Schumacher Going For Big History At The “Big Go”
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
All motor sports series seem to have that one event on their calendar that for competitors holds as much – or more – importance than a season championship. That’s certainly true in the NHRA where the U.S. Nationals stands as an event which produces as much emotion in competitors as does occupying seats at the head table at the
Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher put some of that emotion on display this week as he talked about the 2014 U.S. Nationals and his chance to make big history at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind.
Schumacher has won a record seven Top Fuel championships in his career, a record six straight championships, a record 74 races and holds the record for top speed in the quarter mile.
All those things bring “The Sarge” joy.
What he said would bring him ectasy is a victory in this weekend’s 60th running of the Nationals. That’s because a victory would be Schumacher’s 10th in the “Big Go”. And a 10th victory would move him out of a tie with Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden for most ever.
Think he doesn’t want that?
“I think there’s no doubt that we know coming into this race that we have a chance to do something that no one has ever done,” Schumacher said. “I think it adds to the pressure and I like that. I enjoy the pressure. I’m a better driver when the pressure is big. I always have been. A lot of people have been able to live some great moments here. Fortunately for me, we’re one of the teams that have been blessed with some of the best moments.”
The U.S. Nationals have long been bigger than big for drag racers. When those around the sport call it the biggest drag race in the world, they can do it sans fear of being accused of over-hyping.
It is an event – like the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the Knoxville Nationals – at which the atmosphere at the track on race weekend is saturated with mega-event feel. The colors look a bit brighter, the noises a bit more piercing, the hot dogs a bit tastier.
But over the last several years, the event has, if not gotten bigger, has gotten more important because it is the final event before the start of the NHRA playoffs known as The Countdown.
While most drivers and teams know whether or not they will be in the playoffs when Nationals week begins, still, there just seems to be more tension in the air.
Schumacher is certainly one of those who, this week, knows he will be in the playoffs. But, he also knows what a victory heading into the Countdown, which kicks off at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., can do for a team.
“It’s such a massive race,” Schumacher, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, said. “You need this momentum. You need to go to the first race (of the Countdown) knowing you won the last one, you’ve got six to go. I think showing that you can win these four rounds, get that win at Indianapolis and go on with six races to go with absolutely no mistakes to be made, not one, you can’t even think about making a mistake to win the championship. You have to be a machine, the whole team has to be perfect and flawless and having that momentum coming out of Indy is possibly the most important thing you could see in the Countdown.”
Schumacher has two victories in 2014 and sits in fourth in points. He has had a fairly consistent summer.
But to win an unprecedented 10th win in Indy, Schumacher will need to beat a sizable contingent of Top Fuelers who have been equally consistent this year. Drivers like points leader Doug Kalitta, who beat Schumacher at the last event in Brainerd; Antron Brown; reigning world champion Shawn Langdon, who also won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout here last year; teammate Spencer Massey; Khalid alBalooshi of Al Anabi Racing; J.R. Todd; Richie Crampton.
All of the above have won races this year.
“It’s going to be difficult to win,” Schumacher said. “Knowing it’s going to be difficult to win is what makes us good. We’ll have to try that much harder. I don’t know where I’m going to find more, because I feel like I give everything I’ve got every time, but we always seem to come up with it when we need it. We always seem to find, whether it’s the pressure, the rise of the heartbeat, the energy that comes with it, I don’t know what it is, but we get better in these big moments.”
2013 EVENT WINNERS: Shawn Langdon, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Mike Edwards, Pro Stock; John Hall, Pro Stock Motorcycle
MOST VICTORIES: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel, 9; Bob Glidden, Pro Stock, 9; Don Garlits, Top Fuel, 8; Don Prudhomme, Top Fuel and Funny Car, 7; Warren Johnson, Pro Stock, 6; Dave Schultz, Pro Stock Motorcycle, 6; Ed McCulloch, Funny Car and Top Fuel, 6;Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, 6; John Force, Funny Car, 4; Larry Dixon, Top Fuel, 4.
EVENT HISTORY: The most historic and prestigious event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has been contested annually since 1955. Originally known as “The Nationals” and first held at an abandoned airstrip in Great Bend, Kan., the event made stops at Kansas City, Mo., Oklahoma City and Detroit before eventually moving to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. Past winners include “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, an eight-time winner in Top Fuel; Shirley Muldowney, 1982 Top Fuel winner; Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, a seven-time winner and one of a handful of drivers to win the event in both Top Fuel and Funny Car; and Bob Glidden, the legendary Pro Stock driver who dominated the race by advancing to the final round in 13 consecutive seasons from 1977-’89. The Indiana native won the event a record nine times, a mark he shares with current Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher. It is the only major motorsports event to be contested on Labor Day.
GOOD BITS: The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is the final of 18 regular season Mello Yello Series races. Following conclusion of this event the top 10 drivers in each Mello Yello Series category will qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs that begin Sept. 12-14 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C.… The Traxxas Nitro Shootout will offer $100,000 to the winners in special bonus events for qualified Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers… Tony Schumacher is an 11-time U.S. Nationals finalist in Top Fuel (winning nine)… Schumacher’s first career NHRA start came at the U.S. Nationals in 1996 and the then rookie posted a runner-up finish to Cory McClenathan… John Force, 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Series world champion and winner of a record 141 events, has won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals four times, his last coming in 2002… Three women have earned Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories, including Shirley Muldowney once in Top Fuel, Ashley Force Hood twice in Funny Car and Angelle Sampey twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle… Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden and Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher are the winningest drivers in the history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, with nine victories each… Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Jim Head and Ed McCulloch have won the race in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, while Antron Brown has also won the race in multiple MYDRS classes, Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle… The event also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, featuring high-horsepower machines that accelerate to more than 250 mph.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Traxxas Nitro Shootout will offer $100,000 to the winners in special bonus events for qualified Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers… Tony Schumacher is seeking a record 10th Top Fuel victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals… A victory by Schumacher would break a tie with Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden for most Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories… Four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson is seeking his seventh Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory… A driver from John Force Racing has earned the Funny Car victory at this event each season since 2008, including Robert Hight last season and in ’08, Ashley Force Hood in ’09 and ’10 and Mike Neff in ’11 and ’12… Seven female drivers representing all four Mello Yello Series categories are pre-entered for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals… Several high-profile drivers are looking for their first victory in the world’s most prestigious drag race, including two-time Indy runner-up and current series points leader Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car, defending world champ Allen Johnson in Pro Stock, and three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Eddie Krawiec… Drivers in several Mello Yello Series categories who are on the bubble to make it into the top 10 in points, including J.R. Todd, Bob Vandergriff in Top Fuel, Cruz Pedregon, Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman in Funny Car, Greg Anderson and Jonathan Gray in Pro Stock and Angie Smith, Steve Johnson, Adam Arana, Jerry Savoie and Chaz Kennedy among others in Pro Stock Motorcycle, will be trying to earn every point possible to secure their berths into the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race postseason playoffs.
TRACK HISTORY: In 1958, led by Tom Binford, Frank Dickie, Rodger Ward and Howard Fieber, 15 Indianapolis-area businessmen and racing professionals invested $5,000 each to fund the development of what would become Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The group purchased a 267-acre farm about seven miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and developed a multipurpose auto racing facility. The original intention in creating Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis was to design a 15-turn, 2.5-mile road course. Nearly as an afterthought, and as an insurance measure against economic problems, the investment group decided to incorporate a quarter-mile drag strip into the long straightaway of the 2.5-mile road course design. Constructed with assistance from the NHRA, the drag strip was the first of the three courses to be completed, with the facility’s first event held on the strip in the fall of 1960. During the 1960 U.S. Nationals in Detroit, a handshake agreement between Binford and NHRA founder Wally Parks promised that the event would move to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. The historic three-year pact was signed and sealed under a tree in Detroit Dragway’s pits, and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis eventually became the home of NHRA’s biggest annual event. The NHRA purchased the entire facility in 1979. The first major improvement came in 1983 with the construction and dedication of Parks Tower, the four-story drag strip tower. In 1998, new grandstands, suites and a tower complex on the front straightaway were completed at the oval track at a cost of nearly $2.5 million, which included the repaving of the entire oval surface as part of a three-phase facility improvement project. In 2001, NHRA and Lucas Oil Raceway constructed a new drag strip racing surface, replacing the strip with a 660-foot concrete pad and laying new asphalt on the remainder of the track and shutdown area. Prior to the 2003 race, eight new luxury suites were added along the top of the west-side grandstands of the drag strip, giving fans a unique perspective of the action on the famed track. In 2006, new soft barrier walls were added to the oval. In 2007, the track announced its first track entitlement with O’Reilly Auto Parts. In 2011, the track announced a new track entitlement with Lucas Oil Products. The track – formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park – is now known as Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. During the winter of 2008, a new main track office building was constructed near the track entrance.