JOLIET, Ill. – Tony Schumacher realizes the days of winning 15 Top Fuel races in an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season may be over. But victories like the one a year ago at Route 66 Raceway and this past Sunday in Epping, N.H., make winning just as gratifying for the seven-time world champion.
Schumacher and his 10,000-horsepower U.S. Army dragster delivered over the weekend at New England Dragway, winning his second race of the season on a day filled with dramatic side-by-side racing against an ultra-competitive Top Fuel field.
Schumacher edged out points leader Kalitta in a thrilling final round and is well aware of the incredible levels the class has reached. He also knows the challenge ahead of him at this weekend’s 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Route 66 Raceway, but for the seven-time world champ, conquering a category that challenging is as satisfying as it has ever been.
“The class is tighter than I’ve ever seen it and it’s awesome,” Schumacher said. “I haven’t driven my best and these guys step it up against me. These guys are kicking my butt and the competition is tough. You have to earn them and win them and you have to dig deep to win them. Any one of us can be beat on any given day. It makes you rise up in the seat, it makes the fans enjoy it and makes the team enjoy the wins. It’s very gratifying.”
Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event.
For Schumacher and his talented team that’s a good thing, as the U.S. Army team takes considerable momentum into Schumacher’s home track. The team moved to fifth in points after the impressive performance in Epping and they have plenty of history on their side in Chicago.
Schumacher will be chasing his fifth win at the state-of-the-art facility, but none may top last year’s thrilling final round when his dragster exploded in a huge fireball when he crossed the finish line against Clay Millican. It ended up as one of the most spectacular victories in his career and Schumacher, who now has 74 career wins, finds himself returning to his home track on the cusp of what could be a season-changing hot streak.
“You go up and down in racing and right now we’re up,” Schumacher said. “It’s outstanding. It was intense. We’ve been working hard. We haven’t given (the fans) the Army car we’re used to seeing. We haven’t performed, but as a team we know what we’re going through. We know the goal and if we push through these hard times it’s going to be amazing. We’ve got a great car and we’re right there.”