to see it happen. So I want to see it happen sooner rather than later.
"At the end of the day I know our U.S. Army team did everything it could to win. They work incredible hours and work as hard as any team I've ever seen. Mike and Neal are working to make our car dominant in a time when it's very hard to be a dominant car.
"If we put old stuff back in the car that we know will work it might win a race, but it won't win the championship."