News: ‘Western Swing’ on Tap for US Army NHRA drivers
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Scott Turner
MORRISON, Colo. - After a brief break in the action, U.S. Army NHRA Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown will tackle the NHRA’s infamous “Western Swing” over the next three weekends.
Sitting second and third, respectively, in the Top Fuel standings, Schumacher and Brown will initially travel to Bandimere Speedway outside Denver, July 20 to 22, for the 33rd annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. From there, they’ll move on to Sonoma, Calif., and Pacific Raceways outside Seattle the following two weekends.
In recent years, Schumacher (2008) and Brown (2009) have posted “Western Swing” sweeps. They are among only five Top Fuel drivers who have managed that feat. The others are Joe Amato, Cory McClenathan and Larry Dixon.
A Chicago-area resident, Schumacher is coming off a semifinal-round appearance at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, two weeks ago, while Brown, a New Jersey native, was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Specific to Bandimere Speedway, Schumacher has recorded two wins and four runner-up finishes during his career. Brown has one win and one runner-up finish to his credit since transitioning from Pro Stock Motorcycles to Top Fuel four years ago.
Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster:
Q: What kind of mindset must drivers and teams have leading into this three-race swing?
A: We all definitely have to be Army Strong. I know our Soldiers certainly expect that of the Army team and we always try to deliver. The main thing is to have patience and then you will have the opportunity to complete the mission. You just have to understand that you are going to face vastly different conditions at all three places. First, you will be in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains, and then you head back down to sea level in Sonoma before finishing at a very fast Seattle track. The drivers just need to keep doing what they do and try not to make life any more complicated for their crew chiefs. They will have enough on their plates trying to find the right setup for each venue.
Q: You were able to get to the semifinals in Norwalk despite not having the kind of racecar you have been used to the last couple of months. That has to be encouraging, right?
A: For sure. We did not have the best car on the property in Norwalk, but we found a way to go rounds and that’s what counts. We did get bumped out of first place in the points by my Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Spencer Massey, but that’s fine. We can easily jump back up there this Sunday with a good outing. I’m confident we will come out swinging right from the outset.
Q: After the “Western Swing” is complete, there will only be two more races before the Countdown to the Championship commences. Is this the point in the season where they separate the men from the boys?
A: Many people have said that over the years. Of course, included in that handful of races is the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, which every driver wants to win given that it is our biggest race of the season. The bottom line is you want to be as high up in the standings as possible when they reset the points. We’re in a pretty good spot at the moment, but we’re not satisfied.
Q: If you reach the final in Denver, you will clinch a spot in the Countdown. Will that take any pressure off you and the team?
A: Not really - we’ll still put pressure on ourselves because we want to win races. And, should we end up in the number-one spot by the time the Countdown starts, we’ll get those extra 10 bonus points. We’re shooting for just that the next five events.
Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster:
Q: What are your thoughts as the “Western Swing” prepares to kick off?
A: I’m looking forward to it. It can be fairly grueling for everyone - in particular, for the crew guys - but the good teams find a way to rise to the occasion. And, I know I’m part of a great team. We know what it takes to win at all three tracks and we have outstanding data to apply to the car. As long as I don’t screw it up, I feel we can be successful the next three weekends.
Q: It sounds as if you have quickly put aside the second-round loss in Norwalk, right?
Q: There’s no doubt about that. We put that one out of our minds not long after it was over. That’s the way you have to be in this sport. If you sit and intently analyze every race, good or bad, you will lose focus on the forthcoming race. It is a matter of picking up the pieces and moving forward.
Q: With the Countdown to the Championship looming on the horizon, you must feel just like Tony in that you want to try and grab the top spot before it all begins.
A: Absolutely, that’s the case. Right now, we’re just a little over two rounds of racing behind Spencer in first and 14 points behind Tony in second. It’s a very tight battle among the DSR boys. Anything can definitely happen over the next five races. We’ll take them one a time and not get caught looking ahead.
Q: Of the three tracks coming up, which one do you enjoy racing at the most?
A: I know this may sound like a politically correct answer, but they are all quite appealing to me. But, I do have to say Sonoma probably has a special place in my heart going back to my Pro Stock Motorcycle days. It’s one market that truly loves its motorcycles. Not too many fans leave their seats there when the motorcycles are on track. Also, when I swept ‘The Swing’ in ’09, we finished in Sonoma that year, so it makes it even more special.
Q: Can you believe we’re already halfway through the 2012 season?
A: Time sure does fly by. But, I can tell you we’re not overly concerned with reaching the halfway point as much as we are pointing toward those last six races of the year - the playoffs. That’s when you better be prepared to flip the switch and turn it up a notch. It’s when it all starts in earnest.