CHANDLER, Ariz. - Tony Schumacher blasted his way onto the NHRA scene in 1996, advancing to the Top Fuel final round in his first career start, at the NHRA's most prestigious event, the Mac Tools U.S. National at Indianapolis. From that race on,...
CHANDLER, Ariz. - Tony Schumacher blasted his way onto the NHRA scene in 1996, advancing to the Top Fuel final round in his first career start, at the NHRA's most prestigious event, the Mac Tools U.S. National at Indianapolis.
From that race on, NHRA insiders knew that Schumacher, and the Schumacher Racing organization, were going to make their presence felt.
Schumacher Racing will make its yearly visit to the Valley of the Sun for the 19th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 20-23 at Firebird International Raceway. The $1.9 million race is the second of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
During the 2002 offseason team owner Don Schumacher hired three-time Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi as the pilot of the Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus R/T. Scelzi joins Whit Bazemore and Scotty Cannon at the Schumacher camp, joining John Force Racing as the only three-car Funny Car operations on the circuit. Paired with the Top Fuel dragster driven by Tony, Schumacher Racing has a four-car juggernaut that will contend for two POWERade championships.
"I love competition," said Don, a Funny Car pioneer. "Otherwise I wouldn't be racing or in business. It's quite a challenge to be able to put a fourth team together and have the personnel fall into place and get the components and parts put in place in a short period of time. The toughest part of multiple teams is to have the team members all get along with each other. We've got an organization and a great bunch of people and crew chiefs who have been able to put this together."
Scelzi competed in a Funny Car at the first seven races of the 2002 season, posting a runner-up finish at Gainesville, Fla., before parting ways with former crew chief and team owner Alan Johnson. After five years of Top Fuel competition, including heated battles in 1999 and 2000 with current teammate Tony, Scelzi is content with his new ride.
"I really don't miss being in a dragster," said Scelzi, 42. "I had five great years in Top Fuel. I'm tied for fifth on the all-time win list and have three championships, a runner up and a fifth place finish n five years. That's pretty outstanding. I wanted to do something new and exciting and having a manufacturer behind me like Dodge, and a great sponsor like Oakley. I knew Funny Car is where I wanted to be. It seems like there's more excitement there right now. Being a part of Schumacher Racing with the talent and the equipment that (Don) has assembled, a guy would have to be brain dead not to be excited about the opportunity."
Despite Scelzi's championship experience, it's his teammate Bazemore that is favored to contend for the POWERade title.
"I think this year we have an extremely good chance to do very well," said Bazemore. "I am more focused than I have ever been. We're a much more competitive team this year personnel-wise. I think the decisions that are made on race day are going to be stronger because of the personnel that we have."
With the team expansion, several changes were made throughout the Schumacher camp. The most notable alteration to the face of the team was the shifting of responsibilities of Tony's former crew chief, Dan Olson, and bringing on crew chief veteran Wes Cerny to make the tuning decisions on Tony's dragster.
"We obviously want to get to the top," said Tony, the 1999 Top Fuel champion. "There's no reason why we can't do it. We have a great team in place and a new crew chief who is considered one of the best in the business. Wes knows how to win races. He's clearly a valued addition to the Army team."