For the third consecutive season, U.S. Army Top Fuel competitor Antron Brown concluded the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ three-race Western Swing in winning style. The three-time Top Fuel world champion captured his 50th Top Fuel win by defeating fellow U.S. Army Racing racers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher in the second round and Leah Pritchett in the final of Sunday’s 31st annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington.
With the victory, Brown joins Schumacher, Joe Amato and Larry Dixon as the only drivers in the category to have reached the historic milestone and also snapped a 23-race winless streak that dated back to his triumph in Seattle last August.
Schumacher was looking to make history of his own this weekend at Pacific Raceways. The four-time Seattle winner was seeking a fifth victory and tie Joe Amato as the winningest Top Fuel drivers at the track. He made four impressive qualifying runs aboard the U.S. Army Dragster for DSR and entered Sunday confident he and his team led by tuners Mike Neff and Phil Shuler would be a major factor in the outcome. He opened the day by continuing his dominance of Terry McMillen in the first round, winning for the 24th time in 27 career meetings, but it wasn’t the clean run he hoped to have. “The Sarge” hazed the tires near 330 feet and pedaled the car to post a lap of 4.137 seconds at 258.47 mph to advance past McMillen, who went right up in smoke at the hit.
The win set up a monumental matchup with Brown. The two had met 66 times prior to Sunday’s race and four previous times in the Northwest Nationals. The Army Racing tandem went up in smoke simultaneously midway through the run. Brown was able to pedal his Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR back under power while Schumacher was never able to regain traction. Schumacher’s pass of 4.718 seconds at 213 mph was his slowest of the weekend and allowed Brown, who also posted his worst run of the weekend of 4.137 seconds at 301.74 mph, to pick up his 37th career triumph over the eight-time Top Fuel world champion.
“That one stings,” said Schumacher, who continues to hold down second in the championship standings,” “We smoked the tires twice today after four beautiful runs during qualifying. It kind of caught me off guard a couple of times. You just don’t go up there expecting that. We were able to pedal it against McMillen. And you know sometimes on a Sunday you have that one lucky round and then you make three other great runs to win. We really thought that it was going to happened today. Hats off to Antron and his team. They have been working so hard to get back on top and it was a monster ladder today. I hate that we gave up points today. That’s it for the Western Swing and now it’s a week off before we get back at it. I look forward to getting to Brainerd, testing at Indy, and getting into that Countdown. We’ve got a great U.S. Army car, but we haven’t had very much good luck. When that luck finally turns, it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team showed signs of returning to their championship form last weekend in Sonoma, California and were poised to continue their progression back this weekend. Like Schumacher, the three-time Top Fuel world champion knew he had a machine capable of winning. He took out a game Shawn Reed in the opening round with a pass of 3.796 seconds at 327.03 mph and grabbed lane choice for his next race with Schumacher. After surviving a pedalfest in round two, he knocked out No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence in the semifinals on a hole shot with his pass of 3.811 seconds at 323.97 mph, compared to Torrence’s run of 3.800 seconds at 325.85 mph. His margin of victory was 0.0097 seconds (approximately 5 feet) advancing him to the 120th final of his career. It was the fourth time Brown and Pritchett met in a final and Brown overcame Pritchett’s better light and defeated her with his pass of 3.835 seconds at 322.98. Pritchett crossed the line in 3.849 seconds at 320.13 mph.
“It’s been so long since we won, I didn’t even think about today being number 50,” said Brown. “This place has always been good to us. It’s just the energy, the vibe and the fans. When we come here, we’re getting into a groove as we head toward the Countdown. Today we had to be battle tested. It was a great win. To go through Shawn Reed, eight-time world championship Tony Schumacher, Steve Torrence in the semis and then Leah Pritchett in the finals, I don't know how it gets much tougher. It was rough out there, but that’s what makes us do what we do and why I enjoy racing out here in the NHRA Mello Yello Series. To win a championship, you have to go through competitors like we did today. That was our first step in getting things back together and getting back on the horse where we need to be.”
Pritchett qualified the Sparkling Ice/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR sixth and raced to the final from the bottom half of the ladder starting with a gutty first-round win over Troy Buff. She scored a hole shot victory with her lap of 3.809 seconds at 325.53 mph besting Buff’s pass of 3.798 seconds at 315.71 mph. Pritchett used another consistent run of 3.823 seconds at 319.60 mph to defeat Clay Millican in round two for the second time on the swing – Denver semifinals - to advance to the semifinals. With both the second and third qualifiers knocked out, upset-minded Mike Salinas was the next competitor trying to stop Pritchett. Salinas had her at the start with a reaction time of .052 seconds, but Pritchett drove around him to win the round with a pass of 3.838 seconds at 304.74 mph. The victory secured a second final appearance during the Western Swing and Pritchett and her team where the only ones to accomplish that.
“I feel phenomenal about the car, the team, the headspace and the momentum,” said Pritchett, following her first career Seattle final. “Today was a great way to finish off the Western Swing. Of course, we were just one round shy of the ultimate finish to it, but my proudest moment of the weekend wasn’t even the win lights. It was the ability this team had to overcome the insane challenges we had facing us after the semifinals. We had engine damage. We had blower damage and the confidence (crew chief) Tod Okuhara had using a blower that never had any type of boost put to it before for the final round should how good he is. When you change a blower there could be at least 15 other things that are affected, so you just don’t know what to expect. From burnout to turnout, this was basically a new machine compared to what we had all weekend long. So to show out as well as we did in the final was very impressive. I’m very proud to be part of this team and we’ll continue this momentum on to Brainerd.”
After 16 of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour for 2018, the top-10 drivers in the Top Fuel class are:
1. Steve Torrence (1,251 points)
2. Tony Schumacher (1,090 points, -161 points)
3. Clay Millican (1,084 points, -167 points)
4. Leah Pritchett (1,083 points, -168 points)
5. Doug Kalitta (995 points, -256 points)
6. Antron Brown (927 points, -324 points)
7. Terry McMillen (759 points, -492 points)
8. Brittany Force (731 points, -520 points)
9. Richie Crampton (660 points, -591 points)
10. Scott Palmer (649 points, -602 points)
Next up is the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway August 16-19. FS1 will carry live coverage of elimination rounds Sunday, August 19, starting at 2 p.m. EDT.