POMONA, Calif. (Army News Service, Feb. 12, 2007) - U.S. Army Top Fuel pilot, Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher, lost in the first round of the Carquest Auto Parts Winternationals here Sunday at Auto Club Raceway.

After qualifying on the pole, Schumacher smoked the tires early in his match up with 16th-place qualifier, Joe Hartley, and could not recover in time to move on.

"It's not the end of the world, but it still is disappointing," said the Chicago native. "This race sort of sets the tone. You always want to start the season on a good note and, unfortunately, it did not happen."

This is the second straight time that the four-time NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world champion has not fared well at the season opener. Last year, Schumacher lost to then teammate Melanie Troxel in the second round of eliminations.

"Again, you always want to get off on the right foot, but things happen," he added. "This is a sport that can turn on you in a hurry. Look at what took place last year for us. We struggled for much of the first half of the year and then we suddenly took off and eventually won the title."

Schumacher hopes to avoid a buildup of first-round losses in 2007, as that can spell danger for a team trying the make the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship.

"We had five of them last year, which in my mind was way too many," he said.

"We'll need to head to Phoenix in a couple of weeks, go some rounds and, hopefully, win the race. As always, we owe that effort to all of our hard-working Soldiers."

The Checkers Schuck's Kragen Nationals is scheduled for Feb. 23-25 at Firebird International Raceway.