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Schumacher Wants This Championship Bad

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 12 2009
Tony Schumacher got a boost from Tony Stewart at the U.S. Nationals this year. This weekend, he is boosted by a huge desire to beat his old crew. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Tony Schumacher got a boost from Tony Stewart at the U.S. Nationals this year. This weekend, he is boosted by a huge desire to beat his old crew. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

This time around there is more than just money and trophies and championships at stake for Tony Schumacher. This time around he needs it as much as wants it. This time around, it is truly and literally personal for Schumacher.

The winner of the last five NHRA Top Fuel champions, Schumacher yearns to make it six in a row and seven overall because it would allow him to make personal peace with what happened to him over the last off season when his crew chief and his guys all walked away for a better offer.

“This,” he said of the weekend at hand, “is huge.”

Schumacher and his Don Schumacher Racing team headed into the weekend’s season-ending, Countdown-concluding Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. in good position to win another championship.

Their lead is not a big one, as it is a single point over the team of second-place Larry Dixon. But the lead, Schumacher said in a telephone call on Wednesday, is an absolutely perfect one.

Perfect because the team he leads by the single point is Al-Anabi Racing, which is the team formed and co-owned by his crew chief of the previous six years, Alan Johnson. And it is the team where his former crew members opted to go following the 2008 season.

“At the beginning of the year, if you had asked me to write the perfect scenario,” Schumacher said, “it would have been me and Dixon in the finals down by one point or up by one point. It’s the perfect book. That was my whole team, they left me for a new sponsor and here we are. We were written off at the beginning of the year and here we are, one point in the lead. It’s perfect.”

Yes, with so much on the line, it is nerve-wracking Schumacher said.

The pressure is more intense than on any of the other season-ending weekends in which the championship was on the line. And that includes 2006, the year he needed to come from behind and win every, single round at Pomona in order to beat Doug Kalitta, which he did by just 14 points.

On the final pass that day, the one that mattered most, the money pass, Schumacher set the national elapsed-time record a 4.428 seconds for the quarter mile.

And then there was 2007, when he had to do the same thing – win on his final pass of the season to secure the championship. He did that, too.

Yes, Schumacher knows pressure, knows how to deal with it and knows how good it feels when all that happens.

Hence his excitement level for this year’s season-ender.

“It’s awesome,” he said of his situation. “On one side, I wish I were showing up (at Pomona) with 150-point lead and it is over. On the other side, that’s not what you dream. Everybody in the world has the high school football dream, that you’re down by a few or you’re up by a few and its down to the last few seconds and you do something miraculous.

“That’s what the American dream is. However, most people get into that situation and choke on it. It’s bigger than most people are prepared for. I’ve had it time and time again. Later in life when I write a book, I will be able to say, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but we were one point ahead and this is the way the story ends.’ ”

The plot thickens a bit when you consider that the final weekend has three drivers who have good chances of walking away as Top Fuel champion. Cory McClenathan is just 48 points behind Schumacher.

Love it, Schumacher said.

“The trophies which shine the most are not the ones that came the easiest. It’s the ones that are the toughest to earn,” he said.

There will be one mighty shiny trophy sitting in Schumacher’s den if he wins this year’s championship.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 12 2009