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He Is Alive: Schumacher Captures Top Fuel In Texas

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 26 2010

Tony Schumacher kept his bid to win another Top Fuel championship alive in Texas on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Ennis, Texas – Tony Schumacher’s bid for an eighth NHRA Top Fuel world title regained traction Sunday at Texas Motorplex, where “The Sarge” defeated Shawn Langdon in the final of the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also posted victories en route to a post-race ceremony featuring silver-plated Wally trophies and black Stetsons for the champions – and birthday cupcakes for competitors, sponsors and fans alike.

Schumacher, 40, defeated Langdon via a 1,000-foot pass in 3.838-seconds and 320.43 mph in the U.S. Army Dragster. Langdon ran 3.908-seconds and 298.67 mph in the Lucas Oil/Dixie Chopper Dragster.

“Wow. You knew Langdon was going to pull a 0.40 light,” said Schumacher, referring to his opponent’s quicker reaction time of 0.047-seconds at the Christmas Tree. “You just got to be a machine. You got to keep the car in the center of the racetrack and win that race. That was a big one. It was monumental. Too much fun!”

Schumacher, who began the weekend 148 points behind leader Larry Dixon in the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to 1 playoff, benefitted from the latter’s second-round exit courtesy of Langdon.

Langdon – who rolled into The Plex as Top Fuel’s best starting-line “leaver” – posted a 0.51-second reaction time en route to a 1,000-foot pass in 3.831-seconds and 311.49 mph to upset the No. 1 qualifier. Dixon’s reaction time was 0.089-seconds on the way to a run of 3.802-seconds and 316.75 mph.

“Dixon – when a guy goes out that’s won so many races this year (11) and has a lead on you –when he goes out you absolutely have to rise to the occasion,” said Schumacher, who did so by posting his fifth victory of 2010. “You have to win the race, you have to gain those points and put some pressure back on them, because they were walking away with it. You don’t want that to happen.”

Dixon, driver of the Al-Anabi Racing Dragster, had won three consecutive Full Throttle Drag Racing Series finals, including the opening two rounds of the Countdown. A two-time world champion, Dixon was aiming for his record 12th win of the season. Dixon, who began the weekend with an 85-point lead over Cory McClenathan, exited Texas with 2,422 points and a 69-point pad over his Don Schumacher Racing rival.

Schumacher, who has won six consecutive titles in the car owned by father Don, is 94 points behind Dixon. “We have a great team,” said Schumacher, who posted his fifth career win at The Plex. “Dallas is just a great place to start. We’ve got three to go, so let’s battle. Let’s have fun. I’m in a happy place. I’m in a good place. I’m not where I want to be, but a lot closer than we were this morning.”

In Funny Car, points-leader John Force was upset by Hagan and his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T in the final. Force, the 14-time world champion, lost traction and veered hard right halfway through his pass as Hagan motored past. Hagan’s winning numbers were 4.155-seconds and 294.63 mph, while Force ran 4.491-seconds and 203.74 mph.

Owner/driver Force began the weekend with a four-point lead over Jack Beckman, who is Hagan’s teammate at Don Schumacher Racing. Force now has a 25-point lead – a little over one-round – over runnerup Hagan.

“It was definitely gut-wrenching (racing Force),” Hagan, 27, joked after winning his first career playoff final-round appearance. “It was amazing it came down to me and him there in the end. Coming in here 14th (after qualifications) and fighting our way all the way through has been great.

“It’s a young team. I’m a young driver, Tommy (DeLago) is a young crew chief and we’re very hungry. I’m just glad to be here, beating John Force. We definitely have the confidence with Tommy DeLago tuning the car. He’s just an animal out there. He’s earned my trust in that car.”

Hagan said he was unaware of Force’s mini-adventure down the all-concrete track where he suffered serious injuries to his feet and legs in September 2007.

“I left the line and never saw him,” Hagan said. “I kept listening for him over there and I kept looking over. I was just saying, ’Come on! Turn that win light on!’ It finally came on.

“It’s just overwhelming and exciting. I have so much respect for that whole John Force team. When we won in Chicago, every one of those guys came over and shook our hands and told us what a great job we did. They’re a first-class operation, just like DSR. We’re a first-class operation and it’s always great to race the best. It was just a great weekend.

“It’s definitely intimidating (to race Force), but you have to block it out. He’s just another guy. And he’s had some success out here, and I hope we have that much success in my career.”

Earlier, Force all but ended the repeat title hopes of teammate/son-in-law Robert Hight by knocking him off in the first round. Force ran 4.144-seconds and 390.34 mph in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang to Hight’s tire-shaking 6.170-seconds at 110.42 mph in the Auto Club Ford. Force then defeated pole-sitter Tim Wilkerson’s Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang with a pass at 4.083-seconds and 308.21 mph.

Ashley Force Hood did her dad/teammate a favor by defeating Beckman in the second round with a pass of 4.085-seconds and 308.29 mph in her Castrol GTX Ford. Beckman ran 4.431-seconds and 237.46 mph before rolling to a halt with an engine fire in the Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger. The fire was doused quickly by the NHRA Safety Safari as Beckman jumped out of the escape hatch. Beckman now is third in the standings, 45 behind points behind Force.

Anderson, a three-time world champion, repeated his event victory in Pro Stock when he ran the quarter-mile in 6.585-seconds and 209.39 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP. Edwards ran 6.612-seconds and 208.46 mph in the Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac. Anderson, who trailed Edwards by 27 points as the weekend began, is now only 16 points out of the lead.

“I had a big weekend last weekend,” said Anderson, 49, referring to his Countdown win at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C. “I got myself back in the race. Every race you go to, it’s sudden-death out here. You have a real bad race you can knock yourself completely out of it for the rest of the year. You just can’t make any mistakes, and my team has been flawless now for two races in a row. I’m so proud of them. “

Anderson acknowledged that he and his hot rod earned their fourth career win at the Motorplex using a tuneup provided by co-crew chiefs Rob Downing and Tommy Utt.

“They got a heck of a job on their hands trying to keep me positive all the time,” Anderson said, “because if my car’s not the fastest car out there I’m not happy. And shame on me for that.

“We got a serious chance of getting a championship back, and I really had doubts a few races back. I guess I’m that kind of guy – I’m always doubting something. We’re still not in the lead after two back-to-back wins and that just goes to show you how tough this class is and how tough Mike Edwards is. You’re going to have to find a way to take that trophy from him. He’s not going to give it up.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, rookie Tonglet remained undefeated through three Countdown races on his baby blue Nitro Fish Suzuki GSXR when Hines fouled at the Christmas Tree. Tonglet now has defeated Hines, a three-time world champion on his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod, in all three Countdown event finals. Tonglet ran 6.972-seconds and 187.94 mph to send another message to his archrival.

“For him to go up there and red-light, he had to feel the pressure,” said Tonglet, who trails Hines by 44 points – down from 66 as the weekend began. “It’s just unreal. I saw the red light when I left, so knowing you’re going to win and you’re not even to the finish line – that’s just so nice. It’s awesome.”

Tonglet, runaway leader for the NHRA’s $20,000 Auto Club Road to the Future Award presented to the rookie of the year, now has posted four wins in five final-round appearances.

“I wasn’t feeling too confident Saturday night because we’ve been stumbling in qualifying,” said Tonglet, 20, a third-generation Pro Stock Bike competitor. “We didn’t find it (the combination) until second round, and the bike really woke up.

“We’re the underdogs, so I don’t really feel that much pressure. It is there, I’m just glad GT (his older brother ) and my dad (Gary Sr.) are there to keep me calm. My dad said he’s hungry for that championship. He needs the money, he said.”

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 26 2010
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