Originally published 9-1-2006
On one weekend the careers of Blaine Johnson and Tony Schumacher intersected...
Many drivers look back on the first elimination-round passes of their professional careers as a bit surreal. But nothing could come close to the emotional swing that Tony Schumacher experienced in his first race in a Top Fuel dragster.
It promised to be intimidating enough for Schumacher because it came at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, the National Hot Rod Association's oldest and most prominent race.
But 10 years ago, that first quarter-mile ride, which should have taken about 4.7 seconds, seemed to take an eternity.
Schumacher was the No. 16 qualifier. As such, he was paired against No. 1. But this time the No. 1 qualifier didn't pull up to the starting line. He had died two days before of massive head injuries from a top-end accident during qualifying.
So Schumacher had a single pass instead of getting to race Blaine Johnson, the 34-year-old sensation who was running away with the Top Fuel championship, owned the national speed record, and set a track-record 4.61-second elapsed time on his final run. Gone was the likeable Californian whom veteran publicist Rick Voegelin called "a tiger in a race car." But little did anyone know just how much this rookie Schumacher, this rather overwhelmed 26-year-old from Chicago, would turn out to be the same kind of driver.