Phoenix: Consistency takes Schumacher to semifinals

Chandler, Ariz. (Feb. 18): Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher was in fighting form as he tried to defend his 2000 Checker Schuck's Kragen event title. Having used Firebird International Raceway as the launch pad for his historic 330-mph run in 1999, ...

Chandler, Ariz. (Feb. 18): Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher was in fighting form as he tried to defend his 2000 Checker Schuck's Kragen event title. Having used Firebird International Raceway as the launch pad for his historic 330-mph run in 1999, Schumacher used consistency to reach the semifinals of the 17th Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals.

Starting from the No. 4 qualifying position, "The Sarge" faced No. 13, Robert Reehl in the first round of eliminations. In his first ever meeting with Reehl, Schumacher easily defeated Reehl's 4.994 e.t. with a 4.628 e.t. at 315.49 mph.

That win would set up a meeting with rival Gary Scelzi. Schumacher and Scelzi together hold the last four NHRA Top Fuel Championships and Schumacher finished second to Scelzi in 2000 in his own defense of the title.

"I always get pumped to run Gary (Scelzi)," said Schumacher before the second round race, "it has become a very intense rivalry on the track."

This race would be one of the closest of the event, as Schumacher narrowly defeated Scelzi with a 4.620 e.t. to Scelzi's 4.656 second run. Watching the replay showed how close this race really was, as Scelzi's starting line advantage and Schumacher's slightly quicker run combined for a win by less than a foot for Schumacher.

"That's the kind of racing fans want to see," said a jubilant Schumacher, "I love to beat that red car."

Schumacher and Scelzi have raced each other sixteen times with Schumacher winning five of them. Though that stat favors Scelzi, Schumacher started this rivalry 0-6 against the Team Winston driver. In their last ten meetings, Schumacher is 5-5.

Schumacher faced rookie and driver of the Joe Amato owned dragster, Darrell Russell in the semifinals. Two weeks ago, Schumacher lost to Russell in the second round of the Big Bud Shootout in Pomona, California.

Schumacher and Russell were together in what looked to be another close race until Schumacher's Army dragster started to spin the tires at the top end of the track. Russell drove on to victory with a 4.622 e.t. to Schumacher's lossing 4.844 e.t. at 289.57 mph.

"Joe (Amato) and Darrell (Russell) have been real impressive," said Schumacher, "they haven't been making any mistakes."

"We know ourselves, that consistency wins races and makes your opponent take chances. We knew they would run a low .60 and we wanted to be there with them. The track just wouldn't hold the tune-up we had at the top end."

Schumacher's third place finish helped him climb to No. 6 in NHRA Winston Championship points. "The Sarge" and the Army Top Fuel team will now have a month to prepare for the next stop on the NHRA tour, Gainesville, Florida home of the Gatornationals.

-MIKE DeLILLE

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Robert Reehl