Rain delays Sarge's quest for 7th NHRA title
February 11, 2009
By Tim Hipps
POMONA, Calif. (Army News Service, Feb. 11, 2009) - An unlikely five days of Southern California rain delayed Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher's quest for his seventh Top Fuel championship in the NHRA Full Throttle Racing Series' season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals Feb. 5-9.
The sun returned on Tuesday but did not shine favorably upon Schumacher in his U.S. Army-sponsored Top Fuel dragster.
Brandon Bernstein's Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster prevailed in the second-round showdown with an elapsed time of 3.834 seconds and a speed of 311.49 miles per hour. Bernstein grabbed the lead at the start and pulled away for a 20-foot victory against Schumacher, who was clocked in 3.865 seconds.
Schumacher had a clean pass as "The Sarge" reached 313.44 miles per hour, but the Army car was sent packing early on a weekend that lasted six days.
Following a record-breaking 2008 season that included 15 victories - including a stretch of seven in a row that ended with his fifth consecutive championship season and sixth overall NHRA crown - Schumacher was asked Saturday during a rain delay what he could do for an encore this season.
"That question has come up every year for five years," Schumacher said. "The first year, we won a record 10 races. The next year, we won nine races. The next year, we had to win the last race and set a world record to have a chance - we did that.
"Of course, then the comment was: 'What are you going to do next year'' Well, we didn't know, so I said, 'I'm not sure. I'm going to get up, come to the first race, and try to win it. That's all I know. That's the best I can do.'"
"And we did."
Again, the Sarge's championship charge boiled down to the season finale.
"We ended up having to win the last race of the year again, and we did it," Schumacher said with a grin. "And they said: 'How are you going to pass that up'' So last year we showed up and won 15 races."
"I don't know what we're going to do this year, but I can tell you it's going to be cool."
Racing resumed on Tuesday at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
The Army's Top Fuel dragster is staging the most dominant professional sports run of this decade in America.
"Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count, and you're up - every time - that's what it is," Schumacher said while shaking his head in mind-boggling fashion. "It's always crunch time. It's being part of any one of the great teams we've ever watched be in that position, and pull it off. That's what we've been part of year in and year out."
"It's not like we've had the gift of the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded one time and just squeaked by. We've done it time and time again, and that's just awesome."
Schumacher defers credit for the dominant run to everyone involved.
"It's everybody," he said. "It's just a great group of people who don't want to fail. Army Strong, man, it's everything - strength like no other - a group of people that have a common goal."
"It's not about the money. It's not about the trophy. It's about being part of something bigger than ourselves. We've had awesome, awesome guys who want to show up and make the Army proud, make Soldiers proud, and it's inspirational for all of us."
Schumacher already has surpassed the recent run of the NFL's New England Patriots and matched the number of championships won by the NBA's Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. He's equaled the historic Super Bowl feats of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and stands just one title shy of equaling Dale Earnhardt's seven NASCAR Winston Cup crowns.
"Oh, yeah, I think about that," Schumacher said. "I don't know if it's surpassed it, but it's up there with it. It depends on what fan likes what sport as to what they're going to pick for a great moment, but we've been part of the best moments this sport has ever seen.
"We're not part of something great; we're creating what's great about it. We're digging deep. We're sacrificing. We're dedicated. We show up, we work harder, we train harder, we prepare for huge moments - and then when we get those huge moments, we don't screw them up. And I think that's the best part about it. We're a group of people that enjoys big moments, enjoys being a part of big moments, and we're prepared for them."
Schumacher already believes he will be remembered among the likes of drag-racing legends John Force, Warren Johnson, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits and Kenny "Budweiser King" Bernstein.
"I don't have any question about that," Schumacher said. "What those guys did was outstanding in their time, but what we did last year was as great as anything anybody has ever seen in drag racing."
For many drivers, a sponsor is little more than a paint scheme on their car. All must make public appearances, but few get to experience the kind of passion Schumacher derives from representing troops fighting the War on Terrorism. Everywhere he goes, Soldiers flock and reach out to him.
"I don't sell beer, not that there is anything wrong with that, but I don't sell it, and I don't sell tools," Schumacher said. "I sell a way of life. And if you don't believe in that, you can't sell it. I'm 250 percent behind them and it shows the way I embrace the Soldiers and the way they embrace this team.
"It's such a great family; I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
It did not take long for Schumacher to buy into the military way of life.
"About five seconds," he said. "I walked into the meeting to get the deal with my head shaved, so there was no buying in. I said don't ever think that I won't do anything for my team. I wasn't going to lose this deal. This is too cool."
Although Schumacher has more than held up his end of the bargain behind the wheel, he feels extraordinarily fortunate to have the Army in his pit.
"All the parts and pieces are the same on all the cars," he said. "It's just the people, man. You're as good as the people you surround yourself with, and to be able to perform for these great guys and women, and to see the veterans of every war that we've had standing at the ropes, there is something about it. I think any driver that's ever been part of the Army understands that."
"It's something much, much bigger. We don't want to be defeated. We want to give everything. And if we get beat, we want to make sure people know we left nothing on the table. I think that goes for all the championships, it goes without saying that we showed up and left nothing on the table, and I think that's what made it great."
The Sarge realizes that the military mold is not universal, but he thinks the Army's basic values are a sure-fire formula for success.
"Just speak your mind and be proud of what you're doing," he suggests. "Once you're proud to be a part of something, it shows, man. I always tell the kids whether you join the Army or not, and I would never recommend it for everybody, it's an awesome world for the people that choose it."
"Everybody's not prepared for the Army, but no matter what you do in life, wake up in the morning and choose what you want to do. Don't get stuck with a job. Don't get stuck with being forced into making money just to pay bills. Wake up in the morning and prepare for what you want - for what you would do if you won the lottery and you didn't need the money and would do for free every day just to kill your time. Those are the jobs you want."
"All I can tell you is that you never meet a Soldier you're not proud of."
Schumacher closed with one last shout out to the troops.
"I love you guys. Get home safe, and get 'er done. We're behind you."
Schmacher then embarked on making a run at his seventh NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel title.