Tony Schumacher returned to the driver’s seat in July for the first time since the season-ending race in November of 2018.
The Sarge’s return has been far from a celebration.
Schumacher, an eight-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion and winner of a class-record 84 events, has competed in five events in this COVID-19-shortened season and has a paltry 1-4 elimination round record.
Schumacher had a bright spot Saturday in the lone qualifying session at the at the ninth annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil sin St. Louis.
Schumacher clocked a 3.680-second lap at 332.92 mph, which was a track record speed in his Okuma/Sandvik Coromant-sponsored dragster.
“It was dark out,” Schumacher said. “None of us knew what was going to happen. And I said, ‘if we can get the past the Christmas tree man, just get out there.’ In my mind though, we saw what happened to all the runs before. You have a concern and it’s legitimate. It’s not a guess. Hit the gas and it went out there. Had the wheels and it moved to the right a little bit and I think once it got out of the groove it was hard to get it back.
“It kept passing the center and I got near the end and I was on just a dynamite run. I honestly didn’t think it was going to stick. I mean there were a lot of great cars back there but for Mike Green, Okuma, Sandvik, Toyota, all the people that jumped in at the last minute to help me out and get me back out here. Really appreciate it. My dad. Everyone at DSR working so hard. Me and Mike Green, we’ve been doing this a long time together. A little sabbatical in there, but we work well together. We understood how each other works. These guys are having a great time. Really happy to be here.”
Schumacher has competed in 509 races in the Top Fuel ranks and this is his 88th No. 1 qualifier.
“Well, everyone waited all day and some people didn’t get that No. 1 spot,” Schumacher said. “Matter of fact, we’re the only ones that did, and it’s hard. I told Mike I’m not dissatisfied that we got to run first when we got back out there. I was actually quite pleased. I thought it ain’t going to get any better. I think we were right.
“Cars made decent runs after us but the track – look what happened with Funny Car. It just got worse and worse. It gets to a point where it’s just too darn cold to go forward and we were lucky. We found the right spot made the right call and I’ll tell you it’s hard to go down a track that’s 64 degrees. A handful of cars made it right? It takes a great crew chief, a great team and some luck and we had it all right there. So that was perfect for us.”
Making that late-night qualifying lap wasn’t as easy as he made it appear.
“It’s dark and the cars are fast and I make so many runs in my past, I have a lot under my belt but it’s been a while and I’m not driving my car, and the levers, and the button, and everything is not in the same spot,” Schumacher said. “So, a little weird to get used to but again, I’ve made a lot of laps in a lot of different cars. So I’m thankful for the history we’ve had and I got faith in the guys and I think it makes a big difference when you trust the people working on the car to go out and be able to hit the gas in a less than perfectly lit spot.”
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