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.”