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When it comes to delayed finals, Ashley and Schumacher are both old hands

When it comes to weather-delayed final rounds, both Tony Schumacher and Justin Ashley, who will battle it out for Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals honors on Saturday in Phoenix, are seasoned veterans.
06 Apr 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Schumacher and Ashley

If late, great rocker Tom Petty is right, “the waiting is the hardest part,” but when it comes to weather-delayed final rounds, both Tony Schumacher and Justin Ashley are seasoned veterans.

The duo, who will contest the Top Fuel final from the rain-halted Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals on Saturday of the NHRA Arizona Nationals, nearly two weeks after each won their semifinal rounds in Pomona, have both been there before, and both were successful in managing the delays with wins that led to even bigger things that same weekend.

In 2014, Schumacher and his Top Fuel peers had just completed round one of the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte to open the Countdown to the Championship playoffs when rain halted the proceedings. Schumacher had eked out a 3.79 to 3.80 victory over Bob Vandergriff Jr. when action ground to a halt.

The race resumed the following weekend at the Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, where Schumacher mowed past Billy Torrence, Spencer Massey, and, in the final round, Khalid alBalooshi to win the event, the 75th of his career, in a bonus round after qualifying completed Saturday.

Schumacher and team built on that momentum Sunday and also won the NHRA FallNationals title, beating J.R. Todd in that final round for victory No. 76.

More famously and recently, Ashley won last year’s rain-delayed NHRA New England Nationals when it was completed the following weekend during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals and then won the Thunder Valley Nats title the next day as well as the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge that ran concurrent with those eliminations, making for a three-win weekend.

And, crazily enough, Ashley’s first Top Fuel win came after a 48-day break between the semifinals and final rounds back in 2020. Ashley and T.J. Zizzo reached the final round of Top Fuel at the Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals in Indianapolis, the second race in NHRA’s return to competition after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ashley had qualified just 14th but wheeled his way past a tough line-up, including Shawn Langdon, points leader Doug Kalitta, and Leah Pruett. Zizzo reached the final round after defeating Terry Totten, Todd Paton, and Terry McMillen on July 19.

When racing resumed back in Indianapolis months later in early September during the NHRA U.S. Nationals, both were battling to become NHRA’s 109th different Top Fuel winner. It was the first time since the 1997 Summernationals (then held in Englishtown) that two first-time Top Fuel finalists squared off in the money round, in that case, Cristen Powell and Bruce Sarver (Powell won).

Ashley left first, as he almost always does, but Zizzo caught him early until his engine started to go away, and Ashley roared away to his first victory, 3.95 to 4.05, despite pitching the blower belt just before the finish line.