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Sponsorship Woes Park Schumacher For Winternationals

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 6 2019
Top Fuel ace Tony Schumacher will sit out the upcoming Winternationals. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Lack of sponsorship will prevent eight-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher from competing in this weekend’s prestigious 59th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. The event at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California is the 2019 season-opener for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Schumacher, the 49-year-old son of team-owner Don Schumacher, announced the shocking decision Monday on his Facebook page. Schumacher is the winningest driver in Top Fuel history with 84 national event victories, 87 pole positions and a qualifying streak of 367 races dating to Heartland Park Topeka in 2003.

“Some of you have probably heard the news that our car is parked,” said Schumacher, teamed with crew chief Mike “Zippy” Neff. “We’re still working on a sponsorship deal. These things take time but like I said before, I am absolutely not retiring. I love this sport and have dedicated most of my life to it. I love my team and they’re the best guys I know. Unfortunately, our car will not be at Pomona but I will still be there to support my teammates and fans. Thank you all for your continued support and patience.”

Schumacher’s longtime primary sponsor, the U.S. Army, exited DSR and the sport at the end of the 2018 season. Schumacher finished second in the 2018 Countdown to the Championship playoffs standings to first-time world champ Steve Torrence and his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing team by 304 points. The Army had served as primary sponsor of “The Sarge” for nearly 19 years.

The decision to sit out the Winternationals was confirmed via the introduction to the 2019 “Don Schumacher Racing Media Guide” posted online Tuesday morning:  “Please note, Tony Schumacher will not compete in Pomona. DSR is actively seeking sponsorship for the Schumacher-piloted Top Fuel machine and looks forward to campaigning three dragsters during the 2019 NHRA season.

“All of us at Don Schumacher Racing are eagerly looking forward to kicking off our 22nd season and adding to our 330-plus win-count starting with the 2019 NHRA season-opener this weekend in Pomona, California.”

Schumacher earned championships in drag racing’s premier class in 1999, 2004 through 2009 and 2014. His runnerup finish in 2018 marked his 20th consecutive top-10 point result.

DSR will launch into the schedule with entries for three-time Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett. DSR’s Funny Car lineup features two-time world champion Matt Hagan, 2012 world champ “Fast” Jack Beckman, 2016 world champ Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr.

Reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence exited preseason testing determined to maintain the status quo. Torrence recorded the quickest 1,000-foot pass during four days of testing at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix, last weekend.

Torrence wheeled his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster to a 1,000-foot pass in 3.689-seconds at 328.78 mph during Thursday’s session. The native of Kilgore, Texas, made history last season by sweeping all six rounds of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“We didn’t change anything going into this test session,” said Torrence, who won 11 of 24 national events in 2018. “We just needed to brush the rust off of myself and the guys to get prepared for Pomona. There’s some really good cars out there that we’re going to have to contend with this season. We’ll take this with a grain of salt, build confidence and see what we can do.”

Brittany Force, the 2017 Top Fuel world champ, powered her Advance Auto Parts dragster to a run of 3.700-seconds at 321.27 mph on Saturday. Force and new crew chiefs David Grubnic and Mac Savage took things slowly as the team got acquainted.

“Testing went well for us,” Force said. “It was good to get out to a racetrack and get to be with my new team and get to know my new car. We got the information we were looking for and Grubnic seemed happy with our test week. I’m looking forward to getting out to Pomona. It’s the first race of the season, it’s a home race and it’ll be exciting to show off this new Advance Auto Parts dragster to all the fans.”

Part-time racer Billy Torrence, Steve’s father, rounded-out the top three with a run of 3.731-seconds at 325.14 mph on Friday, while three-time world champion Antron Brown was sixth at 3.769 and 293.73.

“Testing has gone all right,” said Brown, driver of the Matco Tools Toyota dragster. “We came in looking to be aggressive and push it. We made a shutoff run on Thursday where we ran a 3.76, which would likely have been a 3.73 if we ran it all the way down. With that said, we’re right in the ballpark with that. We have a new chassis that we’re breaking in right. You’re always trying to be better and we made the right changes for it to be better, but you don’t know until you get out and run it and see how the combination works. Time will tell.”

Two-time Funny Car world champion Robert Hight led the “flopper” category with his 1,000-foot pass of 3.863-seconds at 326.87 mph in the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS on Friday. Hight finished the 2018 season second/194 points behind first-time world champion J.R. Todd of Kalitta Motorsports.

“We’re feeling really good after four days of testing,” Hight said.”(Crew chiefs) Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham have this Auto Club Chevy figured out. We’re carrying over our momentum from last year. We were testing some things, but Friday was a really good day for us.”

Todd posted the second-quickest pass of the session with a 3.868-second run at 324.36 mph in his DHL Toyota Camry, while 16-time world champion John Force was third at 3.894 and 331.61 on Saturday in his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS.

“We’ve been trying some different parts and pieces and it’s producing some really good numbers,” Todd said. “We’ve already been near my career-best run in our DHL Toyota Camry. The numbers on the scoreboard don’t really mean a lot until you get to Pomona, but it gives us something to work with and it gives us some confidence to start the season.”

Brute Force was fairly consistent throughout the weekend working with his new team headed by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Dan Hood. Corradi and Hood tuned Courtney Force’s Funny Car to four wins and 11 poles during her career-best season in 2018. Courtney Force shocked the motorsports word on Jan. 24 when she announced via press release she immediately was stepping away from her driving duties.

“I was on the phone with Courtney and she’s teaching me how to drive this car,” John Force said. “It’s a little different and the guys starting the car and how they do on the starting line, it’s all fun stuff. She has really helped me and I know she’s missing it out here, especially her team, but I’m happy she’ll be at Pomona. She’s helped me so I ran OK.

“The 2018 season was a tough year with breakage and crashes. This is the first time in testing that we haven’t hurt any parts yet, knock on wood.”

John Force Racing’s fourth/developmental team made an appearance at the end of the test session in Chandler, Ariz. Austin Prock and crew chiefs Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson tested on Saturday with plans to make passes in a Top Fuel dragster and potentially a Funny Car.

“They got locked in the snow in Indy and had to work overtime to get the bodies fitted and get the cars ready to go,” team-owner John Force said. “We’re still out here looking for a sponsor.  I’ve even called on one of the greatest Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers in history _ Don Prudhomme _ for help. Everybody is trying. We’ve got some leads but we’re getting Prock some seat time and getting him used to the brand-new car that we built him. It’s all part of the NHRA rules.”

The 21-year-old son of Jimmy Prock, Austin was pleased to register a few laps. “I know Force is working hard to get us a sponsor and get on us on the 2019 NHRA circuit and I’m just trying to do my part and make sure I’m ready when the time comes,” Prock said. “It’s hectic and stressful but we’re having fun. Glad to be out here with Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson, and I know Force and Robert (Hight) will be out here to support and make sure things run smooth, too.”

NHRA 2019 PRESEASON TESTING RESULTS

Top Fuel _ 1.Steve Torrence, 3.689-seconds, 328.78 mph; 2. Brittany Force, 3.700, 321.27; 3. Billy Torrence, 3.731, 325.14; 4. Jordan Vandergriff, 3.738, 325.85; 5. Mike Salinas, 3.747, 296.24; 6. Antron Brown,3.769, 293.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.780, 289.07; 8.Richie Crampton, 3.780, 275; 9. Clay Millican, 3.810, 296.44; 10. Scott Palmer, 3.921, 242.50; 11. Greg Carrillo, 5.057, 142.94; 12. Jim Maroney, 10.972, 46.22.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, 3.863-seconds, 326.87 mph; 2.J.R. Todd, 3.868, 324.36; 3. John Force,3.894, 331.61; 4. Shawn Langdon, 3.905, 327.35; 5. Matt Hagan, 3.959, 319.22; 6.Bob Tasca III, 3.972, 310.20; 7. Jonnie Lindberg, 3.990, 309.56; 8. Chad Green, 4.090, 252.80; 9. Cruz Pedregon, 4.377, 200.11; 10.Tim Wilkerson, 4.469, 184.02.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 6 2019
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