Commentary

Schumacher continues to buck historic Top Fuel trend

The rich got richer at Bandimere Speedway outside Denver to start the Western Swing, with Tony Schumacher leading the way with another dominating performance in Top Fuel, writes Bill Stephens.

Updated: July 14, 2008, 9:52 AM ET
By Bill Stephens | Special to ESPN.com

There has never been a long, protracted Top Fuel championship dynasty in the 57-year history of the National Hot Rod Association.

The closest to a lengthy, one-man title monopoly that the category ever witnessed was Joe Amato's three-year lock on the Top Fuel high ground in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

With previous championships in 1984 and 1988, Amato spread his five career titles over a span of nine seasons, but sprinkled in between Amato's championships you'll find those of "Big Daddy" Don Garlits in 1985-86, Dick Lahaie in 1987 and Gary Ormsby in 1989. Top Fuel parity has been so entrenched in the NHRA's quickest and fastest class over the past five decades-plus that it wasn't until Shirley Muldowney won her first two championships in 1977 and 1980 that a Top Fuel driver picked up a second career world championship.

Overall, Muldowney and Amato are joined by only Garlits, the late Scott Kalitta, Kenny Bernstein, Larry Dixon and Gary Scelzi as the only drivers with multiple NHRA POWERade Top Fuel crowns.

Oh yeah, and Tony Schumacher.

Schumacher, in fact, is making a mockery of every previous principle of parity which has ever influenced the Top Fuel firmament. He has already tied Amato's feat of winning five championships -- in 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 -- but his four consecutive Top Fuel titles are unprecedented.

He is now only five national event wins behind Amato for first place on the all-time list of Top Fuel victories, and his dominant win Sunday at the 29th Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway outside Denver was typical Schumacher.

Dealing with the new 1,000-foot race length, a resurfaced, all-concrete dragstrip and a unique cooling system beneath the track to help cool Bandimere's traditionally tricky racing grooves, Schumacher's steady and unshakable performance was not unlike so many other victorious outings he has accumulated during his record-setting career.

He abused the competition, and as usual, Schumacher and his remarkably gifted tuner, Alan Johnson, made the necessary adjustments and adapted to the changes with little difficulty.

The U.S. Army-backed team qualified second behind Cory McClenathan, but on race day ran low elapsed time in every round except the first (Antron Brown earned that distinction with his 3.995-second run) and then got past Brown in the final round, 4.007-seconds, 304.05 mph to 4.173/276.97.

Schumacher's sixth win out of eight final rounds this season all but guarantees him finishing in the No.1 spot in the Countdown to 10 standings with only five more races in that stage of the championship process to go.

"The key to this race was knowing it's hot out, knowing that there's water [cooling coils] under the first 100 feet, and knowing that if you don't get that car moving hard right there, you're done, you're not going to make it," said Schumacher as he accepted the 47th national event trophy of his career. "That's what Alan Johnson said, and what are you going to do, second-guess him? The car was absolutely flawless all day."

The Funny Car class also encountered a hit list of changes at Bandimere, including a newly-mandated spec chassis and a new Goodyear racing slick. In an age in which multicar teams have enjoyed a distinct advantage over single-car outfits when dialing in new combinations, thanks to the extra data that can be shared by teammates, Tim Wilkerson continues to defy that pattern.

The current points leader won his fourth race of 2008 and added even more distance between himself and the rest of his Funny Car classmates by upending Jack Beckman in the final round, 4.398/262.23 to 4.661/205.41.

"We had a good car all weekend and went down the track every run," said Wilkerson. "I'm pretty proud of my guys. They're doing a great job. It was good racing all weekend."

Greg Anderson is up to his old tricks. The three-time Pro Stock champion has now won three consecutive national events, five overall in '08, and continues to add to his points lead following his victory on "Thunder Mountain" on Sunday.

His recent dominance bears striking resemblance to the numerous winning streaks with which he has handcuffed the Pro Stock category since his first championship campaign in 2003.

Anderson outran Allen Johnson in the final round, 7.024/196.39 to 7.028/195.79.

"This track is so different than everything we do all year long," said Anderson. "We just ended up having a great weekend. We adapted great and I've probably learned more this year than I've ever learned out here."

Matt Smith learned what it takes to win a Pro Stock Motorcycle championship last year, and he's hoping to capitalize on those lessons again in '08. On Sunday, Smith -- who won at Bandimere last year -- picked up his second victory of 2008 and fifth of his career when he stopped Steve Johnson in the Mile-High finals, 7.326 (low elapsed time of the race)/180.74 to 7.340/180.81.

"The track is awesome," said Smith. "This cooling system in the track was consistent all week long. We performed and we had a good bike and I'm just glad to leave here with another win."

Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN.com.

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