Pomona, CA (February 6): The 40th Annual NHRA AutoZone WinterNationals came to a close with some of the best drag racing ever and put to bed most of the concerns of how the new rules would affect competition. Tony Schumacher and the Exide ...
Pomona, CA (February 6): The 40th Annual NHRA AutoZone WinterNationals came to a close with some of the best drag racing ever and put to bed most of the concerns of how the new rules would affect competition. Tony Schumacher and the Exide Batteries Top Fuel team began their defense of the NHRA Winston Championship in front of a capacity crowd.
Schumacher's day started as he officially received his Championship ring and jacket in a presentation before the first round of eliminations. It was only fitting, since his first round opponent would be reigning IHRA Top Fuel Champion, Don Lampus. Schumacher took an advantage at the light and thundered down the famed WinterNationals track with a 4.684 ET at 313.88 mph to Lampus's 4.777.
"It feels great to get that first round-win of the season under our belts," said Schumacher, "our strategy is the same as last year. One round at a time."
Schumacher's second-round opponent was Doug Kalitta, who Schumacher defeated in a Dallas semifinal last fall on his way to his first National Event title, as he ousted Kalitta's cousin, Scott. Schumacher again had a reaction time advantage as he ran a 4.717 ET at 307.44 mph.
The semifinals would put Schumacher against the number one qualifier and former Top Fuel champion, Joe Amato, who was one few who challenged Schumacher to the very end for the 1999 Top Fuel title. Amato had lane choice and had run quicker than the Exide Batteries car in each previous round. Schumacher again had a reaction time advantage and ran a strong 4.691 ET at 311.77 mph, while Amato smoked his tires and finished with a 8.428 ET.
Going to their first final as the reigning champion, Schumacher would face the man that he took the crown away from; Gary Scelzi. Scelzi, Top Fuel Champion for 1997 and 1998, faced Schumacher twice in qualifying sessions and was the number two qualifier for the event.
"We're going to the final's and we get the guy I love to beat the most," said an elated Schumacher. This final would also pit the World's fastest Top Fuel car, Schumacher, against the World's quickest, Scelzi.
Schumacher was able to take a big starting line advantage with a .426 reaction time (Scelzi's .466), but Scelzi caught him and Schumacher's 4.712 ET at 309.56 mph was not quick enough for Scelzi'z 4.613. The margin of victory for Scelzi was only .059 seconds.
"The guys did a great job today with the new 75 minute between rounds rule," said Schumacher, "we had an awesome day in spite of not winning the race."
"We have some wonderful new sponsors on board with Gates and Matco Tools. We had many of their people in the pits with us this weekend. I wish we could have won it for them all, but we will get Scelzi again and the outcome will be different."
Team owner, Don Schumacher commented, "Tony did all he could do as a driver. We knew that lane was a little slippery at the top end and we just weren't able to put down the horsepower we needed."
Team Exide leaves the first race of the year second in points. Next stop on the 2000 NHRA Winston Championship tour is Phoenix, AZ February 24-27 for the CSK Nationals.