Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, grunge rock, and the Space Needle got some fast company this past weekend. National Hot Rod Association headliner Tony Schumacher painted himself into the Puget Sound mural along with those local icons.
The Top Fuel dominator won for the third straight time and fourth overall in five consecutive final-round appearances at Kent’s Pacific Raceways in Sunday’s conclusion to the Schuck’s Auto Supply Nationals.
Moreover, this 14th stop in the Powerade Drag Racing Series stop gave Schumacher his seventh victory in nine finals this season.
“We’ve been a pressure team for years. Right now, we’re just having a great time, and the car’s running great. It’s going right down the track, doing exactly what (crew chief) Alan Johnson tells it to do,” Schumacher said after earning another $40,000 and positioning himself to become possibly just the sixth pro driver to sweep the three-race Western Swing. “It doesn’t seem to matter where we go, at altitude or sea level, we run strong,” Schumacher said.
The Denver-Seattle-Sonoma, Calif. stretch is a test of endurance and tuning skills in consecutive weekends that feature far-flung destinations and wildly different atmospheric conditions. Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd called the trees that surround picturesque Pacific Raceways “Nature’s Turbochargers, offering up probably the best conditions we’ve seen since early spring.” Funny Car driver Del Worsham calls the facility “a health spa for race cars.”
Right now, Schumacher said he’s thinking of it as a second home, after sharing the winner’s circle with first-time Funny Car winner Tony Bartone and Pro Stock’s Jason Line.
Other winners in Sunday’s final included Auburn’s Curt Geise in the sportsman-level Super Gas class. He used a 9.880-second elapsed time at 161.50 mph in his ‘02 Pontiac Trans Am to defeat final-round opponent Gene Heaton, of Vancouver, Wash., who had a 9.950-second, 146.30-mph effort in his ‘27 Roadster.
Tacoma’s Mark Faul (Super Stock), Bonney Lake’s Mike Lewis (Stock Eliminator), and Bremerton’s Don Sefton (Super Comp) also earned trophies.
With only four races remaining in the NHRA’s regular season before the Countdown to the Championship, Schumacher had a warning for his rivals.
“When you get on a roll like this, watch out. When we’re playing together as a team, we’re hard to beat,” he said of his U.S. Army Dragster crew.
And though with 48 victories he’s just four behind legend Joe Amato for career Top Fuel triumphs (as he tries this year to break his tie with Amato for a sixth series title), Schumacher credits his support system.
“It’s just an outstanding team. It’s a group of guys who are the best,” he said. “I could’ve been the same exact guy, the same exact driver, driving for a different team and not be winning.”
Schumacher, the top qualifier and points leader, defeated Brandon Bernstein in a rematch of the 2005 and 2007 final rounds here. This time, he took the $40,000 payout with a 3.902-second elapsed time at 309.98 mph to Bernstein’s 4.056/291.19 in the Budweiser/Lucas Oil Dragster.
Funny Car’s Bartone, with his six failures to qualify (including at three of the previous four races) and his 2-7 record in rounds that put him in 17th place in the standings, was an unlikely $40,000 winner Sunday. Then again, drag-racing legend John Force, who has won seven times at Pacific Raceways on the way to 14 series championships, missed the cut – the only one of 17 Funny Car drivers not to make the 16-car field.
So Bartone defied the odds and drove the Canidae Pet Food Chevy Monte Carlo to victory for gritty, old-school, low-budgeted team owner Jim Dunn. In the process, he eliminated No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight and multiple-time NHRA champions Gary Scelzi and Tony Pedregon to advance to the final round.
Once Bartone got there, he beat Ron Capps in the NAPA Dodge Charger after they both lost traction near halftrack. Bartone recovered first and sped to the 1,000-foot victory with a 4.454-second run at 238.17 mph. Capps clocked a pass of 4.708 seconds at 227.46 mph. (Nitro-class drivers are racing to a 1,000-foot finish line following the June 21 death of Funny Car Scott Kalitta, as NHRA is making an effort to slow down the cars or at least give them more room to stop. Pacific Raceways’ shutdown area, however, poses no danger, for it includes the tour’s third-longest runoff area.)
With a tune-up that Bartone said “wasn’t perfect but it went rounds,” he said six previous DNQs and seven first-round losses in the previous 13 races weren’t all that daunting.
“How about two crashed race cars and a whole bunch of fires?” he quipped. “You never say die. You never give up. You keep plugging, and days like this happen.
“I probably won’t sleep for three or four days,” said Bartone, a construction-industry executive who divides his time between New York and Florida. “Then we’ll try to do this again next week in Sonoma. They say the first one is the toughest. Maybe we have the monkey off our back. We’ll see.”
In Pro Stock, Line denied Allen Johnson a second Seattle victory in three years. He used a 6.659-second E.T. at 208.10 mph in the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to defeat Johnson’s 6.664-second, 207.78-mph effort in his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus.
“It feels great to win, especially here in Seattle,” Line said after his $25,000 victory, his second this season. “I’ve been out here I don’t know how many times, and never had any success whatsoever, even when I raced in Stock eliminator. It feels really good to win here, and it felt really good to drive well today.
“We didn’t have the greatest car in qualifying – we had some issues,” Line added. “We tested some parts along the way, which is kind of cool, although you don’t want to be testing at national events. But it all worked out.”