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Tony Schumacher serves notice at NHRA Finals qualifying

The veteran posts the best top-fuel time Thursday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona as he seeks his first victory of the season.

November 10, 2011|By Larry Stewart
  • Robert Hight posted the fastest funny car qualifying time at the Auto Club Finals in Pomona on Thursday.
Robert Hight posted the fastest funny car qualifying time at the Auto Club… (Mark J. Rebilas / U.S. Presswire )

Through most of the last decade, Tony Schumacher ruled the world of top-fuel drag racing. He won a record six consecutive titles from 2004 through 2009, giving him seven overall. And he was runner-up to Larry Dixon last year.

So it's more than a little surprising that he came into the season-ending Auto Club National Hot Rod Assn. Finals at Pomona playing the role of a spoiler. Even more surprisingly, he went through all 21 of the NHRA Full Throttle Series events before this one without a victory, despite making it to six elimination-round finals.

But he served notice Thursday on the opening day of the four-day Finals that he is primed to get that first victory of the season and also help determine the national champion.

Under overcast skies at Auto Club Raceway, Schumacher had the fastest time, 3.827 seconds, and top speed, 321.19 mph, in his 1,000-foot run. In 2008, the NHRA, for safety reasons, reduced the distance for the top-fuel and funny-car divisions from a quarter-mile (1,320 feet).

In funny-car qualifying, Robert Hight of Yorba Linda had the top run at 4.084 seconds and 312.13 mph. Matt Hagan, who has a one-point lead over Jack Beckman, had the fifth-best run at 4.137 and 304.32.

Schumacher, driving his U.S. Army-sponsored dragster for his father Don's racing team, picked up three bonus points for his top qualifying run, but he is all but mathematically out of the running for another national title.

One of Schumacher's two top-fuel teammates, Spencer Massey, is the surprise point leader with 2,503. He has a two-point lead over Chino Hills' Del Worsham, who had Thursday's second-best qualifying run at 3.830 seconds and 314.61 mph. Massey was the No. 3 qualifier at 3.837 and 319.14.

Schumacher's other teammate, Antron Brown, is third in the point standings with 2,489. Brown smoked the tires and finished 16th among the 25 cars in the field vying to qualify for Sunday's 16-car elimination field.

Schumacher has two goals this weekend. One is to win this event and get his first Wally Trophy of the year. A Wally goes to event winners, and Schumacher has a ton of them. This year the Wallys are pewter because this is the 60th anniversary of the NHRA.

"Getting a pewter Wally is something we wanted to do and joked about it earlier in the year," Schumacher said. "If you told me we wouldn't have any wins coming into the race, I wouldn't have believed you."

Schumacher said he will be pulling for one of his teammates to win the national title.

"I hope I can beat those other guys and help out Spencer and Antron," Schumacher said.

But if he ends up facing either Massey or Brown in the elimination round on Sunday, he said he'll be trying to beat them too.

No matter how things turn out, this will be a special weekend for Schumacher. As a Veterans Day tribute, his car has more than 350 faces of Vietnam veterans painted on it.

"We're always saluting today's soldiers, but sometimes forget about Vietnam veterans," Schumacher said.

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