Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – ENNIS, TX – After 500 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races, 84 wins and eight world championships, Tony Schumacher’s mindset has stayed the same. The longtime Top Fuel standout remains focused on greatness and that’s an attitude that will continue to drive him as the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship hits the halfway point at this weekend’s 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.
The third of six playoff races comes at a location where Schumacher has won a Top Fuel-best six times in his 10,000-horsepower U.S. Army dragster. The most recent of those wins was 2014 when Schumacher also claimed his most recent championship, something he would love to replicate as he tries to track down Steve Torrence, who currently holds a 121-point lead on the veteran.
“Be fastest in every qualifying session, win every round on Sunday, then move on to the next race and repeat,” Schumacher said of his mindset. “That’s never going to change. We don’t want to compromise our desire to be the best we can be every run down the track by dreaming up scenarios that, for the most part, are out of our control, anyway. This is a momentum sport, like so many others are, and we need to swing the pendulum back in our favor and take care of business over these final four Countdown events. If we do that, the championship would take care of itself.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and FOX Sports 2 (FS2), including live final eliminations coverage on FS2 starting at 12:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 7. It is the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and the 21st of 24th in a 2018 NHRA season that has included one win and five finals for Schumacher.
But he is still aiming for the spectacular to close out the season. He lost to Torrence in the final round to open the playoffs, but a second-round loss at the most recent race in St. Louis widened the gap between Schumacher and Torrence, the Texan who is seeking his first world title. But an impressive ability to make up ground and come up big in pressure situations has always been part of Schumacher’s DNA, and he’s eager to see how these next three races unfold.
“The mindset of our U.S. Army team is the same it’s been since we started doing this 18 years ago and that is to go out and be the best that we can be each and every time we hit the track,” Schumacher said. “If there are races left and we’re still within striking distance, then anything is possible. This team has proven that time and again over the years. The competitiveness from top to bottom is better than it’s ever been. There are a lot of quality teams we have to do battle against week in and week out, and that’s absolutely great for the fans, for our sport. We need to develop some consistency and be machine-like, and take matters into our own hands.”
That could make Schumacher and his team, which is led by crew chief Mike Neff, dangerous in Dallas, but he’ll also have to get past the likes of Clay Millican, who sits in second and trails Torrence by 70 points, as well as Don Schumacher Racing teammates Leah Pritchett and Antron Brown, who sit fourth and fifth, respectively. A stacked Top Fuel class makes each win difficult, but Schumacher knows that it also makes the victories that much sweeter.
“Each season is different,” Schumacher said. “This one is proof that the series is more competitive than ever and winning championships during these kinds of seasons are probably the most satisfying. I get to drive a bad-to-the-bone racecar surrounded by nine of the best guys in the business. We have a chance to add another championship to the trophy case and that makes us excited about each and every day we get to go to the racetrack and work toward that goal.”
Defending Funny Car world champ Hight looks for a repeat win in Dallas to keep his points lead over J.R. Todd, who won the playoff opener, Ron Capps and Courtney Force.
Defending Pro Stock winner Jason Line is still after his first win of 2018, something he’ll go for against points leader Tanner Gray, playoff opener winner Vincent Nobile and Greg Anderson.
Eddie Krawiec has two straight wins at Texas Motorplex in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and will look to track down points leader Matt Smith, as well as LE Tonglet, who sits second in points.
The AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals will also feature thrilling competition in E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, which makes its 10th of 12 stops in 2018, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which showcases the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can also watch the spectacular Lone Star Lightning Jet Dragster & the El Arabe Jet Car. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals include Shirley Muldowney, Richard Tharp, Billy Meyer, and more.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:15 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 6, at 1:15 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7.