Tony Schumacher's NHRA Top Fuel victory Sunday that snapped a 32-race winless streak came by one of the smallest of margins but brought the biggest sense of satisfaction.
His holeshot triumph over Doug Kalitta in the final round of the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals -- a 3.819-second elapsed time in the U.S. Army Dragster to Kalitta's 3.802 on the Bristol Dragway 1,000-foot course -- was more than another epic match-up between the two veterans.
Schumacher, a father of three, was able to join Funny Car teammate Ron Capps in presenting his dad and team owner Don Schumacher (who won here in the Funny Car class in 1971) with two Wally trophies in one day. That marked a double-DSR whammy on Kalitta Motorsports, as Capps beat Kalitta driver Alexis DeJoria in the Funny Car final.
The winner's share of Sunday's purse was $50,000, but the victory was worth so much more to Schumacher, as it also coincided with the U.S. Army's 237th birthday celebration.
(He even gave a shout-out to NASCAR's Dale Earnhart Jr., who also broke a long winless stretch Sunday, winning the Quicken Loans 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway: "For the National Guard [-sponsored car] to go out there [and win] . . . that's pretty awesome.")
With his semifinal victory over Clay Millican, Schumacher became the points leader for the third time this season.
He and Capps joined Pro Stock's Mike Edwards in the winners circle.
Meanwhile, Kalitta's winless streak grew to 40 events.
"It is unbelievable that two really good teams like we have went that long," Schumacher said.
"One thing I have learned is that our Army car has made teams better. We have forced them to do things, because we were so great for so long that we forced the to turn knobs that they never turned before. For 12 races, the car in the other lane made it down the track. That's not even heard of, let alone making their low-E.T. runs of their careers against me.
"I take it as a compliment. Those guys are not taking us lightly," Schumacher said. "And Dom Lagana, he ought to feel like we gave him some respect. We went out and laid down a .79 against him, because guess what --that's what you've got to do to win these things. That is how tight these fields are.
"You look back at our career -- six championships in a row -- and any one of those years, one thing goes wrong and you don't win," he said. "It's about being able to come up with the big moment at any given time."
As for his own drought, Schumacher said, "You get used to winning those races. We won 15 races in one year, and we're just not used to that. We had a great car, and more often than not, we got beat by some incredibly talented teams in very close races.
"It was tough to deal with," he said of the lean times that seemed to ignore his 12 final-round appearances in that stretch.
"But it is what we do," Schumacher said after closing the deal in this fifth final. "We had the points lead already two times this season without winning a race. We keep our chin up. We don't fire people. We get through the adversity. We lead. We make them believe in themselves. I said all along, 'Have faith. We're going to go out and win these things.' "
Schumacher said he was driven by the desire to avoid being the third racer, after Top Fuel's Rob Bruins and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Eddie Krawiec, to win a series title without winning a single race that same season.
"It's so much more fun to win and dominate," he said. "For a long time, we had a car that was a tenth-of-a-second quicker than everybody, but it's not out there anymore. It's very hard in any given day to outrun people four times in a row. You've got to go out and do your job.
"I'm very, very thankful that Mike [crew chief Green] and Neil [assistant Strasbaugh] and all nine guys did a phenomenal job." They labored through a complete motor change after Schumacher beat DSR mate Spencer Massey in the quarterfinal.
As if beating dogged Dom Lagana, points leader and quickest-and-fastest dragster driver Massey, and long-overdue Clay Millican weren't enough for a Sunday drive, Schumacher said, "It's one of those finals you dream about. None of us want that single in the final, as much as I was joking about it -- 'I hope his car doesn't start . . . because that's the kind of finals we've been needing -- you want to go out and run great cars and win all those very close ones. It makes what we do worth it."
Schumacher, cashing in on his sixth Bristol Dragway final, had split a pair of final-round meetings at Bristol with Kalitta, winning in 2009 and losing in 2001. He was making his fifth final of the year (after not finishing the deal at Phoenix, Gainesville, Charlotte, and Atlanta) and the 115th of his career.
Kalitta began this season losing to Schumacher -- in the opening round of the Winternationals and the next week in Round 2 at Phoenix. Schumacher ended Kalitta's day at three consecutive races (Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta). And this sixth meeting with Schumacher in 10 races so far this season denied him his fourth victory here and his 33rd victory in 65 final rounds.
A winner at Bristol in 2001 and back-to-back victories in 2005-06, Kalitta had made only one other final-round appearance since he won the July 2010 Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver. This was his first final of 2012.
All articles and photography published in CompetitionPlus.com are protected by United States of America and International copyright laws unless mentioned otherwise. The content on this website is intended for the private use of the reader and may not be published or reposted in any form without the prior written consent of CompetitionPlus.com.
|< Prev||Next >|