GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Tony Schumacher's approach to winning the 1999 NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship was one of quiet confidence. Rival competitors didn't even see the second-generation racer from Park Ridge, Ill. coming. By the time they took...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Tony Schumacher's approach to winning the 1999 NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship was one of quiet confidence.
Rival competitors didn't even see the second-generation racer from Park Ridge, Ill. coming. By the time they took notice, it was too late. Schumacher's Exide Batteries dragster was the model of consistency. Although he only managed one victory, his stellar qualifying pattern, knack for going rounds and capacity for producing top speeds at nearly every drag strip across the U.S. gave him enough momentum to claim drag racing's highest honor. It was truly a magical season.
Now comes the hard part. Making it happen all over again.
Schumacher is up for the challenge. This time out, he wants to win more races. In fact, he wants to win all of them.
After two events, his eliminations record stands at 7-1. Two finals. One win. One runner-up. He holds a 15 point advantage in the Winston point standings.
Status update on his plan to earn back-to-back titles: so far, so good. Schumacher, 30, will continue his quest for Top Fuel perfection at the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 16-19, at historic Gainesville Raceway. The $1.9 million race is the third of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series for 2000.
"We want to dominate," Schumacher said. "We want to show everyone that we deserved the championship (last year). I'm here to win every single round. That's what it takes to win a championship. I want all the trophies. That's what this sport is all about."
Only problem is, that's the same gameplan for two-time series champion Gary Scelzi.
The Team Winston dragster driver, who claimed Winston championships in 1997-'98, defeated Schumacher at the season-opening event in Pomona, Calif. Schumacher, who earned his first career victory last fall at the Texas Motorplex, returned the favor en route to career win No. 2 at Phoenix. Considering the battles the two have had in the first two events, Schumacher and Scelzi meetings could become a regular spectacle at every national event. Both drivers benefit from talented crews. Dan Olson, who tuned Schumacher to the first 330 mph pass last season at Phoenix, leads Schumacher's charge. Alan Johnson, who masterminded Scelzi's national record 4.480 second run last fall, is the wizard behind the potent Team Winston dragster tuneup.
Experienced crews. Talented drivers. Fast hot rods. Both teams have it all. Both drivers expect many more side-by-side battles as the 2000 season develops.
Move over Snake and Mongoose, there's a new-age NHRA rivalry taking shape. "We're anticipating the points battle to be a year-long deal," Schumacher said. "I think Scelzi and I will be swapping back and forth every race. Gary beat us at Pomona. It was our turn to beat up on him a little in Phoenix. We are looking forward to racing Gary again."
And if not Scelzi, Schumacher's prepared to take on any other of a talented group of top competitors. Veterans Kenny Bernstein, Joe Amato and Cory McClenathan head the list. Even rookies Melanie Troxel and Don Lampus have demonstrated the ability to win races.
"None of these rounds are easy anymore," Schumacher said. "Anyone can step up and beat you. The competition is closer than ever."
That means Schumacher will need the same type of consistency that he displayed in 1999. His Exide Batteries dragster advanced to five final rounds, posting an overall win-loss record of 37-21. More importantly, his team qualified for every event and suffered only three first round losses. "Our strategy this year is the same that won us the championship last year," Schumacher said. "Race one round at a time and don't worry about the points."