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Tony Schumacher Bounces Back with Runner-Up Finish at NHRA New England Nationals

Racing for a third New England Dragway event victory, Tony Schumacher came up one win-light short in a final-round battle between two of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history Sunday afternoon at the NHRA New England Nationals. The driver of the Leatherwood Distillery dragster powered to a runner-up finish to Doug Kalitta in the duo’s 95th head-to-head meeting. The late-round finish helped Schumacher move up two spots to eighth in the point standings at the seventh race on the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series tour.
 
The eight-time world champ admittedly struggled through four rounds of qualifying. He was up in smoke early on the first two attempts on Friday. Tire haze affected the third run on Saturday, but Schumacher still pulled out a 4.077 E.T. at 232.35 MPH before smoking the tires again early in the final session. Without a run in the critical 3-second zone in qualifying, Schumacher went into eliminations as the No. 14 qualifier paired up with the No. 3 qualifier, fellow world champion Brittany Force.
 
Competing in front of a sold-out crowd on Sunday, Schumacher and Force both went into tire smoke in their first-round match. The Leatherwood Distillery dragster recovered first and posted a 4.170 E.T. at 254.95 MPH to get the win over Force and her 4.314 E.T. Co-crew chiefs Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer found the performance they were looking for in the second round, where Schumacher streaked to a 3.88-second pass at 323.19 MPH for the round win over Josh Hart, who smoked the tires. The JCM Racing team rolled into the semifinals ready for battle and threw down a 3.869 E.T. at 324.12 MPH to take out Clay Millican. By reaching the semifinals, Schumacher also secured a spot in the next Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. He has already scored one Mission Foods specialty win earlier this season during the NHRA Arizona Nationals near Phoenix.
 
Schumacher lined up against Kalitta, the reigning world champion, in the 159th final round of Schumacher’s career and his second of the season. Schumacher stepped up on the starting line with his second-best reaction time of the day to leave ahead of Kalitta, but the lead went away by the time the two reached the finish line. Schumacher finished second with a 4.307 E.T. at 201.43 MPH.
 
“In that final round, we’d have been hard-pressed to beat Doug,” Schumacher said. “Incredibly impressed with that run. We may have been trying to run a 3.82, but we also smoked the tires. Doug did a good job. He earned it. We’ve been in a lot of final rounds together. Me and him have had some monumental battles.”
 
Reflecting on the weekend as a whole, Schumacher shared his admiration for the JCM Racing team’s ability to bounce back from a tough qualifying experience.
 
“Honestly, it was a great race day,” Schumacher said. “We started out with the lucky run that you need sometimes. After that, we went out and we did our job. We learned from it. We felt the racetrack. We adapted to what we were seeing, and we did great. All in all, I’m proud of the way the team adjusted today. We qualified 14th and here we are in the final round.”
 
Schumacher and the Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel dragster will be back on track in just a few days at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, June 7-9, where Schumacher will campaign a co-branded Michael Waltrip Brewing Co./Leatherwood Distillery livery. He will unveil the new paint scheme at an open-to-the-fans event on Thursday evening at the Michael Waltrip Brewing Co. Bristol taproom from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. Schumacher, a Legend of Thunder Valley, is a six-time winner at the Bristol, Tennessee, facility.

This story was originally published on June 3, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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