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Tony Schumacher Scores Seventh Bristol Win, 87th Overall Aboard Waltrip Brewing Co./Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel Dragster

One week after coming up second in the NHRA New England Nationals final round, eight-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher found redemption by beating defending world champion Doug Kalitta on Sunday afternoon at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals to score his 87th national event victory. Sporting a new Waltrip Brewing Co./Leatherwood Distillery look on his Top Fuel dragster, Schumacher crossed the Bristol Dragway finish line stripe ahead of Kalitta in an Epping, New Hampshire final-round rematch to take the honors of hoisting his first Wally trophy of the season. The momentous victory was No. 9 for the JCM Racing organization and moved Schumacher up three spots in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series point standings from eighth to fifth.

Before the on-track action started, Schumacher and the JCM Racing team celebrated the unveiling of the co-branded dragster at a special event at the Waltrip Brewing Co. taproom in downtown Bristol. Team owner Joe Maynard is an equity owner in the premium brewing company founded by NASCAR legend Michael Waltrip. Schumacher will banner the co-branded Waltrip Brewing Co./Leatherwood Distillery paint scheme once again when the Mission Foods Series returns to zMAX Dragway near Charlotte in September for the NHRA Carolina Nationals.

Similar to the recent New England Nationals, where Schumacher raced to a runner-up finish, he struggled to get down the track in qualifying. His best performance, a 3.917 E.T. at 310.91 MPH, came in the second qualifying session on Friday evening. After the fourth and final session on Saturday, Schumacher sat in the No. 12 spot going into Sunday’s elimination rounds.

JCM Racing co-crew chiefs Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer studied the data and prepared for the cooler conditions that were on tap for Sunday’s first round of eliminations, which was moved up to 10 a.m. due to impending weather later in the day. Schumacher faced rookie Jasmine Salinas in the second pair of the first round, and he made the second-quickest pass of the event to that point, a 3.794 E.T. at 325.61 MPH, to beat Salinas and her 3.802-second pass. Schumacher and fellow past world champion Shawn Langdon cut matching .061-second reaction times in the second round. Once again, the win light came on in Schumacher’s lane, as he ran a 3.815-second pass to finish ahead of Langdon and his 3.835 E.T. Schumacher then left first in his semifinal matchup with No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and led to the finish line, winning with a 3.795 E.T. at 326.16 MPH to advance to a second consecutive final round, his third of the season, and the 160th of his career.

Schumacher, who joined Bristol Dragway’s ‘Legends of Thunder Valley’ Hall of Fame last year, met up with Kalitta in the final round for the second weekend in a row. The Waltrip Brewing Co./Leatherwood Distillery wheelman was away first and never looked back as both drivers ran into traction issues. Schumacher recovered quicker and won with a 4.236-second effort. With seven Bristol wins, he’s now tied with Funny Car’s Ron Capps as the winningest professional series driver at the Tennessee facility.

“The competition in Top Fuel right now is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Schumacher, who broke a 37-race winless streak. “Doug (Kalitta) and I, we were 12th and 14th (qualifiers) in the final round there. It’s epic. Each round, the fans were the ones winning. That was an ugly one in the final. I hit the gas and I think he might have double-stepped it. I heard a lot of noise and I thought, ‘Gee, am I that late?’ It’s such a great thing to get that win. That’s a Kalitta, man. That’s a champion now. We’re all proud to call him that.

“We didn’t qualify well, but we raced well,” Schumacher added. “Half of the guys on my team, maybe more, have never won a race, so this is the first time they’re going to be able to hold a Wally that they’ve earned. I’m very proud of them.”

While Schumacher is a Chicagoland native who now calls Austin, Texas, home, Bristol was a home race for JCM Racing and some of its biggest partners. Team owner Joe Maynard is from Clarksville, Tennessee, as is Leatherwood Distillery, while Waltrip Brewing Co. has a taproom in Bristol.

“It’s so incredible to win for the Maynard family at their home race,” Schumacher said. “We all had a great time at Waltrip Brewing Co. earlier this week, so it was great to win in their backyard. It’s a big deal for Leatherwood Distillery too. This is their first win and their first trophy that will sit on their shelf. For all of our partners that have been so patient with us and stuck with us, thank you.”

Schumacher and the JCM Racing team will look for even more round wins in two weeks when the NHRA Mission Foods Series tour heads to Virginia Motorsports Park outside Richmond for the Virginia NHRA Nationals, June 22-23, where Schumacher will look to win a second Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in addition to his second national event victory of the season.

This story was originally published on June 10, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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