Indianapolis: 50th U.S. Nationals preview

Schumacher Hoping Odds Will Be With Him This Year Too The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Celebrates 50 Years on Labor Day in 2004 CLERMONT, Ind. -- In 1996 Tony Schumacher made his professional debut in a Top Fuel dragster during the ultimate show...

Schumacher Hoping Odds Will Be With Him This Year Too
The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Celebrates 50 Years on Labor Day in 2004

CLERMONT, Ind. -- In 1996 Tony Schumacher made his professional debut in a Top Fuel dragster during the ultimate show in drag racing -- the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The rookie raced in just four events that season, but his first appearance was the best. Schumacher was the runner-up that day to Cory McClenathan, and a career was ignited.

Schumacher has since improved his performance at the U.S. Nationals, winning three times. Specifically, Schumacher and the U.S. Army team have celebrated on Monday three times in the last four years. To say the least, Schumacher loves Indianapolis Raceway Park.

"Every driver has that one track where they seem to do better than anywhere else," Schumacher said. "Doug Kalitta has Sonoma for example. I have Indianapolis and I feel very fortunate to have a good feel for the track that hosts the biggest race of every season."

This year, however, the stakes are even higher than ever as each professional team will be aiming for the ultimate prize -- the trophy from the 50th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals event, held Sept. 1-6, at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The $2.6 million race is the 18th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

For Schumacher, the situation becomes more complicated than winning the race that will feature more than 1,000 drag racers from around the world. Schumacher, after all, is in a tight battle for the points lead and the 2004 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship. After the first 17 races of the season, Schumacher is in first place with a 141-point lead over Doug Kalitta. He is 177 points in front of third place Brandon Bernstein.

"I can't wait to get to Indianapolis for this event," Schumacher said. "More than ever we are happy to be going to that race, but now we have to think about being in the points lead and trying to win the race too. We are going to have only five races after the U.S. Nationals and we have to make sure every race counts."

In fact, the only concern Schumacher has going into the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is his past performance. He doesn't want the odds to work....against him.

"I've been in four finals at Indianapolis since 1996," Schumacher said. "On the one hand, that tells me that we know what we're doing at the track and I should have a great amount of confidence that this U.S. Army team will be able to perform this year too.

"On the other hand, however, you know the competition is tough and the odds of us making another return to the finals could be against us. There are great drivers and great teams that have never been to a final at the U.S. Nationals. What are the chances that we get to a fifth final? There is pressure on us, but I'm glad I have (crew chief) Alan Johnson in my corner. That helps move the odds toward us a little before we even get to the track."

Schumacher has been in a championship chase before. He won the 1999 NHRA Top Fuel title, after winning one race in five final round appearances. So far this season, Schumacher has six victories, two runner-up finishes and has been the No. 1 qualifier twice. He has been in the No. 1 spot of the standings following all but two races.

"We need to go into Indy with the points lead and we need to keep building a cushion," Schumacher said. "We don't have enough of a lead to be comfortable and there are plenty of rounds left to keep this a close race for the POWERade championship."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Cory McClenathan , Brandon Bernstein