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Schumacher earns top spot with new cockpit canopy

Tony Schumacher ran a track record speed of 323.97 mph with an elapsed time of 3.791 to edge past Antron Brown in Top Fuel after the first two rounds of qualifying Friday at the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Brown just missed getting the top spot as he had the same ET, but lost out on speed with a 323.74. He was the top qualifier with an ET of 3.829 and a speed of 320.81 after the first round, with Spencer Massey close behind in second place with an ET of 3.837 and top speed of 319.14.

The run was all the more satisfying for Schumacher as he ran with a protective cockpit canopy for his first official qualifying after testing it this year. Schumacher believes it is a major step on the way to safer cars for the drivers.

“It was good,” Schumacher said about the canopy. “It takes some getting used to. It’s almost like driving with snow on the windshield and you have wiped off the center to see through, except you are going 320 miles per hour.

“But it’s phenomenal. They close it and you feel a sense of safety which is the whole point. I have driven in the open cockpit where you could see parts and pieces flying at you. You have to give credit to the Army team for making it and you also have to give credit to the NHRA.”

Schumacher temporarily took the top spot after his first run with an ET of 3.847 and a speed of 318.99 before Massey and Brown caught him on the next run.

Brown and Schumacher have four trips to the winners podium at BIR between them in their career in Top Fuel. This year Brown has the edge with four wins to Schumacher’s one.

It also shows in the standings as “Sarge” is sitting 127 points out of the points chase behind Brown and Massey. Part of that has been due to issues with the car and it’s tune-up. Schumacher saw Friday as a sign that things are headed in the right direction.

“We were smoking the tires and getting beat which is unacceptable and didn’t have anything to do with the canopy. We are getting closer to solving those problems.”

Schumacher believes that the canopy will save lives. There has been talk about introducing the shield on Indy cars and he is convinced that it could have saved the life of Dan Wheldon, who was killed at Las Vegas last year when his car went into the wall.

However, he also knows that the prospect of adding 25 pounds of weight to the car can give the feeling that one is racing at a disadvantage against the other cars.

“When we tested in West Palm all three of our cars would go and make a run and be within a thousandth of a second,” Schumacher said. “I had the canopy and they didn’t. We could save ourselves a lot of time and money by just saying that was enough data. You can put a lot of stuff on computers but when cars run one thousandth of a second apart, I don’t think there is any advantage.

“My guys worked to hard to get this where it is at. And to work so hard and to come to the first race and be a tenth of a second behind and be so over weight that the other drivers didn’t want to do it. To go and show that we can run it like we did was exactly what we need to show the other guys and raise our spirits.

Schumacher does see one big advantage for himself and other drivers that start to use the protective canopy.

“I think the advantage is life expectancy. Wally Sparks founded the NHRA to keep people safe and get them in race cars with roll cages and safety people. That’s what we are doing and together we are going to make this happen and have it be the future. Other people put it on their car and we don’t have to see any more tragedies.”