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Legendary Schumacher To Be Feted At The Motorplex

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 9 2020

Top Fuel ace Tony Schumacher is back in a Top Fuel cockpit. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

Tony Schumacher, winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA and Texas Motorplex history, will be recognized as a Texas Motorplex Legend during opening ceremonies of the 35th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in Ennis later this month.

Schumacher has competed in over 500 NHRA national events and posted 84 victories during his two-and-half decade career, including over 20 starts in the FallNationals. Schumacher has reached seven final rounds and won six events at The Plex, where he has qualified No. 1 twice. 

“Tony Schumacher is a huge piece of our history at Texas Motorplex and the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals,” Motorplex owner Billy Meyer said. “He won his first Wally here at the Motorplex and has gone on to win here more times than any other Top Fuel driver. We are honored to recognize him as this year’s Texas Motorplex Legend award recipient and are excited that he is back in the saddle and ready to win.

“We will have a special presentation for him during opening ceremonies and he will forever be recognized in the Texas Motorplex Champions Club.” The FallNats, Race No. 9 of a COVID-19-reduced NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule, will run from Oct. 14-18. 

Fellow Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan was the first Texas Motorplex Legend recipient last year. 

Schumacher dominated the Motorplex’s all-concrete surface for a decade, winning the national event in 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2014. But it was his first career win during the 1999 Chief Auto Parts Nationals that jump-started his career. Locked in a tight championship point battle, Schumacher defeated Scott Kalitta for the win en route to the first of his record eight NHRA Top Fuel world titles.

“I most definitely remember that day,” Schumacher said. “The win at the Motorplex is forever because it was me and Scott Kalitta in the final round. I was getting my ass kicked and he was pulling away. It was my ninth final. I remember looking at his dragster and thinking I was getting whipped again and then his car disappeared. It was at a time that was absolutely critical because the battle for the championship was so big and so intense. There were so many people going, ‘Who is that guy? Where did he come from and why is he in the damn lead?’ 

“To have my first victory at the Motorplex and to go on to have such an incredible career with so many great teams and crew chiefs is special. To be recognized by the track that kind of started it all is cool. When you look back 84 wins ago, I had zero wins when I was racing there. Not only did we win but we were leading the points, we had 10 teams right behind us and we had the weight of the world on us. It was an incredible day and weekend in 1999.”

Schumacher added six consecutive NHRA Top Fuel world championships from 2004-09 and another in 2014, all while driving for Don Schumacher Racing, the team owned by his father/Funny Car pioneer. A 50-year-old native of Chicago now living in Austin, Schumacher made his Top Fuel debut in 1996 by advancing to the final round of the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Clermont, Ind.

Schumacher sat out the 2019 NHRA season after the U.S. Army, his longtime primary sponsor, exited the sport. Schumacher adopted the nickname of “The Sarge” during a high-profile partnership that took the Army’s recruiting process to the nation’s drag strips.

Schumacher currently is in the midst of a six-race return to the 2020 tour. Schumacher temporarily rejoined the DSR stable for the Indianapolis 1 and 2 events in July after a year-and-a-half hiatus from racing. He made his second comeback starting with the U.S. Nationals outside Indianapolis in September.

Crew chief Mike Green is calling the shots on Schumacher’s co-branded machine. Schumacher/Green dominated the class from 2009 through 2017, winning 27 races and two Top Fuel world championships (2009, 2014) together. Schumacher’s current rail features a unique “half-and-half” style livery, with one side decked out primarily in Okuma America Corporation branding and the other side displaying the Sandvik scheme.

Schumacher qualified No. 1 and advanced to the semifinals of last Sunday’s ninth annual NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill. Ironically, Schumacher was beaten in that round by Doug Kalitta, Scott’s cousin.

“It’s felt so good to be back in a Top Fuel dragster and to be out there mingling with the fans,” Schumacher said. “This is what I love to do. I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to be back in a DSR-prepared canopy car, racing with the winningest team in drag racing and with my old crew chief in my corner.”

In addition to noting the 35th anniversary of the Motorplex _ professional drag racing’s first stadium-style complex featuring corporate suites _ former Funny Car driver Meyer is celebrating his induction into the 2020 Class of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in March. The IDRHOF is housed at The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fla., a certain destination for Schumacher once he fully retires.

“I have won Driver of the Year and AARWBA awards during my so-called ‘reign of terror,’^” Schumacher said. “We won a lot of races and accolades but now to be recognized by places like the Texas Motorplex means a lot. It’s where I won my first race. I’ve won a lot of races there. It really means the most because I live in Austin and it’s close to my home now.

“It was a track that I raced Super Comp when I was coming up. There are only a few out there that you showed up for as a young kid from Chicago. The Texas Motorplex was one of those tracks. Billy Meyer built a track that everyone had to see.” 

In an era when stick-and-ball palaces like AT&T Stadium _ aka Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas _ continue to raise the “wow factor” for fans and competitors, The Plex remains the standard for professional drag racing. Built at a cost of $8-million, Meyer’s facility off U.S. Highway 287 in Ellis County introduced the three-story, stadium-style horseshoe tower with 28 enclosed corporate boxes to the sport, along with hospitality and meeting areas, 29,000 grandstand seats (since expanded to approximately 36,800), dedicated media center and 176 clean restrooms.

Working within approved state guidelines, the Motorplex will host fans up to 50 percent capacity for the FallNationals. The Motorplex will be operating under standard COVID-19 safety measures from the governor’s office and Ellis County health officials. 

“We will be encouraging fans to wear masks when social distancing isn’t an option,” Motorplex General Manager Andy Carter said. “We have the advantage of 500 acres of outdoor space to host the NHRA FallNationals with our pits open to the public, which provides a lot of space for our fans to spread out and enjoy great racing action.”

The Motorplex will provide masks for any fan needing one courtesy of TMS Titanium, and multiple hand sanitizing stations will be available throughout the property. The pit area will be reconfigured to allow more wide open traffic flow and behind-the-scenes access to NHRA’s professional competitors.

Tickets for the FallNationals are available at www.texasmotorplex.com. Wednesday and Thursday will feature the NHRA National Open for Sportsman racers. On Friday, Oct. 16, The Plex will host “Friday Night Live” _ a full evening of qualifying and exhibition runs. Saturday will feature qualifying from Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Car along with Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, with final eliminations on Sunday.

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Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta pulled to within two points of championship leader Steve Torrence with an impressive victory at the ninth annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., last Sunday.

Tommy Johnson (Funny Car) also won at the eighth race of the 2020 NHRA Series season. Due to a unique combination of cold temperatures and wind direction, NHRA officials postponed conclusion of racing in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. The two classes will be completed during the 35th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis.

The race also was highlighted by the announcement that Camping World has partnered with NHRA to become title sponsor of the premier professional series, which will be known as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.

Kalitta earned his second win this season and 49th of his career by covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.690-seconds at 322.58 mph in his Mac Tools dragster, beating two-time/reigning world champ Torrence in the final. Torrence’s point lead over Kalitta is 642-640 with three races remaining.

“We needed to get some momentum going and this is going to do a lot for us,” said Kalitta, who is chasing his first world title with the team owned by his uncle and drag racing legend Conrad “Connie” Kalitta. “We’re all counting points and figuring out what we can do to get ahead, but the only place you can do it is on the starting line. The championship is the No. 1 prize and we’re hoping to get a couple more wins, for sure. We’re really looking forward to these next three races.”

In Funny Car, Johnson picked up a crucial victory to stay in championship contention, covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.884-seconds at 326.88 mph in his MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat in the final to defeat Matt Hagan’s 3.886 at 333.00. Johnson scored his second win in 2020, the 21st of his career and handed Don Schumacher Racing its 11th straight victory in the class.

While DSR teammate Hagan jumped past Johnson in the point standings by advancing to the final, Johnson now trails by just 34 points. DSR’s “Fast” Jack Beckman is 16 points behind Hagan. Like Kalitta, Johnson is seeking that elusive first world championship.

“This was a must-win,” Johnson said. “You’re trying to gain points on those guys (Hagan and Beckman), so when you do face-off with them, it’s a must-win. You can’t let them keep going rounds and keep falling a round behind. It was huge to be able to take out both of them  and keep our team in it, and make it a solid three-man race right now.”

In Pro Stock, action was stopped midway through the second round with Greg Anderson and Matt Hartford both picking up wins. Anderson ran a Sunday-best over the quarter-mile in 6.502-seconds at 211.53 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro during his second-round victory.

Three-time/reigning world champion Erica Enders was set to race Chris McGaha when the call was made to postpone the rest of eliminations. Aaron Stanfield and point-leader Jason Line were slated to race as well. The winner of that pairing will meet Hartford while Anderson will race the winner of Enders-McGaha.

Pro Stock Motorcycle completed its second round of eliminations before action was halted. Point-leader Matt Smith, who won the previous race in Gainesville, Fla., ran an eliminations-best 6.767-seconds at 199.49 mph over the quarter-mile aboard his DENSO Auto Parts/Stockseth Racing EBR to move into the semifinals. Joining Smith was Steve Johnson, teammate and U.S. Nationals winner Scotty Pollacheck and six-time/reigning world champ Andrew Hines. Smith and Johnson will square-off in one semifinal, while Pollacheck and Hines will race for a spot in the final.

Action in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series also was postponed due to cold temperatures and wind direction. No elimination runs were made in the class. 

Point standings (top-10) following the ninth annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., eighth of 11 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _1.  Steve Torrence, 642; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 640; 3.  Leah Pruett, 562; 4.  Billy Torrence, 506; 5. Terry McMillen, 436; 6.  Justin Ashley, 433; 7.  Antron Brown, 425; 8.  Shawn Langdon, 415; 9. Clay Millican, 347; 10.  Tony Schumacher, 234.

Funny Car _1.  Matt Hagan, 659; 2.  Jack Beckman, 643; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 625; 4.  Ron Capps, 527; 5.  Tim Wilkerson, 480; 6.  J.R. Todd, 473; 7.  Bob Tasca III, 465; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 375; 9.  Paul Lee, 319; 10.  Cruz Pedregon, 303.

Point standings (top-10) following the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway. Finals from the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., will be completed during the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis:

Pro Stock _1.  Jason Line, 515; 2.  Erica Enders, 513; 3.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 481; 4.  Alex Laughlin, 359; 5.  Matt Hartford, 329; 6.  Greg Anderson, 323; 7.  Chris McGaha, 301; 8.  Aaron Stanfield, 284; 9.  Bo Butner, 281; 10.  Deric Kramer, 280.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1.  Matt Smith, 348; 2.  Scotty Pollacheck, 327; 3.  Andrew Hines, 320; 4.  Angelle Sampey, 300; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 284; 6.  Ryan Oehler, 237; 7.  Angie Smith, 198; 8.  Hector Arana Jr., 190; 9.  Chris Bostick, 181; 10.  Steve Johnson, 169.

REVISED REMAINING 2020 NHRA SCHEDULE:

Oct. 14-18 _ AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Oct. 23-25 _ Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil, Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas

Oct. 30-Nov. 1 _ Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 9 2020
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