Seven-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher has a special relationship with Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, home of this weekend’s prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals – he has nine wins at the “Big Go,” and one more will break a tie he’s in with Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden.
“Back in '96, I was hired to drive Top Fuel by the Peek Brothers, and licensed in Denver, Colorado, and got licensed on Sunday and on Monday we left for the U.S. Nationals,” remembered Schumacher in a recent NHRA teleconference. “Showed up, qualified 16th, and that was the same year we lost Blaine Johnson and Elmer Trett. But we went to the final round. And I mean it was very special. It's been that way for nearly 60 years. A lot of people have been able to live some great moments here. And fortunately for me, we're one of the teams that have been blessed with some of the best moments.”
Schumacher has often said he thrives on pressure, and Indy provides the right kind of pressure to motivate the second-generation driver.
“There's no doubt that we know coming into this race that we have a chance to do something that no one's ever done (in winning 10),” said Schumacher. “And I think it adds to the pressure. And I like that. I enjoy the pressure…I really firmly believe I've had a very blessed life and some great teams and capable of being part of the situations and moments that we're just spectacular.”
“I thank God it's on the line because I'm a better driver when the pressure is big,” he continued. “I always have been. The easy races I tend to make mistakes on, the ones that don't matter. This one matters. And I know that people go oh, they're all the same. Well, this is Indy. And this is a chance. And you're not going to have that many chances. I get to drive another 10 years maybe. You're not going to have that many chances to go out and win it. People fight their whole life to win Indy once. There was a long period where we were the only car that was fast. It's not like that anymore.”
“It's going to be difficult to win. And knowing it's going to be difficult to win is what makes us good. We'll have to try that much harder. I don't know where I'm going to find more, because I feel like I give everything I’ve got every time, but we always seem to come up with it when we need it. Always seem to find, whether it's the pressure, the rise of the heartbeat, the energy that comes with it, I don't know what it is. But we get better in these big moments.”
The big moments begin Friday during qualifying for the U.S. Nationals, a race Schumacher and others still long to win each and every season.
“I think it's the media that builds it so big,” said Schumacher, “and we appreciate that. We need that. Because, the racetrack, I could be in Iowa. Makes no difference. A thousand feet is a thousand feet. You're told so often how big it is that the fans believe it. And when the fans believe it they show up for a race and over the years, you know, there would be so many cars that would show up to race, it became more difficult. It was a harder race to win. It pays more money. It makes you just, makes you want to win it. And I probably have more people that want to win it because we've won it so many times, the Kalittas and Dixons and the guys that we've beaten in the finals, we've taken those away. They're just aching to win this race. I watched Langdon last year, as excited as they get when they win this race it seems like they're winning a championship. If you can't be the world champ they've always said this is the race you want to win to almost make it a little more, to ease the pain a little bit of not having that championship.”
The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals feature five qualifying sessions for the Mello Yello Series, the first one taking place Friday, August 29th at 6 p.m. ET. The second and third sessions take place Saturday, August 30th at 2:30 and 6 p.m. ET, with the final two qualifying sessions on Sunday, August 31st at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET. Final eliminations take place Monday, September 1st beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.
Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.
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