'COWBOY STUFF' HELPS SCHUMACHER LASSO 70TH TOP FUEL VICTORY

Written by Susan Wade; Photos by Roger Richards.

tf final

schumacher 4It wasn't pretty at all.

In a drag-racing weekend at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix filled with Top Fuel track records -- including his own speed mark of 329.91 mph in the quarterfinals Sunday -- Tony Schumacher's most significant pass at the Arizona Nationals was downright homely.

His 4.60-second elapsed time at 213.20-mph on the 1,000-foot course was enough to push him past equally struggling Morgan Lucas in the final round.

But from his perspective, that unattractive performance was entertaining -- for himself and the crowd that braved cold, windy conditions all day.

"The fans got their money's worth on that run," Schumacher said of the tire-smoking, pedaling contest.

And he personally had the time of his life.

"Both of us were not taking each other for granted. Both cars were set up fast. Awful lot of fun," he said.

Before having had a chance to look at a video or replay of the pass, Schumacher said, "I haven't seen it yet, but I guarantee it had to be a close race. I could hear him the whole time. It was pedal-pedal-lift- straighten it out- do it again --  love it. It's cowboy stuff. I enjoy that race more than the records we set. That still proves you got to put a driver in the car to drive these things.

"My dad won't let me ride a bull, but that's the closest thing. That was crazy -- but fun," he said.

It takes a lot more than a loss of traction to embarrass Schumacher. Besides, although too many runs like that -- even to many victories like that -- aren't ideal and they're certainly not ones a racer tires to accumulate, once in awhile they're sort of a badge of honor.

"It caught me off-guard, but we have a machine, and if you do that every now and then, that's OK. If you can't find the edge, you're not running fast enough," he said.

The $50,000 triumph extended Schumacher's all-time class-best victory count to 70 and was his first since last September's record-breaking performance at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

With that, he passed Winternationals winner Shawn Langdon for the points lead heading into the March 15-17 Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.

Schumacher said the number 70 was a bit of a relief.

"I was stuck on 69 for a long time. You know -- great car, great final round, great matches . . .  and people were beating us. It was tough. You start to go, 'Man , what do you have to do to win one of these things?!' " he said.

"It's a phenomenal car that runs incredibly well. People know when they run the Army car what they have to do," he said.

Schumacher defeated Sidnei Frigo, Khalid al Balooshi, and Antron Brown to advance to his second final round in as many races this year and his 121st overall.

Army Dragster crew chief Mike Green didn't weight in with the media about what was going through his mind as he watched that heart-pounding race from the starting line. Schumacher spoke for him, though: "If you were watching Mike Green I'll bet that was as much fun as he's had in a long, long time."

Lucas banged on the throttle of his Aaron Brooks-prepped GEICO / Lucas Oil Dragster and countered with a 4.652-second E.T. at 258.67 mph. He jumped off the line first but lost traction. Schumacher did so right after, and the pedal fest began.

Ultimately, Lucas lost by only .0385 of a second.

"The car responded well all day," Lucas said.

He beat Clay Millican, Dave Grubnic, and Spencer Massey to reach his first final since he won last August at Brainerd, Minn.

"In the final, he got out ahead of us and his car died. We got the tires loose early. It's kind of baffling, because it was the only weak spot in the car today," Lucas said. "It just killed the tire. It must have been God's way of telling us it wasn't our day.

"I could have done a lot better job behind the wheel. I'm not hitting the tree as good as I'd like to and I didn't do a good job pedaling it against Tony," he said. "I've got some work I've got to do. Some drivers, being able to pedal the car is a real strong suit. I'd like to be one of those guys. Tony had a great race car all weekend and really a great car at both races this season."

He said Schumacher "We pushed the head gaskets out when I was pedaling it. Our motor was wounded at about 300 feet. I was just trying to get it down track and around Tony. Inside the car, it looked like we did. It was close."

The only non-Don Schumacher Racing driver among the final four, Lucas recorded his sixth runner-up finish in 13 final-round appearances.

"We're holding our own. That's the first final we've lost in the last seven tries. So there's no reason to be mad," Lucas said.

He's fifth in the standings.

"We're in the top 10 in points and I'm real happy about that," Lucas said. "If the weather is like it was last year, a lot of cars are going to run well. We know we have a good race car and can run with everybody. We just need to hang in there and keep that momentum going."

 

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