After a regular season filled with struggles, eight-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher kick-started his Countdown to the Championship campaign with a get-healthy weekend at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. His Reading, Pa. outing included a consistent qualifying effort and successful race day that saw Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment dragster move on to the rain-delayed semifinals on Monday morning.
Schumacher ran into tire smoke early in his first qualifying attempt on Friday, but he came back in the second session and laid down a smooth 3.737 E.T. at 328.54 MPH to sit eighth going into Saturday. His 3.755-second pass was the third-quickest run of the third session on Saturday, earning one bonus point. The five-time Reading winner rounded out qualifying with a 3.749-second effort in the final session, settling into the No. 9 position for Sunday eliminations. It was one of Schumacher's best overall qualifying performances of the season.
In the first pair of Top Fuel eliminations after the national anthem on Sunday morning, Schumacher lined up with No. 8 qualifier Austin Prock. Schumacher was first off the starting line by a few thousandths of a second and led the whole way, winning with a 3.701 E.T. to Prock's 3.716 E.T. Schumacher then faced fellow JCM Racing driver and points leader Justin Ashley in the second round. Schumacher moved first again, and it was enough of a holeshot advantage to beat Ashley's quicker 3.707-second pass with a 3.716 E.T.
Just as Schumacher and four-time world champion Steve Torrence were set to run their semifinal match, a rain shower put a pause on the racing action. The pair fired up for a second time after the rain stopped, but another shower derailed the race and ultimately pushed the completion of the event into Monday. When racing resumed on Monday morning, Schumacher stood on the throttle and drove into early tire smoke. Though he attempted to regain traction, he had to lift as Torrence charged on for the win.
"That was a crazy day, man," said Schumacher, who was competing in his 550th NHRA event. "Tightest track I’ve ever seen. The car shook hard. I pedaled it, did a nice wheelstand, and (Torrence) made a good, solid run, and earned himself into the finals with (Doug) Kalitta. We were going to have to run a 3.65. He had a hell of a light, and it was just a great race, man. That’s why he’s a champ."
Schumacher entered the weekend in the No. 12 spot. By advancing to the semifinals, he moved up three spots to ninth in the Top Fuel standings. He's now within one round win of the seventh-place driver.
"We were 139 points out coming into this race and we worked our way closer," Schumacher said. "We’re a long way from a championship, but we’re still alive. We've pulled off miracles before, and the fact that the car came so far this weekend, it's huge. We have five races to go. Let’s get ourselves into the top five and fight for this thing."
The next stop for Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel team is the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, Sept. 22-24, at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.