JOLIET, Ill. - The last time the National Hot Rod Association made a stop at the Route 66 Raceway, Tony Schumacher had about 1,300 family members, friends and sponsors in the stands for the June event. Unfortunately, they didn't see much of Tony...
JOLIET, Ill. - The last time the National Hot Rod Association made a stop at the Route 66 Raceway, Tony Schumacher had about 1,300 family members, friends and sponsors in the stands for the June event.
Unfortunately, they didn't see much of Tony in the cockpit of his 6,000 horsepower U.S. Army dragster. The 1999 Winston champion lost to Rhonda Hartman-Smith in the first round of Top Fuel competition 6.513 to 7.552 - one of nine first-round losses this season.
Schumacher, of Park Ridge, Ill., has different plans for the Inaugural NHRA Nationals, Sept. 27-30, at the state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway. The $1.9 million race is the 20th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"It's nice for all the people you know to be a part of it," Schumacher, 31, said. "But it is a night and day difference if you go out and win that race. It doesn't mean nearly as much if you don't go out and win rounds. This is a great race track. When I bring my friends and family out, they get to see the best, most impressive track there is. Obviously we go to a lot of great tracks. But nothing is like Chicago. That big blue stadium is awesome."
While he is excited to be in front of his hometown crowd, Schumacher is not going to click his heels three times in order to get there any quicker. He said he is happy to have a few races between the Chicago appearances. The team has installed a new clutch program this season and has had some trouble making adjustments.
"We have struggled all year but we are starting to come around," Schumacher, who has advanced to only one final this season, said. "I'm glad we have a couple of races before we go back to Chicago because by the time we get back there, we are going to have one bad hot rod. We started using Raybestos clutch discs and they are better and more aggressive, but it's taking some time to figure out."
Schumacher is no stranger to speed success at the Route 66 Raceway. He has yet to grab a victory at the track, but until the June race, he held the Top Fuel speed record. Schumacher launched himself into the track record book with a speed of 322.56 mph during the June 2000 event before Kenny Bernstein flew to a record speed of 330.88 this summer. Schumacher knows that if the weather is cool, the record will be broken again.
"I think if I had won the race, I would be more confident in going back," he said. "We know we can run fast there, but we have a different (set-up on the car) than last year. What gives me confidence is knowing that we have a whole new program and we are really starting to get it together."
Bernstein beat Gary Scelzi in the finals of the June NHRA event 4.546 to 7.197 en route to his fourth win of the season. Bernstein and his Budweiser dragster has been a regular at the top of the season points standings with six victories to date and currently trails Winston points leader Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team by 27.