MEMORABLE FIRST CAREER VICTORY ENNIS, Texas -- Every time Tony Schumacher enters the gates of the famed Texas Motorplex a bit of a nostalgic feeling must sweep over his body. All of the great drivers vividly remember their first time. For ...
MEMORABLE FIRST CAREER VICTORY
ENNIS, Texas -- Every time Tony Schumacher enters the gates of the famed Texas Motorplex a bit of a nostalgic feeling must sweep over his body.
All of the great drivers vividly remember their first time.
For Schumacher, his first career NHRA victory came at the sport's first super track, during a wild and wacky 1999 season. After four runner-up finishes in '99, and four straight runner-up finishes spread out over the three previous seasons, Schumacher must've been wondering if he was ever going to break through and finally get the job done.
But that lone victory in '99, a gritty win over two-time Top Fuel world champ Scott Kalitta, provided all the momentum that the second-generation racer needed to go on and close the doors on his first series championship crown.
He had one race victory and one world championship trophy. Life was good.
At the time, he probably didn't realize that his '99 season was actually the launching pad for what has turned out to be a very special drag racing career. Since then, his trophy collection has grown. A lot.
As he prepares for the 24th annual O'Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec, Sept. 24-27 at the legendary dragstrip located just south of metropolitan Dallas, Schumacher is in position to earn another victory and continue to build upon his legacy as the greatest Top Fuel driver in the history of the sport.
The six-time world champ recently put the finishing touches on his 60th career victory, which just happened to be his record eighth title at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. After winning the last five world championships in a variety of ways, including a couple at the last instant in dramatic fashion, Schumacher is ready for another epic run in the Countdown to 1, NHRA's championship playoffs. The race is the second of six events in the playoffs and the 20th of 24 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), Greg Stanfield (Pro Stock) and Chris Rivas (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.
With competitors like regular season winner Antron Brown and two-time world champ Larry Dixon -- both of whom earned five victories during the season -- in the hunt for the championship, along with Charlotte winner and new points leader Cory McCleanthan, and a few hungry young racers like Brandon Bernstein, Morgan Lucas, Charlotte runner-up Shawn Langdon and Spencer Massey pressing hard as well, Schumacher knows that he's in for a fight like no other.
"We are in the middle of a phenomenal battle that at the end of the year, whoever wins the championship is going to be able to stand there with a trophy and know that they earned it," Schumacher said, "because it is truly going to be a battle."
Schumacher, who drives the U.S. Army dragster, considers himself to be battle-tested. Over the years he has thrilled drag racing fans by pulling off amazing last-second performances to win races and championships. His recent Indy win showcased a little bit of that magic. For Schumacher, the actual winning is secondary to the thrill of the chase.
"I think the championship, all the accolades and the great stuff you get, there's nothing that compares to just being able to enjoy those big moments, because if you can't even recognize them, it's hard to win them," said Schumacher, who is currently tied for second in the point standings after a semifinal finish at the playoff opener. "And as Antron and all of these guys will have to figure out, you have to understand that it's a big moment and you have to prepare for it. We are down to some immensely huge races and just a number of big moments coming up."
With a new crew chief in Mike Green and a whole new cast of teammates tuning his dragster, Schumacher, who was written off early in the season by many who believed without tuning wizard Alan Johnson in his stable he would be a back-of-the-pack contender, feels like he has something to prove this postseason.
"It's a matter of being able to suck it up, dig deep at the right time and smile while you do it," Schumacher said. "There's nothing like those big moments. I have been fortunate to have so many huge bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full-count moments. Some of the guys are going to be able to handle the weight of the world on them... and some of them aren't."
In Funny Car the favorites include Tony Pedregon, who opened the playoffs as the top seed and continues to lead after Charlotte, followed by season-wins leader Ron Capps and Mac Tools U.S. Nationals winner Ashley Force Hood. Funny Car icon John Force has won seven times at the Motorplex in his career and has to be considered one of the drivers to beat. Of the remaining Countdown to 1 participants, Del Worsham, Charlotte winner Robert Hight and Wilkerson are all past winners at the Motorplex.
Jeg Coughlin started the playoffs as the top seed in Pro Stock in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt, and his only Motorplex win came in 2002. However, Mike Edwards quickly claimed the series lead with a victory in Charlotte, aided by a solid performance in qualifying at that race which, by taking advantage of NHRA's new qualifying bonus point system, increased his lead to 56 over second place Coughlin. Others to watch in the 200 mph category include the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP team of Jason Line and Greg Anderson. Defending Dallas winner Stanfield has posted back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and NHRA Carolinas Nationals.
There will be a new Motorplex winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle. As this press release is issued, none of the past two-wheel category winners are entered in the event. Those riders who have the best chance of pulling it off include regular season champ and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and his teammate Andrew Hines, a three-time world champ. Together the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates held down the top two spots in the final regular season standings. Charlotte winner Hector Arana, who won three races during the regular season, and two-time winner Craig Treble, also will be riders to watch in the playoffs.
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions for the O'Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec, are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25 and 11:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the O'Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec by calling (800) 668-6775, or via the Web at www.texasmotorplex.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 12:15 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 27. Later on Sunday, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will feature NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET), and three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET).
LUCAS OIL SERIES: The O'Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 25.