NHRA

NHRA missing in action: Where is Tony Schumacher?

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While it has been a strong start to the 2019 NHRA season, something – or more precisely, someone – has been missing.

Five races into the season, NHRA fans have noticed big-time. They keep asking, “Where’s ‘The Sarge’?”

Indeed, where is “The Sarge” – a.k.a. Tony Schumacher, the winningest driver in NHRA Top Fuel history, with eight championships and 84 national event wins?

Schumacher has practically fallen off the face of the drag racing world. It would not be surprising to one day soon see his face on the side of a milk carton under a “Missing” banner. Or, maybe you might see his mug on a “Wanted” poster at your local post office.

Fortunately, nothing nefarious has happened to Schumacher. He hasn’t been kidnapped or taken hostage.

But the affable Schumacher, the cornerstone of the racing empire his father has built at Don Schumacher Racing, remains MIA. Instead of roaring down a 1,000-foot drag strip at 330 mph in his 11,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster, the 49-year-old Schumacher sits at home in Austin, Texas.

He’s not retired. He’s not on strike. He’s not holding out for a raise.

Most importantly, Schumacher is not sidelined by choice.

Rather, he has become a victim of lack of sponsorship, the most high-profile driver in the sport without a ride or the corporate cash to run his dragster. After nearly two decades of racing proudly with U.S. Army backing, Schumacher is a victim, being held hostage from a lack of financing.

His father, as well as the rest of the DSR corporate team, has spent countless hours trying to find a way to put Tony back behind the wheel. But with five of the first 24 races of the 2019 season now history, it is looking more and more likely that – and very sadly, at that – Schumacher may not race again this year.

And if things don’t change, the longer Schumacher stays out, you can’t blame fans if they increasingly start to wonder if he may have competed in his last career drag race (last November’s season-ending finals at Pomona, California).

For the past two decades, Schumacher has been to Top Fuel what John Force has been to Funny Car: the winningest driver, the toughest competitor and the most popular driver in the class.

He was so synonymous with the Army that many fans believed he was an enlisted man when he wasn’t racing. He wore his trademark brush cut hair style with pride. He drove tanks, fired guns and visited troops all over the world, serving as an excellent ambassador for the sport.

But once the Army decided to pull out after the 2018 season and redirect its millions of dollars of sponsorship and engagement to other entities, everything that Schumacher had done for the black and gold simply and quickly vanished into oblivion.

And so Schumacher sits, waiting for a phone call or email from a new potential sponsor. So far, there hasn’t been one serious call, and with each passing race, one wonders if there ever will be.

Our goal is still the same,” a team spokesperson told NBC Sports. “We’re working toward finding a partner that can help us put Tony back on the track full-time and in championship form as soon as possible. At this time, we do not have any deals signed for Tony and his return date is (to be determined).

We feel that we have so much to offer a potential sponsor. Tony is the winningest Top Fuel driver of all time and is a marketer’s dream – well-spoken and an excellent brand ambassador both on and off the track as was evident during his nearly two decades representing the U.S. Army.

When a company aligns themselves with DSR, not only are they joining forces with the winningest team in NHRA history, but they’re aligning themselves with all of our corporate sponsors. … To any potential sponsor, we say ‘welcome.’ Now is the perfect time to get involved with NHRA Drag Racing.”

It’s not like Schumacher has forgotten how to win races. He won his eighth and most recent championship in 2014. From then to now, he’s won 12 races, albeit just one in each in 2017 and 2018.

But when it comes to 2019, he has goose eggs: no starts, no qualifying efforts, no final rounds and most importantly, no wins.

Although he has made a few appearances on NHRA TV broadcasts and also at-track public address announcing, Schumacher has done very few media interviews during his exile. It’s understandable. Would you want to talk about not being able to do what you love? Would you want to try and explain how the greatest driver in Top Fuel history isn’t racing, even when he’s still in his prime as a drag racer?

But he did tell NBC Sports: “I just love the sport. It hurts to be sidelined. In Houston we had an 18 car Top Fuel field, but every now and then when you have a 15-car field, it hurts to be sidelined knowing I could be there, I could’ve filled that spot. It’s a bit rough.

“I’ve been doing this a long, long time. I’ve done this for 20 years. I’ve missed my kids’ birthdays, I’ve missed so much of them growing up. I’m enjoying that now. I’m making the best out of an unfortunate situation.”

Some may think that with every race he misses as a competitor, he gets one race closer to just hanging up his firesuit for the last time.

But Schumacher said he has not given up on returning.

“We’ll be back out here,” he said. “I have faith we’ll put a nice deal together and we’ll come back out, I’m sure of that. We’ll win races and championships.

“But for now, I just keep booking things close to races. I booked the Phoenix Bike Week so I could be within four hours of the Vegas race if that phone call came in. I went to a wedding in Florida so I could be right by Gainesville if something came in.

“I’m not losing faith. I’ve got a great team; my dad, all of DSR. We have the best people out there looking, trying to find the right partner for us and until that time, I’m just going to sit on the sidelines and do some TV and announcing.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Eli Tomac wins Budds Creek, clinches 2019 championship

Vanessa O'Brien (KawasakiUSA)
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Last week Eli Tomac suffered through his worst race of the season and gave Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin a glimmer of hope were the championship was concerned.

On Lap 1 of Moto 1, Tomac did his best to dash that hope. Justin Bogle grabbed the hole shot, but Tomac swept past him immediately and surged to victory.

Moto 2 was much the same. Tomac grabbed the early lead and set his sights on earning maximum points for the weekend. By the end of Moto 2, Tomac had a 15 second lead over Jason Anderson to score his third perfect victory of the season. Tomac also scored a 1-1 at Pala and Washougal.

That was not Tomac’s only victory, however.

With two minutes remaining in Moto 2, Anderson and Marvin Musquin passed Ken Roczen.  That dropped Roczen to 54 points behind Tomac at the time and only elevated Musquin to a 50-point differential. Musquin needed one more position to be able to deny Tomac the championship for one more week, but he was 10 second behind Anderson and unable to make up the gap by the end.

“I didn’t know (I had won the championship) until the last lap,” Tomac said after the race. “I thought I needed one more spot on everyone. I’m just in complete shock right now. All we did today was put our head forward (and) put last week in the past. … Gosh what a way to finish it off. 1-1; it was so cool.”

Tomac is the first rider to win three consecutive championships since Ricky Carmichael won six in a row from 2000-2006.

In Moto 1, Tomac narrowly edged his two points’ rivals. Roczen finished second in that race with Musquin in third.

“It was so special,” Tomac said after he was handed the No. 1 plate that he will affix to his Kawasaki throughout next season. “So many things had to go our way this weekend with having a 1-1 and beating the two guys behind us in second and third (in Moto 1).

Anderson’s pass on Roczen late in Moto 2 was significant for another reason. With a 4-2, he scored a second overall to stand on the podium for the fourth time this season. In doing so, he matched his best finish from RedBud.

“For me, I’m just trying to build my base going into the next Supercross season,” Anderson said afterward. “I feel like I’m getting better.”

Finishing third in both motos was bittersweet equaled a third overall for Musquin. He climbed to second in the points with that finish and if he is able to stay there following next week’s Ironman, it will be the third straight year that he has finished behind Tomac.

Roczen faded to seventh in Moto 2 and with his 2-7 he finished fourth overall. It was a fitting end to his championship hopes because Roczen has faded at the ends of events all season long.

Zach Osborne (5-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

It’s fair to call Shane McElrath’s 1-1 victory a surprise. Perhaps one can even go so far as to call it a shocker. Entering Budds Creek, McElrath had not stood on the podium yet this year. In fact, he has only one top-five finish that came at Spring Creek two weeks ago.

McElrath got off to an early lead in Moto 1, passing then-leader Ty Masterpool on Lap 3 and refusing to look over his shoulder. It was his first moto victory since Washougal last year and there was speculation about whether he could match that performance. If anything, McElrath looked even better in Moto 2 and he cruised to a 7.7 second lead at the checkers.

McElrath may have been the only rider who was not surprised by the performance and he summed up the drastic uptick in his post-race interview.

“One word: just perseverance,” McElrath said. “It’s been a real test of our faith this year. A real test of our strength. It’s been humbling for sure. … My results this year haven’t been what we wanted, but we just kept at it.”

With a 2-5, Adam Cianciarulo finished second overall despite a disappointing second moto.

He was much better in Moto 1, but even that race had drama. Four minutes into Moto 1, Cianciarulo rode off course and high sided on a berm. He dropped from second to fifth. He climbed into third by Lap 6, but it took the entire race before he would reclaim second.

At the end of Moto 1, Cianciarulo was optimistic about his weekend.

“I’m just doing the best I can,” Cianciarulo said on NBC Sports Gold. “I just want a good result on the day and that’s how I’m looking at it, taking it moto by moto. I’m just disappointed in how I rode there at the beginning.

“Masterpool was riding really good and I just got out of my rhythm. The track’s really slick so you can’t override it – and I really was – I just wasn’t riding good. But I’m glad I was able to calm down and take a breath, make some passes back – get to where I needed to be.

“Championship aside, I really want to do the best I can every moto. … If I leave it all out there, whether I win or lose, I can go to bed at night and sleep just fine.”

Justin Cooper ended the day with a 6-2, which was good enough for third overall. It was not good enough to keep his title hopes alive, however. Ending the day 60 points behind Cianciarulo, he has been mathematically eliminated from contention.

Dylan Ferrandis is now the only rider who can challenge Cianciarulo, but he needs to make up six points in Moto 1 at Ironman Raceway next week to keep the pressure on. Like Cianciarulo, Ferrandis’ day was not without incident. In Moto 2, Mitchell Falk got turned around early in the race and knocked Ferrandis down while he was running 11th at the time – one position behind Cianciarulo.

The two points leaders were able to slice through traffic and Ferrandis eventually prevailed over his rival, but he could manage only a fourth-place finish at the checkers. With a 4-4, he finished fourth overall.

RJ Hampshire (3-8) rounded out the top five.

In Moto 1, Masterpool led his first professional laps. He paced the field five times before McElrath overtook him. Masterpool maintained a top-three spot for the next three laps. He finished seventh in that race and 11th in Moto 2 for an eighth overall.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[10] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[3] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[7] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

Next race: Ironman Raceway, Crawfordsville, IN, August 24

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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