Of Tony Schumacher’s 83 career Top Fuel wins in his 10,000-horsepower U.S. Army dragster, the eight-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champion has no problem recalling the five that took place at state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway.
The Chicago native’s hometown track has served as the backdrop for five memorable moments in the standout’s successful career, tying him for the most in NHRA history at the fan favorite facility. Schumacher, the winningest driver in Top Fuel history, hopes a sixth win – and first in the 2018 season – is right around the corner at the 21st annual JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals, which takes place May 31-June 3 at Route 66 Raceway.
“I was there when they built it, and at the time for me to have a big, old track like that being built, and watching it going up was awesome,” said Schumacher, who is currently second in Top Fuel points. “We’ve won that race five times and had some great runs there. When you have a track that you’re successful at, you like going back there. And not to mention, for so many years it was my home, and my friends were there. It was always a pressure cooker, because you’re racing in front of your buddies. So I’m looking forward to getting back there, and it’s not too far away.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 3. It is the ninth of 24 events during a 2018 season that hasn’t clicked all the way yet for Schumacher and his team, led by crew chief Mike Neff, who came on board this year.
Schumacher has a pair of final round appearances this season, as well as two No. 1 qualifiers, but is still searching for his first win in more than a year. After back-to-back first-round losses at the two most recent events, that means more consistency out of a car Schumacher knows is championship-caliber. But he also remains confident it is all about to come together in a major way.
“When you are surrounded by incredible people and are backed by the U.S. Army, the No. 1 team in the world, you know it’s all going to come together,” Schumacher said. “It just takes work, drive and a never give up attitude. We need to win races. We’ve had some good weekends, but not great Sundays. Everything seems to go in cycles. You want to be running your best when the championship is on the line. We are heading into summer and there are a lot of races to be won. The points will take care of themselves if you are winning rounds on Sundays.”
A win at Route 66 Raceway, where he last won in 2015, would be a step in the right direction in trying to track down defending event winner Torrence, the current points leader who has three wins this season. Schumacher also has to contend with Don Schumacher Racing teammates Antron Brown, a three-time event winner, and Leah Pritchett, who won the most recent race in Atlanta, as well defending champ Brittany Force and Pomona winner Doug Kalitta. But he believes his dragster is nearing a breakout performance this season, and it could happen in Chicago.
“We’ve got a great team with Mike Neff and Phil Shuler tuning the car,” Schumacher said. “It’s been a blast. We’ve had some struggles in parts breakage, but everybody knows that our car is the one to watch. When we get it all figured out, it’s going to be right, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Defending Funny Car event winner Capps is after his first win of 2018 against class stars like points leader Courtney Force, Jack Beckman, and defending world champion Robert Hight.
Skillman hopes Chicago is again the place for his first Pro Stock win of the year. He’ll have to get past the likes of points leader Vincent Nobile, and defending world champ Bo Butner to get it.
Tonglet is the defending event winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle, hoping for a fourth win at the facility against standouts Eddie Krawiec, who has two wins in 2018, and teammate Jerry Savoie.
The JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals also features competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, including the popular JEGS Allstars bonus event that pits the best NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series racers from across the country in individual and team competition. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Pro Jet Motorsports Al Z's Hot Blade and Team Heat Fifty Caliber jet dragsters. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals include Don Garlits and more to be announced soon.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. on Friday, June 1 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 2, at 3:15 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 3.
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. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.