The last time that Tony Schumacher had a winless streak going like this one was in 1999. However, at that time, he had yet to win a race. The Chicago racer advanced to eight consecutive final rounds before he finally claimed that elusive first victory. He raced to that inaugural win at Texas Motorplex in Dallas and carried that momentum to win his first world championship title later that season.
Schumacher finds himself in a similar pattern now behind the wheel of his famed U.S. Army dragster. His last victory came in October 2010 in Las Vegas. He has since gone to 11 straight final rounds and come up empty in all of them. His most recent runner-up finish was at Atlanta Dragway on May 6, when as the event’s No. 1 qualifier, he fell to first-time winner Steve Torrence.
As “the Sarge” heads to Heartland Park Topeka for the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals, May 18-20, he hopes that he can finally turn the corner and put an end to this pesky winless streak. A winner at the ultrafast Kansas multipurpose motorsports facility in 2010, Schumacher is more than ready to add another Wally to his category-leading total of 67. This season, he has posted runner-up finishes in Phoenix, Gainesville, and Charlotte in addition to his Atlanta showing. In 2011, he was a runner-up seven times.
“We will stay at it; you can count on that,” Schumacher said. “There’s a lot of racing left, and we’re not going to settle for being runner-up all of the time. We will bring home some trophies this year.”
Just as in 1999, Schumacher is leading the points standings despite not having earned a victory. Another similarity to 1999 is the intense competition in Top Fuel. Back then, he was battling with an all-star cast that included Gary Scelzi, Joe Amato, Mike Dunn, Kenny Bernstein, and Larry Dixon, among others. Today is equally as tough, as there are so many drivers who can step up and win races at any time, such as Spencer Massey, Antron Brown, Morgan Lucas, Torrence, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, Brandon Bernstein, Clay Millican, and Bob Vandergriff Jr.
“It’s always a good thing to be leading the points,” said Schumacher, who is 25 points in front of Massey. “But let’s face it; you don’t have any easy rounds out here. This isn’t an easy sport. You can win a race one weekend and not qualify the next. These guys are tough. Every car out here is capable of winning. If somebody beats us, it is because they had a great car. We’ve been getting beat by some great performances lately.”
For a driver who has become so accustomed to winning races during his amazing career, Schumacher says the winless streak, now at 30 races and counting, doesn’t really bother him.
“I don’t think about it,” Schumacher said. “No more than I thought about winning 15 races in one season. As a driver, you just put your nose to the grindstone and do your job. It’s probably more difficult trying to win your seventh race in a row because you think about all the little things that can go wrong. Right now, I know we’re going to win one of these things because we have a great car and a great team. We’ve just had some terrible luck. It always turns. We’ll just keep the guys motivated. We can start a winning streak soon.”
The defending winners at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals are Massey in Top Fuel, Robert Hight in Funny Car, and Shane Gray in Pro Stock. The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event will be televised on ESPN2HD.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” Schumacher said. “This is not over by a long shot. I have full confidence that wins are right around the corner for the U.S. Army team.”
In Funny Car, Hight will be going for a three-peat; the driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang has won that race the past two seasons. Earlier this season, Hight reeled off four consecutive victories and leads the standings by a commanding 203 points. If he’s going to turn the Topeka hat trick, he’ll need to hold off a strong contingent of rivals, including three-time Topeka winner Ron Capps, who won in Atlanta and has advanced to the last three final rounds since joining forces with new crew chief Rahn Tobler following the Las Vegas event. During that stretch, Capps has moved into a tie for second place in the standings with Mike Neff. John Force is a nine-time winner in Topeka, and Cruz Pedregon has won there four times. Others to watch in Funny Car include Johnny Gray, Jack Beckman, Bob Tasca III, Jeff Arend, Courtney Force, and Alexis DeJoria.
Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson has raced to three victories this season and holds a sizable lead over defending world champ Jason Line. Anderson is a four-time winner in Topeka and will be challenged by Team Mopar’s Allen Johnson, two-time Topeka winner Mike Edwards, Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Larry Morgan.
Many of the biggest names in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series will put the fans on the edge of their seats and bring plenty of on-track excitement. As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, May 18, and will continue at noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 19. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 20.
* TICKETS: For tickets, call Heartland Park Topeka, 800-43-RACES (72237), or log on to HPT.com.
* TELEVISION: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 19. On Sunday, May 20, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET.