PHOENIX, Ariz. (Army News Service, Jan. 24, 2007) - While it's only pre-season testing, U.S. Army Top Fuel driver, Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher, clearly considers this weekend's National Time Trials here at Firebird International Raceway the first step towards a possible fourth straight NHRA POWERade world championship.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's the start of the season," said the Chicago native.

"While the runs we make at Firebird don't officially count, they're still critical in helping set the tone for the opening race at Pomona (Calif.) two weeks later."

Schumacher is coming off a history-making 2006 season. He rebounded from a 336-point deficit at the last race of the year to claim his third straight world title and the fourth of his career.

"You know, even a few months later, I still sit and marvel at what the U.S. Army team accomplished last year," he added. "But, it's time to start fresh again. We're going to have to get back to business pretty quickly. Everyone, and I mean everyone, will be trying to keep us away from another championship. We are a marked team if there ever was one."

Should Schumacher manage to record a fourth straight crown, he will become the first Top Fuel pilot in NHRA history to turn that trick.

"That would be yet another milestone to shoot for," he offered. "Listen, we're all in this to win championships, plain and simple. When we don't win them, it's disappointing. We also feel like we let our Soldiers down. Ultimately, we race for all of the brave men and women who are fighting for our freedom every day."

Schumacher returns in 2007 with his team virtually intact, including crew chief, Alan Johnson.

"I feel fortunate that we did not have any team changes to speak of," he said. "Of course, having the best tuner in the business remaining in your camp is also real nice. Consistency is so important if you want to have ongoing success in this sport."

Schumacher and his U.S. Army team will have at least one adjustment to make in '07 due to a new NHRA POWERade points system being implemented.

"We'll see how it all shakes out," he said. "Obviously, the first goal is to make sure we're in the top eight after 17 races and then we can really get after it. There should definitely be some drama produced in the latter stages of the season."