Schumacher fired up for opportunity to return to victory, pass Garlits on all-time Gainesville list
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
by Kelly Wade
U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher knows how it feels to stand in the winner's circle at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville. With four victories at the revered facility, he has positioned himself as one of the most decorated Top Fuel drivers to grace its winner's circle, and he is just itching to leave the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com as the winningest guy in the nitro-powered dragster category. The victory would edge him ahead of one of the legends of the sport, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.
"It's just cool to be tied with Garlits for the most wins at one of the biggest races of the year and to have a shot at passing him," said Schumacher, also tied at four Gainesville wins with Joe Amato and Larry Dixon. "We had a shot last year, but we got beat by four-thousandths of a second in an amazing drag race with Del Worsham. It was his first Top Fuel win, so that was cool, but I was definitely on the wrong end of that final round."
In addition to four wins in six finals at the Florida racetrack, Schumacher returns as the track record holder in both e.t. (3.797, set in 2010) and speed (325.45 mph, 2011). Last season, he went into race day as the No. 1 qualifier, a feat he accomplished once before, in 2006.
An aching dry spell has left the seven-time NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel world champion winless in the past 25 events, but the first two races of 2012 have been productive for the driver known across the land as "the Sarge." A semifinal finish at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries and a final-round showing in Phoenix, where he was runner-up to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown, have him within 32 points of the top position in the standings. And, according to Schumacher, his U.S. Army team is on the verge of breaking the spell.
"I couldn't wait to get to Pomona for the first race of the season," said the driver who advanced to seven final rounds, earned six No. 1 qualifying positions, finished fifth in the points standings, and set a national record for speed (327.90 mph, Charlotte) in 2011.
Tony Schumacher and Don Garlits are among the most successful Top Fuel racers.
"We knew we were coming off of a real strong season, and we tested so well," he said. "There was no apprehension, and I just couldn't wait to get this year started. People who know me know that my attitude doesn't change, no matter what. It's show up, be positive, and remember that we're only one round away from having it figured out. But at the same time, you have to be the best every single time the light comes on, more so now than ever. There are some bad cars out there, and if you can't figure out how to step up, you just don't belong in this sport."
The 67-time NHRA national event winner, tuned by notable crew chief Mike Green since 2008, has had some tough breaks and lost a whole bunch of really close races in the past year – a lot of them, including the recent NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix, to DSR teammates – but Schumacher fiercely believes that great rewards are just ahead.
"Gainesville is a great track for us, and we are such a good team there," said Schumacher. "I always look forward to getting to the Gatornationals because it's one of those races with a substantially bigger crowd. It's this massive, packed-solid stadium, and racing there is just awesome. The fans make it really exciting.
"My guys are working so hard and putting in so much effort that I just know we'll get it. Believe me, it will be an amazing sight to see those guys up in the winner's circle when they pull it off, and we'll be getting it done soon. Gainesville would the perfect place to do it."
To purchase tickets to the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com, log on to NHRATix.com.