Tony Schumacher might not pay close attention to all of the numbers that equate to his remarkable success in the sport, but even he is well aware of the incredible success he’s had at the world’s most prestigious drag race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
Schumacher’s long list of accomplishments includes seven world championships on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit, but just as noteworthy is his nine Top Fuel victories at the biggest drag race in the world, which ties him with Pro Stock great Bob Glidden for the most ever at the event.
A 10th victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, which could come this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, would put him in uncharted territory in his 10,000-horsepower U.S. Army dragster. Schumacher is also not afraid to admit that achieving the mark is at the forefront of his focus.
“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.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel). Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and John Hall (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of an event that will once again be televised on ESPN2 in more than 10 hours of coverage. Nearly 1,000 competitors in 12 different categories will attempt to put their names in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals record book over Labor Day weekend. It also marks the 18th of 24 events during the 2014 season and is the final race of the regular season.
The magnitude of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has always brought out the best in Schumacher, who last won the event in 2012. His string of eight victories in a 10-year span from 2000-2009 ranks as one of the most impressive runs in NHRA history and that also means Schumacher is well aware of race’s importance on its own and as it relates to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“It's such a massive race,” Schumacher 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 seems to be building up to something big heading into the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. He has two victories in 2014 and currently sits in fourth, and has also strung together a number of consistent performances throughout the summer. Schumacher credits his elite U.S. Army team for getting him back in championship contention after finishing an uncharacteristic seventh a year ago.
“These are people that I'm surrounded with every day that can't lose,” Schumacher said. “That attitude rubs off on me, my crew chief, Mike Green, and Neal (Strausbaugh, assistant crew chief) and my guys. We all talk about how important it is to be surrounded by great people. When you're around that good of quality people, you learn a way to figure out how to win. Whether it's through the adversity of losing, which we have seen through the last year, you realize you don't like this. This is not how we are and you figure it out.”
To pick up an unprecedented 10th win at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Schumacher might need a historic performance to top a loaded Top Fuel field headed by points leader Doug Kalitta, who beat Schumacher at the last event in Brainerd. Other marquee challengers include Antron Brown, reigning world champion Langdon, who also won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout here last year, Spencer Massey, Khalid alBalooshi, J.R. Todd, Brittany Force, Steve Torrence and Richie Crampton.
“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.”
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 29. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Aug. 31 at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 1.
Schumacher will also participate in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel, which will be contested Saturday, Aug. 30 with rounds at 4 p.m., 5:25 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.
ESPN2 will televise more than 11 hours of coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Five hours of qualifying coverage and coverage of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will air on ESPN2 at 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (ET) and 5-7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31. Monday’s (Sept. 1) eliminations for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be featured in six hours of coverage starting at noon (ET).
To purchase tickets for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, fans can contact NHRA’s Ticket Sales Center at 800-884-NHRA (6472), or get their tickets online at www.NHRATIX.com.