Tony Schumacher celebrates his 87th career Top Fuel win at Bristol. (NHRA Photo)

Schumacher: The Perfect Storm To Win No. 87

Nearly two years since he last hoisted a Wally, Tony Schumacher’s confidence never wavered. 

Not too long ago, Schumacher told his wife entering the June 1-2 New England Nationals in Epping, N.H., that “we could win both these races.” He was referring to the Epping event at New England Dragway and this past weekend’s Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.

While his wife laughed at the statement, Schumacher was serious.

A win light didn’t go Schumacher’s way last week as he lost to reigning NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champion Doug Kalitta in the finals. However, the speed was there.

Fast-forward to this week and the eight-time champion was pinned toward the back half of the field in qualifying (12th) due to issues on Friday and Saturday.

Race day was going to be an uphill climb.

“We hadn’t gotten past half track,” Schumacher said. “We’d blown some motors up, destroyed some parts.”

The tide turned for Schumacher as crew chiefs Mike Neff and Jon Schaeffer hit on their race day setup. 

“It’s always great when the crew chief goes, ‘No, I’m serious, this is what we found,’ and you listen and go, ‘Well, that makes sense, actually, it truly makes sense,’” Schumacher explained. 

“When you have a year like we had last year, a lot of things are like, ‘Oh, we figured it out, but it doesn’t seem to progress or anything.’ The last couple days, it truly had.

“Even the last couple weekends — didn’t qualify great, but the tune-up on race day seemed to be exactly what we needed.” 

Schumacher Action Jfa
Tony Schumacher scored the win in Top Fuel on Sunday in the Thunder Valley Nationals. (NHRA Photo)

Sure enough, Schumacher was primed for a Sunday drive at the dragway nestled between two mountains. 

After a head-to-head battle with Jasmine Salinas went his way in the first round, the 54-year-old knew his chances of breaking his winless streak had increased. 

“The first time we went down the race track, I was like, ‘OK, it did exactly what they said the changes were gonna do,’” Schumacher said. “And from that moment on, I was like, ‘We got a race car.’”

Perhaps his illustrious history at Bristol Dragway was an aid as well. Prior to this weekend, Schumacher owned six Top Fuel victories at the Bristol strip.

“After we get the momentum going, calm and cool and just going down this race track, it’s so easy for me to race here because I’ve had so many good moments here,” Schumacher said. “So much success. You find your way into the winner’s circle.”

Round wins over Shawn Langdon and No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican set up a final-round rematch from last week between Schumacher and Kalitta. 

It wasn’t a pretty run, but Schumacher claimed the victory.

“That final round, I do not believe I drove it well,” Schumacher admitted. “I think I drove well the first three rounds. Kept it dead straight, did what I had to do. That final round, I rolled in, waited, long tree. 

“Someone hit the gas, and it wasn’t me,” Schumacher continued. “Then I hit it, and then he double-stepped it. I don’t know what he had for a light, but whatever happened, I went out there, I spun the tires and I pedaled it. 

“It was murdering itself. But the win light came on. That’s one of those bittersweet moments. We don’t need to hurt parts, we don’t have as big of a budget as we used to have, but we got a win.”

It was the perfect storm for the eight-time champ, as it was a home race on a multitude of levels.

JCM Racing owner Joe Maynard is from the Bristol area. On top of that, Schumacher’s sponsors, Michael Waltrip Brewing Co. (one location in Bristol) and Leatherwood Distillery (located in Clarksville, Tenn.) also experienced home victories.

“Everything you could’ve asked for,” Schumacher said. “Had a home track for the boss and we got a win.”

According to Schumacher, half of his team had never won a Wally before. 

“It’s going to be an awesome night to go down there and let each one of them pass it around,” Schumacher beamed. “Just enjoy the moment, they worked their butts off all week.”

Schumacher vaulted to fifth in the Top Fuel standings, 160 markers behind Kalitta as the series heads to Virginia Motorsports Park in two weeks.