Schumacher, Brown ready to invade Phoenix this weekend for 5th straight combined win

(Getty Images)

The U.S. Army has invaded Chandler, Arizona, and is ready to do battle again.

We’re talking, of course, of Army-sponsored NHRA Top Fuel drivers – and Don Schumacher Racing teammates – eight-time and 2014 Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher and two-time and defending 2015 Top Fuel series champ Antron Brown.

The longtime straight-line veterans return this weekend to the 32nd CarQuest Auto Parts Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, the second of 24 events on the NHRA national event schedule, with one thing in mind:

The two DSR teammates have dominated the Top Fuel category at Wild Horse Pass, which is located just south of Phoenix, for the last four years. Brown won the event in 2012 and 2014, while Schumacher took home top honors in 2013 and last year.

Now it’s time to go for a fifth straight win there. Plus, there’s added incentive: both drivers struggled in the season opening Winternationals two weeks ago in Pomona, California.

Schumacher had an uncharacteristic first-round loss at Pomona, while Brown was ousted in the second round of the four-round elimination process.

“Our team was pretty excited to get things going in Pomona and we learned a lot and we gained a lot with some of the new stuff we’ve been bringing to the table,” Brown said. “We were pleased to see that our package was strong enough to make good runs, but we just came up short.

“Consistency down the track is what we are after. We’re looking forward to getting back to Phoenix after testing there earlier this month. We’ll see much different conditions than we had when we tested. It was cool then and we’re going to be dealing with warmer temperatures and a much slicker track.”

Ergo, given what happened to them at Pomona, they each have something to prove this weekend and to get back on a winning track.

“We certainly would like to have the same results as we did last year in the U.S. Army machine,” Schumacher said in a media release. “Honestly, last year’s victory was made possible by my guys. I didn’t feel like I was on my game, but they kept putting such a great car under me that it did its job better than everyone else we raced.”

Nicknamed “The Sarge,” Schumacher is the all-time winningest driver in the NHRA Top Fuel ranks with 80 national event victories.

“The key in the early season is finding the tune-up that’s going help you win a championship at the end of the year,” he said. “There are a lot of ways you can do that.

“We love racing in Phoenix and I know (crew chief) Mike (Green) and (assistant crew chief) Neal (Strausbaugh) are going to be digging extremely deep in order for us to have a chance at getting not only our first win of the year, but a sixth victory in Phoenix and third in the last four years.”

Schumacher hopes to repeat what he did just three weeks ago at Wild Horse Pass during preseason testing for Top Fuel and Funny Car teams. Schumacher posted the quickest run of all teams (3.683 seconds at 325.37 mph) in attendance, as well as a second run (3.718 seconds at 320.58 mph) that both topped his official career-best ET of 3.719 seconds set last May at Topeka, Kansas.

What’s more, Schumacher’s 3.683 second run was just .003 of a second shy of Brown’s national elapsed time record of 3.680 seconds, set last August in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Schumacher is a five-time winner at Wild Horse Pass (2000, 2002, 2005, 2013 and 2015).

Brown, meanwhile, has the afore-mentioned two wins there.

“It’s always held a special place in my heart,” Brown said of the suburban Phoenix track. “It’s a great racetrack and we always seem to be right there on Sundays. It’s been really good to us.

“You look at us getting two wins in the last four years and the other two times we’ve made runs to the semifinals and ended up watching our Army teammate come out on top. That gives you a lot of confidence going in that you know you are going to have an opportunity.

“Past performances don’t guarantee anything, but there is just something about that track that brings out our best. We’d sure like to make it … to the winner’s circle Sunday.

“This class is ridiculously competitive right now and everyone is coming out swinging. We’re ready to get back to the track and make some noise ourselves.”

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Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”