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Tony Schumacher wins Top Fuel again; is Funny Car next?

11/2/2008

LAS VEGAS -- The best bet in this town cashed Saturday, as Tony Schumacher won his fifth consecutive and sixth overall Top Fuel championship merely by qualifying for Sunday's eighth ACDelco Nationals at The Strip at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Naturally, he set a record in the process.

The Don Schumacher-owned U.S. Army dragster has turned in a season for the ages in 2008, with a class-record 14 wins including seven in a row, eight No. 1 qualifiers and a staggering 71-8 round record. Along the way he passed Joe Amato for the wins record in Top Fuel (55) and the sixth title also tops Amato.

Something special can happen any time this dragster makes a run. In fourth-round qualifying Saturday, it set a speed mark for 1,000-foot racing at 318.92 mph.

By the numbers, there is virtually nothing else Schumacher can do in this class.

That's why he is thinking about moving to another.

"The Sarge," 38, is thinking about switching to Funny Car, possibly following in the footsteps of Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi, legends who moved from one nitro class to another after multiple titles and kept winning.

A move is not likely to happen next year, but when asked to peer into a hypothetical crystal ball for five years from now, he said it "probably" would happen.

"At some point, you get to where you've won so much stuff [in Top Fuel], and it's always been in the back of my mind," Schumacher said. "I thoroughly enjoy driving a dragster, but I cannot see not enjoying a Funny Car either. It's a whole new animal."

Schumacher recalled years ago, the first time he saw a Top Fuel dragster, the first time he smelled the nitro, the first time he was in a seat.

"I remember how friggin' amazing that was. I think if I went to Funny Car, I would have that again. I could wake up over there and have a blast because I'm driving something new, I'm learning. Believe me, it's mind-boggling, the thoughts that go through my head."

And with that, Schumacher pulls out his iPhone and shows off renderings of a U.S. Army Funny Car. His team owner and father, Don Schumacher, e-mailed them under the subject line "food for thought."

A switch in time for 2009 would appear to make sense, as eight-time champion tuner Alan Johnson is starting his own team in conjunction with Qatar-based Al-Anabi Racing. He'll field a Top Fuel dragster and Funny Car, neither of which will be driven by Schumacher.

Instead, Schumacher, a yet-to-be-named new tuner and several new crew members will continue in the Army car, and anything less than another title will open Schumacher to criticism that his success was more the product of tuning than driving.

Move to Funny Car and not win, and he'd get a pass as a rookie.

"I understand it would be an easy out, but I don't want an easy out. I want to do what's best for us, for our sponsor," said Schumacher, who could break Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson's record for wins in a season across all classes with wins Sunday and at the Pomona finale. "I would not avoid the media saying it's A.J. [making the difference], I believe strongly that we can go out and win with who we're bringing over.

"We're not going to win 14 races, [Johnson's] team's not going to win 14 races, I don't care who he brings in. This has been a special year."

The Funny Car community has noticed. Three weeks ago at Richmond, after Schumacher won again and Cruz Pedregon won in FC, Pedregon threw down the gauntlet.

"I was using my street lingo a little bit, but I said, 'I'd like to take a few pokes at you, Tony.' I meant every bit of it, out of respect," Pedregon said. "I haven't seen anybody in Top Fuel, not to take away from anybody, take it to him. I think psychologically he's on this little roll. I would do different things, not so much to get in his head, but to test him a little bit.

"I'd have to have a pretty good horse, and for me to build a Top Fuel car to be competitive to that point, I'm better off having him drive one of his dad's already-formidable Funny Cars."

Scelzi drives one of those cars. He won a Funny Car title in 2005 after Top Fuel crowns in 1997, 1998 and 2000 (in 1999 he finished second to Schumacher), and can relate to Schumacher's itch.

"I do understand it," Scelzi said. "Yes, he had A.J. to win all those championships, but I'm going to tell you something, there was no one better in the seat. He's a great driver, he'll adapt and he'll do fine. So all those guys in Funny Car: Be careful what you wish for, 'cause he's not going to choke. He'll be just as good as he was in the dragster in Funny Car."

We won't get to find out next year, but the wait after that may not be forever.

John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.