NHRA: Tony Schumacher to make milestone 500th start this weekend

Photos: NHRA
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There’s the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

And now there will be the Tony Schumacher 500.

Schumacher will make the 500th start of his illustrious Top Fuel drag racing career at this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis.

No other driver in Top Fuel history has made 500 starts.

“As a 16-year old, I never imagined I’d be able to do this for so many years,” said Schumacher, the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history.

The son of legendary racer and team owner Don Schumacher, Tony began his Top Fuel career in 1996 with a runner-up finish at the NHRA U.S. Nationals.

Now, 22 years, 499 events, eight NHRA Top Fuel world championships, 84 event wins and soon-to-be 20 consecutive Top 10 finishes later, Schumacher’s career is – as his PR person so aptly put it – “One jam-packed highlight reel.”

One moment in one race stands out above all others in his career – the 2006 World Finals at Pomona, California – for Schumacher during his career.

He had to win the race and set the national record in the final round to win the championship.

“People expect me to say it was ‘The Run,’ but that wasn’t it,” Schumacher said. “It was the moment before ‘The Run.’

“It was that moment when we were sitting on the line, looking at the mountains in Pomona knowing we had the biggest task ahead of us, but knowing we had nine guys capable of accomplishing that task.

“To this day, it is one of my favorite memories. Before every huge accomplishment, there’s a moment, and that one was just awesome.”

While there have been seven other NHRA drivers that have reached 500 starts, none have ever done so previously in Top Fuel.

Schumacher’s teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps, is among those seven other drivers in the 500 Club. Capps will make his 527th career start this weekend.

“That fact that we’ve lived this for so many races, 499 of them, is incredible,” Tony Schumacher said. “This is a sport where it’s hard to stay relevant. So many teams have come and gone over the years.

“We had a beautiful sponsorship for a long time (the U.S. Army has sponsored Schumacher for nearly 20 years, but this will be its final year backing his Top Fuel efforts, as well as those of teammate Antron Brown), a championship contending car every year.

“It’s been an awesome array of people, from Dan Olson, my first crew chief at DSR, to Alan Johnson, Mike Green and now Mike Neff; all of these incredible people helping to produce wins and championships.

“That’s what helps us stay alive in this sport. We’re constantly fighting to be No. 1; you can only be average for so long. If you’re just average, you’re not going to survive out here. You need to win championships.”

One race into the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Schumacher comes into this weekend tied for second with Clay Millican in the Top Fuel standings, both drivers 50 points behind series leader Steve Torrence.

While Schumacher has a record eight championships, it’s been a while since his most recent title in 2014. The Austin, Texas resident and Chicago-area native is bound and determined to earn No. 9 this year.

“I get it has been (nearly four) years (since his last title), and trust me, it seems like a drought,” Schumacher said. “But when you think about it, we’ve had an amazing record, and we’ll keep adding to it.”

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)