The U.S. Army Racing trio of Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett are third, seventh and 10th on the elimination ladder, respectively, after the final two rounds of qualifying Saturday for this weekend’s NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series 20th annual JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago, Illinois.
Schumacher and his U.S. Army Dragster team for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), who won this event for the fifth time in 2015, posted a lap of 3.820 seconds at 326 mph early Saturday and followed it up with an impressive run of 3.771 seconds at 325.61 mph to qualify inside the top-five for the seventh consecutive event. He will face Billy Torrence in the first-round Sunday.
“We made two good runs here today and we know we have to step it up tomorrow,” Schumacher said. “We are a championship caliber team and we are ready for this moment. I’m really proud of the U.S. Army team. Led by Mike (Neff) and Phil (Shuler) we’ve made three consistent runs and now it’s time to be at our best on Sunday. We really need a win. This is my hometown track. I’ve won here a lot and I want to win tomorrow with this U.S. Army team. I know Billy (Torrence) is going to be a good test and I like racing cars that go down the track really good. I can’t wait to get back out here tomorrow.”
Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR made a pair of consistent runs Saturday, first posting a lap of 3.813 seconds at 286.74 mph, and then following up with their best pass of qualifying to close the session, running a 3.781 E.T. at 327.19 mph. The three-time Route 66 Nationals winner moved up to the seventh position and earned lane choice over Pritchett. The two met in the first round at Topeka two weeks ago with Pritchett prevailing.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way today went,” Brown said. “We made two really strong runs and any time you close qualifying with your best run of the weekend it’s a good feeling. The last two races, we have definitely been going in the direction where we need to be at. We’re making a move. Right now, our Matco Tools/U.S. Army car and Tony’s U.S. Army car are very similar, and you saw that in Q4. It’s like they are identical now, so we are just going to lean on each other. The teams have been bouncing ideas around and its making both of our cars make great steps forward. We’ve been really good here in even years – winning 2012, 2014, 2016 – so we’re just going to take it one round at a time tomorrow and see if can transition that previous successful into tomorrow.”
Pritchett and her Papa John’s Pizza/U.S. Army Dragster for DSR opened Saturday with a lap of 3.970 seconds at 307.93 mph and closed qualifying with a solid run of 3.832 seconds at 324.51 mph.
“Lane choice is key here, but we have been back and forth between clutch and engine changes and ultimately we didn’t have the quick runs in qualifying that we desired,” Pritchett said. “Facing Antron is definitely not the matchup we wanted. Racing our teammate and one of the fiercest competitors in the class is going to be tough, but we feel like the gold car will shine through tomorrow like it knows how to do. Like this team knows how to do here in Chicago. Conditions are going to be different than anything we’ve had in qualifying. I know we have a solid setup for racing in the conditions we’ll have tomorrow morning. There’s no question in my mind that we’ll have a successful day tomorrow.”
Elimination rounds are scheduled to begin at noon EDT Sunday with FS1’s delayed three-hour broadcast set for 5:30 p.m.