NHRA: For Schumacher & Army, the title fits

Tony Schumacher led the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series Top Fuel championship from wire-to- wire, an impeachable season of excellence that nearly defies description or explanation.

In a race series in which the sanctioning body created a “playoff” to ensure no one ran away with the championship, Schumacher ran away with the championship.

Clinching the title for the U.S. Army Racing team after qualifying of the penultimate race in Las Vegas, Schumacher has been a great champion.

One of racing’s greatest champions.

Has the Army ever had a more representative marketing agent this side of G.I. Joe?

NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek didn’t exactly inspire the image of General Patton. Mark Martin fits the mold, if not the height requirement. Aric Almirola looks good, but doesn’t have five consecutive world championships.

Going into final eliminations at Las Vegas, Schumacher had won 14 of 22 events. His final qualifying lap at The Strip was the fastest all-time to 1,000 feet. That’s called an exclamation point.

“If there’s one guy I’d want to beat out here every day, it’d be him because he’s the toughest guy out here, and if you can beat him, you can accomplished something,” said J.R. Todd, who beat Schumacher in Dallas to snap Schumacher’s win streak at seven.

Perhaps no one has epitomized his sponsor more than Schumacher has the Army and all it represents.

Well, no one this side of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Budweiser. Junior looked like he could have been carrying a cooler next to his seat. And since Tony Stewart doesn’t drive for Pillsbury, it’s pretty clear the Army and Schumacher fit together most perfectly like ribs and a flak jacket.

The crewcut hairstyle, the drill instructor profile, the commitment to the cause.

Bobby Knight is called the General, Roger Penske the Captain, and Tony Schumacher is without a doubt the quintessential Sarge.

Even if the U.S. Army were to walk away from the sport – and let’s pray it doesn’t – could Schumacher be anything else, anyone else? He could be sponsored by Captain Crunch or Revlon or Men’s Wearhouse and he’d still be the Sarge.

He commands the Top Fuel class like a general. U.S. Army Racing is a two-star operation, three if you include the American fighting forces that really do seem to inspire Schumacher. There’s also the crew chief, Alan Johnson, whose presence started this program on its current standard of domination.

How dominant?

Larry Dixon tells a story of what it’s like to be The Man so definitively that the answer is beyond question.

“We were at Charlotte and they’re introducing everyone who made it into the countdown,” Dixon recalled. “I think I was next to Tony, and they were booing him. And he’s shrugging his shoulders at me, and I go, ‘I would love to be booed like that right now.’ As racers, we try to do that every week and try to dominate, and they have been doing it. That team, this year, is one for the ages, that’s for sure.”

Conventional wisdom says Schumacher can’t keep up the success once Johnson leaves at the end of the season to begin his own team. Maybe that’s true. But Schumacher has six titles, having won one before Johnson arrived.

In the first four races of the Countdown, Schumacher had made more runs than any of his competitors and had the third-quickest average reaction time, behind Dixon (who has won three and lost four) and Antron Brown (who’s 5-4). Clearly, the Sarge is dialed in, with a hair-trigger foot. That’s why his head-to-head record in the Countdown is 15-1.

Schumacher knows that this is special, an opportunity to go where no man has, maybe no one will.

“There’s still records out there and I don’t want to leave any of them open because I don’t think there will ever be another team like this,” he said.

Having already surpassed Joe Amato this season with 55 career victories to Amato’s 52, Schumacher can still set NHRA records for victories in a season, 15, and round wins in a season, 76, both held by Greg Anderson in Pro Stock. Schumacher has 14 and 71.

There are still two races remaining, including the Auto Club Finals at Pomona. It’s where Schumacher put together one of the great finishes of all-time two years ago to steal the title from Doug Kalitta with “The Run.”

Chances are, the Sarge might have another great finish in him.

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