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The Objective, Sarge Says, Is The Championship

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 18 2012

Top Fueler Tony Schumacher insists it's championships, not race victories, that matter to him. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

TOPEKA, Kan. – Everything about Tony Schumacher as he sat at a lunch table in his team’s compound at Heartland Park Topeka on Friday said this: No wins, no problem. His words, his tone, his body language: No wins, no problem.

For a simple reason. Schumacher, a seven-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, arrived for the Dollar General Summer Nationals with a fairly healthy – and extremely satisfying – lead in the Top Fuel point standings.

Yep, The Sarge is No. 1 right now. He’s 25 points ahead of Spencer Massey, who has won three times and is wiping his fireproof booties all over the speed records this year; he’s 30 points ahead of Antron Brown, who has won once and has made it to the finals three other times; he’s 68 points ahead of two-time winner Morgan Lucas.

If Schumacher, who last won a national event in 2010, can hold a points lead through the final event of the season and capture an eighth Top Fuel championship without ever setting a foot in Victory Lane; cool, he said.

“What I’ve said for years and years,” Schumacher said, “is I understand the rules. And the rules do not state that I have to win the most races. The rules state that I have to have the most points at the end of the year.

“I’ve won championships. I’ve won them by winning the most races in the season, by winning one race in a season, by setting a world record on my last run of the year. I’ve done it many different ways. Each way has been gratifying. Leading the points right now is the same thing.”

Schumacher, who drives for his father’s Don Schumacher Racing team, has won 67 times in Top Fuel.

Team owner Don Schumacher and son/driver Tony Schumacher. They lead the points heading into this weekend's Dollar General Summer Nationals in Topeka. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

He’s won 20 percent of his races. He won six consecutive championships from from 2004 to 2009.

But his last victory came 30 events ago. And for 30 straight weekends, he’s been asked what’s up? What’s wrong?

He was asked that again on Friday. And again his answer was; not much, really. The cars are fast – he’s advanced to the finals three times on Sundays this season and has won 15 rounds. The confidence is high.

No, its not anything he and his U.S. Army team are doing wrong. It’s more about what other teams are doing right. Mostly, teams of his DSR stablemates. Four of his seven losses have been to teammates Antron Brown and Spencer Massey.

The other three losses have been against Morgan Lucas (twice) and Steve Torrence.

Which all kind of points to the reason why Schumacher is finding it harder to win on Sunday’s the last couple years. Parity has settled in at the Top Fuel division of the NHRA.

“Would I rather win (a championship) by winning 15 races in a season? Hell yes,” Schumacher said. “But that’s not the case anymore. Nobody will ever do that again. There was a time when there was one Army car. We had a great team and we had a tune-up that nobody else had. There are nine teams out here with that tune-up right now. It’s not like it used to be. The dominance is not there.”

And that’s not a bad thing, Schumacher said. Even though it is him and his team that have lost the dominance.

It’s good, he said.

In fact, he said, “It’s great. If I was a fan, and I was going to spend money to go to a drag race, this is the year to do it because everybody’s good. You’re going to see a real race. You’re not seeing the DS1 car sweeping the field. This is tight stuff.”

Schumacher also squeezes a bit of pride out of the fact that things are tight in Top Fuel thanks to – his DS1 team.

“We made those teams,” he said. “The Army car was the Army car and all of sudden, my dad expanded to a two-car team and they get all our stuff. And then, another car and they got all our stuff. And then Alan (Johnson, his former tuner) leaves (to help form championship-winning Al-Anabi Racing) and, well, he’s got our stuff.

“It’s not that people caught up to us. It’s that there are now nine Army cars.”

No, Schumacher said, he initially was not happy about losing his dominance to teams and drivers and crew chiefs he was sharing his race shops with.

“When we brought the second car on, it was like, “Well what did they do to earn the right to go as fast as us.”

But now, he said, he’s into it. Now, he said, “the teams work well together. I can’t complain about it. I lived those years as the dominant driver and nobody will ever have that again. It’s just times have changed.”

Future wins, he said, will come. No doubt about that. Perhaps the next at Heartland Park on Sunday. But, he insisted, for like the 30th race weekend in a row, it’s the championship he is focused on this weekend and all weekends after. Really.

What would a winless championship mean to him?

He shrugged.

“I get another ring, I get a cool coat and I get an eighth championship,” he said.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 18 2012
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