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Schumacher Stands Tall In The Fall Nationals

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, September 27 2009
Tony Schumacher won the Top Fuel race at the Fall Nationals in Texas on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Tony Schumacher won the Top Fuel race at the Fall Nationals in Texas on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Ennis, Texas – Given his recent history, Tony Schumacher might have won the Top Fuel final of the O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals blasting down nearby State Highway 287.

As it was, Schumacher defeated Larry Dixon from the Texas Motorplex’s right lane – an ornery 1,000-foot stretch of concrete and sticky rubber that swallowed up any number of Top Fuel and Funny Car competitors during the 24th annual event on Sunday.

But not “Sarge.” Paired against Dixon and tuner-supreme Alan Johnson over in the left lane, Schumacher dispatched the No. 1 qualifier in the heat of the day at 3.944-seconds and 312.86 mph. The win boosted Schumacher – the six-time and reigning Top Fuel champion – into the Countdown to 1 points lead after two of six events.

“That was absolutely huge,” said Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster fielded by father Don Schumacher. “ It’s my son Anthony’s birthday today – he turns 8 and it’s special. You get to the final round and have a good chance of missing the flight home (to Brownsburg, Ind.) and seeing him on his birthday, the least you can do is win.”

Dixon, a five-time winner this season, was no match for Schumacher on this run at 4.232-seconds and 225.18 mph in the Al-Anabi Racing Dragster. Dixon earned lane choice for the final when he defeated Shawn Langdon in his semifinal with an elapsed time of 3.957-seconds. Schumacher, in turn, won his semi over Fort Worth’s Spencer Massey with an elapsed time of 3.960-seconds – a difference of just three-thousandths of a second that afforded Dixon his pick of runways. Dixon leaned left.

“Get stuck in the right lane, that’s a statement,” said Schumacher, also a five-time winner this season. “(Crew chief) Mike Green did a heck of a job. Getting put in the right lane, he said, ‘Let’s not get ‘stuck’ in the right lane. Let’s just choose it. We’ll choose the right lane.’ We kept it positive and went right down. Just a great run. Running Alan Johnson and Dixon and those guys – my old team – it’s a special moment. If you can’t rise to the occasion against guys you know like that, you don’t belong racing cars.”

Also posting professional victories in the 20th of 24 races in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series were Robert Hight in Funny Car, Greg Anderson in Pro Stock and Hector Arana in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Schumacher advanced to the final via victories against T.J. Zizzo, Antron Brown and Massey – all from the left lane. Schumacher had no quick answer as to why any number of Top Fuel and Funny Car competitors regularly lost traction about 330-feet into a run.

“We just got stuck in the right lane for the first time, but it wasn’t that bad,” said Schumacher, who posted his fourth win in five finals at The Plex. “It was clear you could go down that racetrack.

“It was apparently good enough to go out and go fast. I think a lot of people stuck in the right lane were just misjudging it, because we just showed ‘em that you can go down it. It’s extremely important at this racetrack to keep it in the center of the racetrack. You get it out (of the groove), and it’ll spin the tires. We used to joke about it, this is one of those tracks that’s awesome in the middle – but the groove might not be as wide as the race car. That’s the problem. You got to keep it dead-center. We spent a little extra time making sure that we were prepared before the run to go straight and keep it in that groove.”

Hight, who won the Funny Car final over Jack Beckman out of the left lane, offered another clue. “Just walking that lane all weekend, it didn’t take the rubber from the get-go,” said Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang. “So it was a little more bald. There’s a little different (concrete) texture over there so it was harder to take the rubber and you had less surface area of rubber and footprint of a tire. It was just a little trickier.”

Schumacher began the weekend tied with Brown for second in Countdown points, 10 behind Cory McClenathan, who won the opening Countdown to 1 event at ZMax Dragway in Concord, N.C. Schumacher now leads Dixon by 27 points (2,272-2,245) heading into Round 3 at Memphis Motorsports Park for the 22nd annual O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals beginning Friday.

Funny Car

Hight bagged his second consecutive Countdown victory with a pass at 4.218-seconds at 296.44 mph. Beckman ran 4.271-seconds at 292.58 mph in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger R/T. “You got to give it to Jack Beckman, he gave me a race in the final,” Hight said. “Went down that track…it was probably the best run of the day in Funny Car in the right lane.”

Hight began the weekend third in points to Tony Pedregon and JFR teammate Ashley Force Hood, whom he defeated Sunday in the semifinals. Hight turned a deficit of 28 points to Pedregon into a 13-point advantage over Force Hood (2,241-2,228) heading to Memphis.

Hight, who scored his 13th career victory for John Force Racing, exited The Plex as the No. 1 qualifier along with low elapsed time (both 4.109-seconds) and top speed (305.56 mph).

“Going to three final rounds in a row is tough,” said Hight, son-in-law of John Force, the 14-time Funny Car champion. “To run the table here is just a great tribute to my team. We have four (races) in a row here and it is so exciting as a driver to be able to go back right out next week and maybe keep this streak going. First two races of the Countdown couldn’t have been any better for us – won ‘em both and went from worst-to-first.”

Pro Stock

Anderson trailered Johnny Gray to post the 59th victory of his career, second of the season and third at The Plex. Anderson, driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP tuned by Rob Downing, prevailed with a quarter-mile pass of 6.684-seconds and 207.11 mph to Gray’s 6.713-seconds at 206.64 mph effort in the Gray Racing Dodge Stratus.

“I really, honestly can’t remember stealing one like I did today,” said Anderson, a three-time Pro Stock champion who had posted only one win this season prior to Sunday. “Certainly when I got up this morning I didn’t come in here brimming with confidence. I need confidence. I just haven’t had it lately. I just haven’t had much go right. I haven’t had a lot of performance out of the race car and (No. 1 qualifier) Mike Edwards is just kind of making us all look bad, to be honest. We don’t like that. We like to be the performance leader and we haven’t been lately, so it’s driving us nuts.”

Edwards, who began the weekend with a 56-point Countdown lead over Jeg Coughlin Jr., met Anderson in one semifinal. “And (I’m thinking) it’s going to take a miracle to beat him,” Anderson said. “He’s absolutely got the baddest car that’s ever probably been in Pro Stock. Got us covered by five-hundredths (of a second) – that’s a ton in Pro Stock. You go up there and do your job and the only chance you got probably is a major miscue on his part, or something crazy happens. Lo and behold, something crazy happened.”

Edwards, the winner in Concord, N.C., who qualified No. 1 for the 12th time this season here, knocked off V. Gaines and Ron Krisher before encountering a problem with the Christmas Tree in the left lane against Anderson. The bottom row of staging lights flickered for both drivers before fully engaging. Apparently distracted, Edwards and his A.R.T. /Young Life Pontiac GXP lurched out of the box and lost traction en route to a pass of 13.595-seconds at 54.40 mph.

“His light flickered in his lane as we staged,” said Anderson, who ran 6.689-seconds at 207.37 mph on that pass. “We were both coming in the same time and I saw his light flicker and I figured he would come right back in. By the time I hit my (bottom) light, his was flickering on-and-off. And I think it confused him. Apparently when his light flickered it started the sequence on the tree. So I put mine on the woods and got ready, just in case the tree came on. And his flickered a couple of more times and he never got ready. Just a bad break on his part. I don’t know how else I would have beat him.”

Despite his early exit, Edwards increased his lead over Coughlin by nine to 65 points (2,288-2,223).

Pro Stock Motorcycle

Arana scored his third consecutive victory –  fifth of 2009 and fourth in the last five – at the expense of Krawiec, the reigning class champion. Arana ran 6.979-seconds at 190.67 mph on his Lucas Oil Buell XB9R to Krawiec’s 7.005-seconds at 190.43 mph on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod.

”I’m really pleased with the performance of the bike,” Arana said. “This S&S Motor is a helluva piece, and I’ve got (Pro Stock racer) Larry Morgan and his crew members over there working hard, giving me the opportunity so I can keep winning rounds and each event and the title. It’s amazing how everything has turned around and now I’ve got five (wins) in one year. I believe I can do it. I know I can do it.”

Arana began the weekend atop the Countdown points table with 2,194, just nine ahead of Krawiec. Arana now has 2,318 points and a 27-point lead over Krawiec (2,291) on the road to Memphis.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, September 27 2009
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