Maple Grove, PA (September 19): Going into final eliminations for the True Value Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Tony Schumacher and the Exide team looked to increase their Winston Championship points lead and pick up their first...
Maple Grove, PA (September 19): Going into final eliminations for the True Value Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Tony Schumacher and the Exide team looked to increase their Winston Championship points lead and pick up their first victory along the way.
Schumacher and Team Exide started the day from the number four qualifying position with another track MPH record, which paired them against Cory McClenathan in the first round. Schumacher was able to overcome a starting line reaction time advantage of .03 seconds by McClenathan to claim a first round victory with a 4.665 ET at 307.69 MPH to McClenathan's 4.712 ET.
"That was our payback for Cory putting us out in Indy," said Schumacher as he prepared to meet Kenny Bernstein in the second round, "that was way to close." With another tough race ahead of them, Schumacher and Team Exide knew the importance of going rounds again today to keep their Winston points lead.
Facing the "King of Speed", Schumacher, the "Kid of Speed" as named by the NHRA's Bob Frey, felt confident that Dan Olson had the tune up to put them into the semifinals. "Dan has been trying some new things all weekend and we have a pretty good handle on this track," said Schumacher, "we made four qualifying runs without smoking the tires at the top end and that's an accomplishment here."
Schumacher defeated Bernstein by running a 4.644 ET at 308.00 MPH to add another 20 precious points to their total. "We are doing what we came here to do," said car owner Don Schumacher, "we want to go rounds and add to our points total." With their victory over Bernstein, Team Exide faced their toughest opponent of the day, Gary Scelzi, the number one qualifier.
"We have had by far, the toughest rounds in the ladders so far today," said Tony Schumacher, "but we like to control our own destiny by racing other Championship points contenders." After an extended time before his burnout to fix a magneto problem, Scelzi finally made his way to the lanes to stage. Scelzi left the line first, but immediately smoked the tires, giving Schumacher and Team Exide their fourth final-round appearance of the year, where they would face hometown favorite, Joe Amato, who was searching for his first victory at Maple Grove in 15 years. Schumacher and Amato ran identical 4.621 ET's in the semifinals, but Amato had lane choice based on MPH for the round.
"We are making the adjustments to the car that we need to, without beating ourselves," said crew chief Dan Olson celebrating their third victory of the day along with another consistent run in the 4.60's.
Hopes were high for Team Exide and Schumacher to pick up their first victory in front of their sponsor, but they knew they had another tough race to complete before celebrating. As Schumacher hit the pedal, it was immediately apparent that he was in trouble as smoke bellowed from his huge Goodyear tires. Smoking the tires was the last thing anyone expected and Amato cruised to his first victory at the famed Maple Grove Raceway.
"We just had too much clutch in it," said a disappointed Dan Olson, who was named "Crew Chief of the Race."
Schumacher commented, "This team did a heck of a job this weekend. We increased our points lead and probably had the toughest ladder out here. We have nothing to be ashamed of."
After testing, Monday at Maple Grove, the Winston Championship points leaders will head to Topeka, Kansas, the next stop on the NHRA tour. "We have a goal for average points per race for the last five races and with any luck, we will be there when we head to the World Finals," said Schumacher as he left the track after a valiant effort.