Schumacher Lassoes Victory, Takes Texas-Sized Leap Forward

REACTION TIME

By Susan Wade

The eyes of Texas were upon drag racers Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) — all the livelong cool, foggy, muggy, eventually decent day Sunday.

They were O’Reilly Super Start Batteries Fall Nationals winners at the Texas Motorplex, which threw blistering heat, then cooler temperatures, rain, San Francisco-like fog, and finally some tolerable conditions at National Hot Rod Association. racers.

Schumacher had declared before the weekend that he and his U.S. Army Dragster team “absolutely need to have a great Sunday. We have to be hoisting the trophy.” He got what he wanted, that monumental repeat-victory performance at Dallas that knocked points leader Larry Dixon off-balance as the six-race Countdown marked its halfway point.

He donned a cowboy hat following his fifth victory in seven final-round appearances this season, the 66th of his career, and the Top Fuel-leading fifth at this facility that was celebrating its 25 birthday.

“I feel like we just rustled one up,” Schumacher said from underneath his Stetson. (His victory, coupled with Hagan’s triumph over John Force in the Funny Car final, gave Don Schumacher racing its 23rd double-up weekend.) But another Full Throttle Drag Racing Series crown is what he pictured himself wearing, proving he’s not going to yield his title at least without a Texas-sized fight.

He warmed up against Mike Strasburg and Steve Torrence, then blasted past dogged DSR teammate Cory McClenathan and finally Shawn Langdon to serve notice that, like last season, he planned to use Dallas as the launch for his championship rally. Schumacher won here last Sept. 27 to begin his march that rolled over Dixon and his own former crew by two points in the end.

Mike Green, his crew chief, had reassured him, “We’ve got a handle on this car. We really understand this car. It’s going to go fast, and it’s going to start winning races.”

In his best showing in five races, since a final-round loss to Dixon July 18 at Sonoma, Calif., Schumacher beat Langdon in the final round with a 3.838-second elapsed time at 320.43 mph to Langdon’s 3.908 / 298.67 in the Lucas Oil/Speedco Dragster.

For the first time in four races and only the third time in the past eight, points leader and top qualifier Dixon was not a factor by the final round. And Schumacher made the most of it, appreciating Langdon for his holeshot victory that beat Dixon in the quarterfinals by about five feet (.0097 of a second) but showing the sophomore dragster driver no mercy in the final.

“Langdon’s a great kid,” Schumacher said. “He’s going to be a great driver. But when a guy like Dixon, who has won so many races, loses, you absolutely have to rise to the occasion. You have to win, gain those points, put pressure back on them. They were walking away with it.

“We’re here to take every win we can take and leave nothing — not even scraps — on the table. We’re here to dominate,” Schumacher said. “We’re moving away from the rest of the pack. I’m in a happy place — not where I want to be but a lot closer.”

Langdon, who had fallen three positions in the standings at the previous race (at Charlotte) with a first-round exit, easily found a positive spin to his performance Sunday. He did the rest of the class a gigantic favor by defeating dominator Dixon in the second round.

“Today showed the potential of this team,” he said, after being denied his career-first victory at the site of winner Tony Schumacher also recorded the first of his 66 triumphs. “We can beat these guys. We can run with them. We can win these races. It just wasn’t meant to be today, unfortunately. Hopefully we’ll get it by the end of the year.

“It’s what the Countdown is all about – bringing out the best in your team, yourself, and your car. I think we showed a little bit of that today,” Langdon said.

“It was a great day for the team, a real confidence booster going into Reading, knowing we can run with these guys,” he said. “We found some problems that have been plaguing us and have been keeping us from performing to our expectations.”

He used a holeshot to halt 11-time winner Dixon’s elimination-round streak at 13. “I’m a fan of history and streaks and things like that,” Langdon said. “But today, I’m glad I was the one who broke Larry’s winning streak.”

Dixon, driver of the Al-Anabi Racing Dragster, said. “To be straight up, any time you lose, I don’t think anybody wants it to be because of them. On that run, Alan

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, Jason [crew chief McCulloch] and the whole Al-Anabi team did a great job. They gave me plenty of car to win the round, and I didn’t get it done. I’m very disappointed. As far as the points, I guess the least amount of damage was done with Cory [McClenathan] going out the following round. I’ll lick my wounds, go to the next race, and try to be more of an asset to the team.”

Dixon leads McClenathan by 69 points and Schumacher by 94 as the tour heads to Reading, Pa.’s Maple Grove Raceway Oct. 8-10.

HAGAN SWEEPS TEXAS EVENTS

Hagan scored his third Funny Car victory of this year and his NHRA career, sweeping the Texas events in the DSR-owned DieHard Dodge Charger.

“I’m really loving Texas,” Hagan, the Angus cattle farmer who won in April at Houston, said. “Might be buying some land down here because it feels like home.”

He moved into second place in the standings, closing the gap to 25 points on leader John Force, his final-round opponent Sunday. His victory was his gift to daughter Penny Louise, who was celebrating her first birthday back home in Christiansburg, Va.

“I’m missing the party back at home, but we’ll have a party of our own here tonight,” Hagan said. “All the DieHard guys have been flawless this year. It really helps me and Tommy (crew chief DeLago) go rounds, because we make enough mistakes for everybody.

“It’s a young team, I’m a young driver, Tommy’s a young crew chief, and we’re very hungry,” he said. “I’m glad to be here, glad to be beating John Force.”

Hagan and Funny Car winner said racing NHRA icon John Force in the final round for the first time “was definitely gut-wrenching.”

Said the Don Schumacher Racing driver, “It was just amazing that it came down to me and him there at the end. [It was awesome] for the DieHard team to pull it together, go up there and go down the race track after coming in here in 14th and having to do a pedal job [getting back on the throttle after losing traction] to get into the race. We were just fighting our way all the way through here.

“I left the line and never saw him,” he said of Force. “It’s just overwhelming and exciting. I have so much respect for that whole John Force team over there. When we won in Chicago, every one of those guys came over and shook our hands and told us what a great job we did. They’re a first-class operation, just like DSR. We’re a first-class operation, and it’s always great to race the best. It’s definitely intimidating [to race Force], but you have to block it out. He’s just another guy. And he’s had some success out here –I hope we have that much success in my career.”

Crew chief Tommy DeLago said, “All the DieHard guys did a great job. Glenn Huszar has really stepped up as assistant crew chief and is really a big help to me. But, realistically, we wouldn’t even have had a chance to win this race if it hadn’t been for our driver and the raw talent that he has. He did a really good job of pedaling it to even get us in the show.”

ANDERSON CREDITS CREW FOR REPEAT

Like Schumacher, Pro Stock’s Anderson returned to the winners circle, from the bottom half of the field for the first time in nine years here. He defeated class leader Mike Edwards by a mere five feet or so (by .0148 of a second) in the final round to move within 16 points of the current champion.

On the way, he and his Pontaic GXP had narrow victories through the minefield of teammate/brother-in-law Ronnie Humphrey, No. 1 qualifier Allen Johnson, and hot rookie Shane Gray.

“That run in the final was absolutely huge,” Anderson said. “I had been telling people all week that the run I made in the final last week in Charlotte was the best I had ever made, and we just duplicated it again today.”

Anderson saluted his KB Racing Pontiac GXP team and crew chiefs Rob Downing and Tommy Utt for his second straight Pro Stock victory and second in a row at Dallas. He said the crew lifted his spirits, which keyed their fourth victory of the year.

“I really have to thank my Summit Racing team, for making my car so fast and helping me to get my head back in the game,” Anderson said. “My confidence was a little down after qualifying and they picked me right up, giving me a car that was capable of winning the race. Shame on me for making their job tougher, because they should only have to worry about the race car.

“But that’s what makes them so great. They stay calm and keep their heads in the game, focusing on doing whatever it takes to win. They’re making all the right calls, and Jason [teammate Line] and I have two very fast Summit Racing Pontiacs that can win any race we go to, which is all that I can ask for. It’’ up to us to do what we can with them.”

Anderson, who has won consecutive races 25 times in his career, said, “I have a great shot at winning my fourth championship, so we’re going to go in with guns blazing at the next race in Reading, trying to do it all over again, doing what we can to get in the points lead, putting pressure on the rest of the boys.

“We have a great 1-2 punch right now with myself and Jason, who has one of the very best cars in the class right now,” he said. “I know he’s a little down at the moment, but he could still go out and sweep the last three races. If we’re going to contend for the championship I’ll need all the help I can get from him, because that’s what it’s going to take to beat Mike Edwards and the rest of the guys in this class. Fortunately, we’re both peaking at the right time, and I really think we can get it done. It’s going to be one whale of a battle.”

YOUNG TONGLET GRABS ATTENTION, ANOTHER VICTORY

Bike winner Tonglet, aboard Kenny Koretsky’s Nitro Fish Suzuki, extended his winning streak to three races — all at the final-round expense of leader Andrew Hines. He cut Hines’ lead from 66 to 44 points and is the Countdown’s lone unbeaten racer. Hines fouled out with a red-light start by six-thousandths of a second, while Tonglet clocked a 6.972 seconds at 187.94 mph.

Tonglet has an innocent face, an accent like gooey molasses, a lanky 5-foot-11, 130-pound body perfect for competing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, and, for a 20-year-old, a curious mix of hobbies such as movies, golf, skydiving, paintball, and day trading.

Now he has four NHRA bike victories in five final rounds.

The Metairie, La., native said, “It’s unbelievable.” That’s the same thing he has said throughout his on-track battles with Hines and his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod — against the source of his horsepower.

“Our season’s turned upside down,” Tonglet said, recalling how Koretsky in August rescued his performance-strong but sponsorship-weak rookie-of-the-year bid.

However, Tonglet said slicing Hines’ lead in the standings was hard work.

“I wasn’t feeling too confident Saturday night, We’ve been stumbling in qualifying,” the No. 6 qualifier said. “We didn’t find it [his motorcycle's potential] until the second round. The bike really woke up. From then on,” he said, “our confidence all went up. My dad (crew chief and former racer Gary Tonglet) said, “We can do this.”

He said he was “just happy to be in the semis. From there on out it’s a bonus. It didn’t matter whether we won or lost. We were still going to go home happy. The win makes it that much better. We’ll be happy with a top-three finish, but my dad says he’s hungry for that championship. He needs the money, he said. We have to keep this momentum going. We have to keep our heads straight and it should play out pretty good.”

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