A native of Chicago, winning at Route 66 Raceway means a little more for eight-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher. It’s also become a routine thing for the longtime NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series star, as his five category wins are tied for the most in NHRA history at the facility.
Schumacher will look to make it a sixth at this weekend’s 20th annual Fallen Patriots Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by K&N in his 10,000-horsepower U.S. Army dragster. With the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship closing in and Schumacher looking for his first win since March, expect the 83-time event winner to be at his best in his hometown.
“There is nothing like going home,” Schumacher said. “Austin is where I live now, but I spent 40 plus years in the Windy City and it’s always special. The facility at Route 66 is incredible. The fans get to see some remarkable runs both under the lights in qualifying and racing during the heat of the day. Chicago is the city of broad shoulders and toughness is ingrained people there. We’re excited to come home and look forward to trying to get another win. We’ve had some really good weekends in Chicago the past few years and we’re looking forward to having another one.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 3 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 9.
It is the 13th of 24 events in the 2017 season and only five follow it before the Countdown to the Championship. Sitting fourth in points, Schumacher hasn’t exactly lost ground in Top Fuel, but he hasn’t advanced out of the second round in the past five races. Sensing a huge opportunity in Chicago, Schumacher and his team have some new things planned for this weekend.
“We’re continuing to look at the big picture and that’s being at our best for Indy and the Countdown,” Schumacher said. “That’s where the championships are won. I’ve been around this sport for a long time. We’ve won championships a number of different ways. We started the season very consistent and have had a stretch here that’s been a little on the frustrating side, but you have to adapt and move forward. I know (crew chief) Mike Green and the U.S. Army guys are working on getting us better. In this sport, you have to stay ahead of the curve. We’ve been working on some things and we’re hoping it all comes together.”
Schumacher has watched Don Schumacher Racing teammates Brown, the back-to-back world champ, and Leah Pritchett combine for five wins thus far in 2017, with Pritchett winning three of those. Steve Torrence’s four victories have given him the points lead and presents another formidable championship contender in the loaded class. But that success from his teammates only motivates Schumacher, who will look to match their hot start with a standout weekend in Chicago.
“If you are going to be the champion, you have to beat everyone,” said Schumacher, who last won in Chicago in 2015. “Seeing your teammates do so well is certainly motivating, and there is pride in knowing that you are part of an incredible team. Those two (Antron and Leah) are a little ahead of us in the win column, but we’re aiming to even those stat lines up when it matters the most. My dad is extremely competitive and has a tremendous amount of passion for this sport. When you see the results not only in Top Fuel, but also Funny Car, you kind of get an idea of how motivated he is to win. And when your leader is that motivated, it trickles down to all of us.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. on Friday, July 7 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 8, at 3:15 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, July 9.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 888-629-RACE (7223) or 815-722-5500. Tickets also are available online at www.route66raceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.