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‘The Sarge’ Returning To Battle

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 14 2021

All-timer Tony Schumacher is headed back to a Top Fuel cockpit. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

Competition in NHRA’s Top Fuel ranks will ramp-up considerably in 2022 with the impending return of eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher.

The winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, Schumacher will rejoin Don Schumacher Racing to run the full, 22-race Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule.

Veteran crew chief Todd Okuhara will serve as lead tuner on Schumacher’s 11,000-horsepower dragster. Okuhara, a member of the DSR family since 2005, currently is working as crew chief on Leah Pruett’s car. Pruett is sixth in the Countdown to the Championship playoff point standings.

The Maynard Family, who joined DSR as a major associate partner in 2021, will serve as Schumacher’s primary backer in 2022. Additional partners will be announced at a later date.

“We’re thrilled to have Tony return to full-time competition next year aboard The Maynard Family Top Fuel dragster,” said team-owner Don Schumacher, who recently added event win No. 366 to his organization’s list of accomplishments. “Tony and Todd Okuhara are two of the most dominant players in our sport, and I liken this alliance to two powerhouses teaming up. I have no doubt the Tony-Todd combo will find success early on in their 2022 campaign.

“Joe and Cathi Maynard joined our team at the beginning of 2021, and have proven to be tremendous partners. We couldn’t be more pleased that they have decided to grow with our team into a larger role, and we look forward to continuing to make them proud.”

Nicknamed “The Sarge” after a 19-year run driving the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster, Schumacher retired following the 2018 season when the Army redirected its marketing efforts away from motorsports. When the 2020 NHRA season resumed following a four-month hiatus due to COVID-19, Don Schumacher found himself needing to fulfill sponsor obligations. Tony was tasked with taking over the driving responsibilities of a third DSR Top Fuel dragster to close out the season.

After a year-and-a-half of being sidelined, Schumacher raced to victory in Baytown, Texas, picking up career win No. 85 in his seventh race back.

“I wasn’t interested in just doing a few one-offs here and there,” said Schumacher, a 51-year-old resident of Austin, Texas. “I wanted to be in a situation where I could compete for a championship. The 2020 season was an exception, of course, and returning to the seat for that eight-race stint made me realize how much I truly, truly missed being out here and driving a 330-mile-per-hour Top Fuel machine. Drag racing is in my blood _ it’s who I am _ and I’m incredibly pumped I get to suit back up and race for a championship in 2022.”

As Army veterans, the Maynards are ecstatic to have become an integral part of Tony’s return to racing.

“Cathi and I have been avid NHRA fans for many years, and as Army veterans, Tony Schumacher in the U.S. Army dragster was always our favorite and ignited our passion for drag racing,” said Joe Maynard, who retired from the Army as an SFC in 1994. Wife Cathi served as a Military Policewoman and Department of the Army Civilian from 1976 to 1994.

“When we first became involved with DSR last year, our initial discussions centered around bringing Tony back in a full-time capacity, and we’ve been working toward that goal ever since,” Joe Maynard said. “We’re so excited that we get to be a major part of his return and can’t wait to see him get back to his winning ways.”

Established in 1998 as a single-car Top Fuel team, DSR has emerged as the winningest organization in NHRA Championship Drag Racing history. Don Schumacher was a pioneer in the Funny Car class and one of the sport’s fiercest match racers before retiring in 1974 to run his family business, Schumacher Electric Corp. 

DSR solidified its position as one of motorsports’ elite teams when it surpassed the 350 wins milestone during the 2020 season. DSR owns 18 world championships in three different NHRA categories. Including Hall of Fame team-owner Schumacher’s five NHRA Funny Car triumphs during the 1970s, DSR has been successful in capturing 366 national event victories overall.

Headquartered in Brownsburg, Ind., DSR fields four professional teams competing in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Three-time world champion Antron Brown and double-duty driver Pruett headline DSR’s Top Fuel dragster operation. DSR’s two Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Cars are driven by 2016 Funny Car world champion Ron Capps, and Matt Hagan, who earned his third NHRA series title in 2020.

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Popular Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Steve Johnson fell out of the Countdown point lead Sunday when his Suzuki failed to start before the final of the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals.

Matt Smith’s subsequent victory pushed the four-time/reigning champ into the lead heading into the 20th annual Thunder Valley Nationals this weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Smith will take an eight-point advantage into the race, which will take place during the Countdown for the first time in event history.

Johnson, who qualified No. 1 at Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex, has been chasing a Pro Stock Bike title since making his Camping World Drag Racing Series debut via a five-race scheduled in 1987. At The Plex, Johnson’s crew included fellow native-Californian and three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon in the role of coach.

“He knows how to win,” Johnson said of Dixon. “It’s four (now three) races to go and we’ve never felt like we’ve had this opportunity. So it’s really cool to have his perspective. When you’re driving home and you can hear some perspective about a three-time champion, I think it’s kind of an advantage. I really do. The other guys can fall back on their championships _ Angelle (Sampey) has had championships and Matt (Smith) has championships. I don’t have that so I’m falling back on three championships in another category. I think it’s going to help.”

Among the sage advice Dixon has given to his buddy, was this _ forget about the (bleeping) potato salad.

“For years I had hospitality (to oversee)…and I was always worried about the potato salad being hot and somebody getting sick at the drag races,” said Johnson, launching into an anecdote from a race at Pomona, Calif. “I was always so engaged about the food being perfect and cold. And then when I saw the potato salad from the caterers and it didn’t have ice all around it and I took my heat gun and it was 84 degrees…and I’m staging at Pomona and I swear to you that pre-stage light come up and I thought…’That potato salad was 84 degrees!’ That stupid stuff.”

Johnson said Dixon also preaches the need to be consistent. “I used to have fun and do anything and I’d get on the bike and _ BAM _ it’d be 0.005 (reaction time) and it would be nothin.’ And I don’t know where all that went,” said Johnson, 60, who has fielded a variety of Suzuki and Kawasaki bikes during his career. “When we get older we have hard data, so we go through the data. So it gets me into this serious mode. I’m serious but I still personally struggle a little bit with concentration and focus because it’s so much repetition.

“We do a quick burnout routine _I just line up and go. It got to be I was so fast at it, so Larry said, ‘Slow down…pick a target.’ I have to think about that. That little bit of time from burnout to 6.5-seconds is very, very important right now.” 

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NHRA’s stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle will be in attendance at the Thunder Valley Nationals, while Pro Stock’s drivers and teams enjoy an off-weekend. The famed Tennessee facility is playing host to the fifth of seven events in Funny Car and Top Fuel in the Countdown and the first race at the picturesque track since 2019.

In addition, Pro Stock Bike will be making its first official appearance at Bristol Dragway. While the two-wheeled category ran exhibition races in 1999 and 2000 at Thunder Valley, this will be the first weekend with championship points on the line.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 5 p.m. (EDT) Friday and the final two rounds of qualifying Saturday at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. (EDT) Sunday. 

Television coverage on Fox Sports1 (FS1) includes qualifying from 7-8 p.m. (EDT) Friday and 1-2 p.m. Sunday, with live action during eliminations to follow from 2-5 p.m.

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Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart has scheduled a news conference at 11 am. (EDT) today at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. Stewart will be joined by NHRA President Glen Cromwell for a “major announcement” on behalf of Tony Stewart Racing.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Point standings (top-10) following the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, fourth of seven races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence, 2,473; 2. Brittany Force, 2,421; 3. Justin Ashley, 2,352; 4. Mike Salinas, 2,305; 5. Billy Torrence, 2,301; 6. Leah Pruett, 2,255; 7. Antron Brown, 2,221; 8. Clay Millican, 2,212; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,196; 10. Doug Kalitta, 2,148.

Funny Car _1. Matt Hagan, 2,449; 2. Ron Capps, 2,416; 3. Cruz Pedregon, 2,336; 4. John Force, 2,334; 5. J.R. Todd, 2,315; 6. Bob Tasca III, 2,291; 7. Robert Hight, 2,261; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 2,211; 9. Alexis DeJoria, 2,197; 10. Blake Alexander, 2,153.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, 2,520; 2. Erica Enders, 2,439; 3. Dallas Glenn, 2,337; 4. Kyle Koretsky, 2,334; 5. Aaron Stanfield, 2,304; 6. Chris McGaha, 2,278; 7. Troy Coughlin Jr., 2,274; 8. Mason McGaha, 2,224; 9. Matt Hartford, 2,214; 10. Deric Kramer, 2,178.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith, 2,368; 2. Steve Johnson, 2,360; 3. Angelle Sampey, 2,315; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,267; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,229; 6. Joey Gladstone, 2,203; 7. Angie Smith, 2,194; 8. Karen Stoffer, 2,150; 9. Andrew Hines, 2,141; 10. Cory Reed, 2,125.

Pro Modified _1. Jose Gonzalez, 741; 2. Justin Bond, 607; 3. Brandon Snider, 602; 4. Steve Jackson, 571; 5. (tie) Jeffery Barker, 384; JR Gray, 384; 7. Doug Winters, 366; 8. Lyle Barnett, 329; 9. Mike Castellana, 322; 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 315.

UPDATED 2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif.

  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 14 2021
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