For seven-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher, the challenge never gets old.
And the challenge comes in many forms for the 40-year-old Chicago driver.
His much-publicized rivalry with Larry Dixon, which is really developing on the track this season – the two have met seven times in 11 races, and Dixon holds a 4-3 advantage – and the challenge from a host of talented teams with veteran drivers keeps “the Sarge” constantly cranking at full steam.
He also has the looming challenge of trying to keep alive his world-championship streak, which stands at six. In his historic run of dominance in the U.S. Army dragster that began in 2004, Schumacher has won titles with last-second Hail Mary runs, powerful runaway performances, and different crew chiefs. Quite frankly, when it comes to 7,000-horsepower racing, he has done it all.
As he heads to Bristol Dragway to try to win the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals for the third time in a row and fourth overall, Schumacher is focusing on securing a top-three position in the points standings and preparing himself and his team for another championship playoff run in the Countdown to 1 to keep the championship streak alive.
Del Worsham (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) will join Schumacher as defending race winners at the famed dragstrip nestled in the mountains of northeast Tennessee. The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event set for June 18-20 will be televised by ESPN2HD.
“I say it all the time,” Schumacher said. “It’s not the trophy; it’s getting up Sunday morning and knowing you’re going to have to dig real deep to get it. I enjoy those big moments, where you have to really pull something off.”
With victories in Gainesville, Madison, and Topeka, Schumacher is firmly in second place, establishing him as a top contender. Although not as overwhelmingly dominant as in his incredible 2008 campaign or as vengeful as in his 2009 "Prove the Skeptics Wrong" tour, he is still racing as if he’s on a mission.
“We’re right in the thick of it,” Schumacher said. “We just need to find a little more consistency. If we can do that, I am confident that we’ll be right there at the end.”
Until then, his goal is to win more races and add to his category-leading total of 64. He’ll continue to battle each week with the crop of talented veterans looking to knock him off the perch that he has held for much of a decade.
Schumacher knows that archrival and two-time world champ Dixon, who has led the points standings for most of the season in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, is just one of his toughest challengers. Veterans Cory McClenathan in the Fram dragster, Doug Kalitta in the Kalitta Air dragster, Antron Brown in the Matco Tools dragster, and Brandon Bernstein in the Copart/Lucas Oil dragster are just a few of the other drivers who are hungry to win.
“When you’re the champ and you have a great race car, people are going to come after you,” Schumacher said. “They’re going to take every bit of energy they have and try to beat you, and I appreciate that because it means you’re doing something right.”
In Funny Car, 14-time world champ and two-time Bristol Dragway winner John Force has returned to championship form in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. He is in second place, chasing his 15th series crown amid a host of tough challengers and rivals, including his talented daughter Ashley Force Hood; son-in-law and points leader, Robert Hight; and two other past Bristol winners – Worsham and Ron Capps.
Edwards continues to have the car to beat in Pro Stock. The defending world champ has dominated the class with seven wins and nine No. 1 qualifying positions in the season’s first 11 races. His biggest challengers include past world champs Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Greg Anderson and local favorite Allen Johnson, and the father-son tandem of Shane and Johnny Gray has come on of late (each is inside the top 10).
• SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m. June 18 and 12:30 and 3 p.m. June 19. Final eliminations will begin at noon Sunday, June 20.
• TICKETS: For tickets to the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, call Bristol Dragway, 423-989-6900, or log on to www.bristoldragway.com.
• ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 19. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day presented by Lucas Oil, a 30-minute race preview show, at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, June 20. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 20; all times ET.
• LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, in which the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying and eliminations begin at 10 a.m. June 18.
• GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA’s newest touring series will make its sixth start of the 10-race season at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition.