Tony Schumacher is probably not used to coming in under the radar, but that’s exactly what he did on Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.
With much of the attention these days going to Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car contingent and that group’s record 10 consecutive event wins and counting, it’s easy to forget that the all-time winner in the Top Fuel class is also back with DSR this season.
Schumacher, who sat out all of 2019 with sponsor troubles and who is running a partial schedule in 2020, scored the 88th No. 1 qualifier of his career at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil on Saturday night and set a track record in the process. Schumacher recorded a time of 3.680 seconds and a track-record 332.92 mph.
While the No. 1 qualifying spot is hardly a guarantee of Sunday success (in fact, Kalitta Motorports’s Shawn Langdon is the only Top Fuel pilot to win from the top qualifying spot in the first seven races this season), it’s a major step in the right direction for the 50-year-old Schumacher, who for all intents and purposes in on the comeback trail this season.
“It was a strange day altogether,” Schumacher said. “We were in the car, did the burnout and backed up and then got shut off because of rain.”
Persistent showers initially delayed the first session, and then further delayed Q1 after two pairs of Top Fuelers made a run. Schumacher got shut off on the line due to more rain.
“I talked to (crew chief) Mike Green after we re-warmed the car up and we knew we’d be out first and we didn’t think the conditions would be any better. Then you go out and run a great number like that and it tends to set off the crew chiefs in the back and they start turning screws and knobs. It was a great run. I probably drove it further than I should have. It was by far not a straight run, but for Sandvik and Okuma and Toyota and our new, old team, everyone did a heck of a job.”
Up until now, it’s been a rather uneventful return for Schumacher, who has qualified no better than fifth and has posted a record of just 1-4 in eliminations in four previous events in 2020.
On Sunday, Schumacher, who has won at WWTR in both 2006 and 2010, hopes to add to his series-record 84 wins. This is Schumacher’s 509th career event.
“I grew up in Chicago, and St. Louis is the closest venue we’ve got right now. So, my friends will come from the Chicagoland area and hopefully watch us win a race,” Schumacher said. “It’s been a cutthroat, shortened season of NHRA Drag Racing. We missed the first couple of races along the way and then we didn’t perform at the first couple of Indy events.
“We have (crew chief) Mike Green back in our stable now, and he’s someone I’m used to working with. It would be a super cool deal to get into the top 10 (in points), heck even put ourselves in the top seven. We’ve got tremendous talent on our Okuma/Sandvik Coromant/Toyota team. Including St. Louis, we still have four races to go, so we’ve definitely got a shot at breaking into the top 10.”
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