Throughout his standout career, Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher has shown an impressive ability to rally when the pressure is at its most intense level.
After struggling through the first two races of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the seven-time world champion will again need to rely on that expertise over the final four events of the 2013 season.
Schumacher and his 8,000-horsepower U.S. Army dragster will have an opportunity to get back on track this weekend at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Sept. 27-29 at Gateway Motorsports Park. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec are the defending winners of the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship. The race will be televised by ESPN2HD and Schumacher is eager to move up in the points standings from the fifth position he currently holds.
“Basically, we’ve got to be flawless and miraculous the rest of the year,” Schumacher said. “But it’s been done so many times and we’re so used to that, we’ve just got to make sure we go into those last four with the right car, and it’s not quite there, yet. But we’re closer than we were before.”
Schumacher and the U.S. Army team have made small improvements in the Countdown, but he is ready for a big leap in the midst of this rigorous stretch that includes four straight race weekends.
After losing in the first round at Charlotte to kick off the Countdown, Schumacher won his first-round matchup on Sunday at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas during the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals.
But Morgan Lucas topped Schumacher in the second round, keeping him 88 points behind leaders Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon, who are currently tied for first.
Schumacher, though, remains confident in what his team is capable of in St. Louis, where he has won twice (2010, 2006).
“We’ll get this right and we’ll go fast,” Schumacher said. “It’s the end of the year and it’s when we have to go rounds. Our Army team has always been known as the team that likes to pull it out at the end, and that’s the time of year when it matters the most.”
For Schumacher to get back on track in the Countdown to the Championship, he will have to outlast a field of hungry competitors, including co-leaders Langdon and Kalitta, who won last weekend in Dallas. Spencer Massey raced to a runner-up finish in Charlotte and is currently third in the points standings, while others to watch include Morgan Lucas, who won the playoff opener in Charlotte, defending world champ Brown, Clay Millican, Bob Vandergriff and Steve Torrence.
A win would certainly cure all ills without even considering the huge points boost Schumacher would get in the Countdown. The team last won three months ago at his home track in Chicago, leaving that event with the points lead.
But the team has struggled to find its sweet spot since that race, advancing past the second round only once in the eight races that have followed. Schumacher believes those struggles are about to come to an end, pointing to qualifying second at both the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at the Countdown opener in Charlotte.
The biggest key is putting everything together, and doing just that in St. Louis could spark another late-season Schumacher surge.
“We have had our ups and downs,” Schumacher said. “There are a lot of great teams out there. Now that it’s Countdown time, we’re going to look back on our last 10 years of winning championships and we’re going to do textbook, powerhouse racing these last (four) events. The best thing about our U.S. Army team is that we know how to do it under pressure.”
The Funny Car field is led by points leader and 2011 world champion Matt Hagan. Cruz Pedregon is riding plenty of momentum coming into the event after winning in Dallas, moving to second in points. John and Courtney Force, Robert Hight, Illinois native Tim Wilkerson, Ron Capps, defending winner Beckman, Del Worsham and Johnny Gray also will be among the pre-race favorites.
Jason Line carries the points lead in the Pro Stock category for the first time since 2011, though he’s being chased by a number of standouts, including Jeg Coughlin, who has three wins in the category including the playoff opener in Charlotte. Allen Johnson, Mike Edwards, Greg Anderson, defending race winner Enders-Stevens and Dallas runner-up Shane Gray will all be among the drivers in the factory hot rod category thrilling fans during the weekend.
The two-wheeled warriors in Pro Stock Motorcycle return to Gateway Motorsports Park with Hector Arana Jr. atop the series standings in the category. Matt Smith, Michael Ray, Scotty Pollacheck, John Hall and Eddie Krawiec, the most recent winner in the Countdown, will be among the contenders vying for the NHRA Wally trophy during the weekend.