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NHRA: Schumacher, U.S. Army team charging hard into Brainerd

Tony Schumacher's voice was different this week before the start of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. There was a tone coming out of the U.S. Army dragster driver that wasn't there the last time Schumacher stormed in...

The U.S. Army Dragster, driven by Tony Schumacher, races down the track earlier this season. The U.S. Army team leads the NHRA Top Fuel points standings heading into this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
The U.S. Army Dragster, driven by Tony Schumacher, races down the track earlier this season. The U.S. Army team leads the NHRA Top Fuel points standings heading into this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Tony Schumacher's voice was different this week before the start of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

There was a tone coming out of the U.S. Army dragster driver that wasn't there the last time Schumacher stormed into Brainerd leading NHRA's Top Fuel standings. His answers were filled with excitement, laced with a quiet confidence. The confidence wasn't concerning himself, the defending and eight-time Top Fuel champion. Rather, Schumacher wanted to talk crew chiefs. He wanted to talk Mike Green and Green's assistant Neal Strausbaugh.

"They're phenomenal," said Schumacher. "I won my first championship with Dan Olson as crew chief. Then several with Alan Johnson, who is rated the best crew chief that has ever walked the face of the earth. But this guy I have now and Neal, the two complement each other. Mike Green and Neal, those guys are incredibly talented.

"Not only do they build a great race car. We fabricate it at our shop. We build it. Their ideas. Their designs.

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Tony Schumacher

Hometown: Long Grove, Ill.

Division: Top Fuel

Car: U.S. Army dragster

Crew chief: Mike Green

NHRA Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher on Minnesota mosquitoes: "I've fished there. I've skied there. I've golfed there. There are lots of good Harley rides. The only thing I can say about the Harley rides is you have to stop at every gas station and wash the mosquitoes off your visor. I feel like you see them coming. When you hit one, it's like hitting a bat. They're big."

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"We're not buying something and part and piecing it together and going fast. We have 400 pieces we design and build ourselves in our shop in Indy. They've been designed by my crew chief. They've been thought through by him. He is an excellent crew chief and engineer. I'm the guy that gets in the car after he designs or makes changes. I have to do my job and I couldn't do that without 1,000-percent faith in what he does because I'm going fast. When he explains the changes he makes to the car, I think they're dynamite."

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Schumacher sounds happy. After a phone interview Tuesday, the guy who has led the Top Fuel standings since the middle of July was going into his simulator to practice starts. The all-time Top Fuel winner, including a record 15 race wins in one season, said he couldn't wait to get to Brainerd and continue to build on his lead. He also wanted to make sure he had fun doing it.

"I spent my life in Chicago and had houses in Wisconsin and when I get way up there in Minnesota I feel like I'm right at home," said Schumacher. "I feel like I'm at summer camp. It just brings you back to being a kid. I love everything about it. I love the fishing. I love the trees. I love the people. You just don't find better people. It's fantastic. It's just a great place to go. I think when you show up in the spirit like that and you're just ready to live the moment, it's a great way to race.

"People forget. It becomes a job. It becomes a must-win and they forget how much fun they have. I think we drive the best when we remember how much darn fun it is to be out there."

And Schumacher is having fun. He's winning. He's leading. He's the defending champion. That's something he got used to during a six-championship stretch from 2003-09 so he's happy to be doing it again after a stretch of four years of not being a champion. But he gives much of the credit to Green.

"I'm excited because we were written off," he said. "Alan Johnson left and we were never going to win another race. Maybe a race or two, but Alan was going to win everything in the history of the world. We beat him the first year and everyone said we won with Alan's parts. Last year we won with not a part or piece left from Alan. The best part of that I get to say that at the championship banquet.

"I love Alan Johnson. He left for his own reasons and in doing so we all kind of agreed we would be a good second-place team. But then we went out and saw these new guys and saw the talent that they had, man, you can't ask for more than that.

"So am I having fun? A blast. We overcame all odds, all the adversity. We were written off. It's mind-boggling to be in the position we are in."

This season Schumacher has won at Phoenix, Epping and Chicago. But even when he's not winning he's still going rounds - lots of rounds. He owns a 31-13 round record this season. Those 44 times down the track are three more times than teammate Antron Brown, who is second in points (87 back).

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"We didn't win a race (on the Western Swing), but we won the most rounds," said Schumacher. "When you look back to 1999 when we won our first championship, we won one race and that was my first win ever. We were good at being a machine and going rounds. You don't have to win every race. You have to win the right ones and you have to win rounds. You can do it several different ways and we've won championships by winning one race in the year and by winning 15 races in a year. We've done it both ends, by far, of the spectrum. The rules state to be the champ you have to have the most points - not win the most races."

And Schumacher wants points. He wants the 30 extra points awarded to the No. 1 team heading into the NHRA Countdown.

"I think I want it really bad, maybe because the amount of talent in the class," Schumacher said. "It's going to be harder to win this year. It's going to be harder to win because we won it last year. Repeating. Doing it two times in a row, I said it in last year's speech - winning a championship with this amount of talent was very hard.

"Winning it back-to-back is going to be more difficult because of the amount of things that have to go right at any given time. I want that 30-point lead. I think it's probably as critical as ever. Yes, you can win from anywhere, but I'd like to have that head start.

"It's not free. It's not a gift. It was earned. The amount of points you get were earned. It's a well-earned, very hard-fought 30 points."

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop .

 

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