Tony Schumacher’s eight National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel championships are more than any other driver in history.
His 83 career wins also are a record, giving him a strong claim to the best Top Fuel driver in history.
But Heartland Park has proven a mostly unsolvable enigma for Schumacher, whose only win in 21 previous Top Fuel races at the Topeka dragstrip came in 2010.
“We’ve won Indy 10 times and Gainesville, Fla., five times — very, very difficult races that we’ve done excellent at,” Schumacher said. “Why do some tracks avoid you? I don’t know.”
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Fortunately, the relative lack of success hasn’t diminished Schumacher’s affinity for Heartland Park.
“It’s a great race in a great part of the country,” he said. “It’s fast, it’s smooth, and there’s just no reason in the world we haven’t won more when you look back.”
Besides, Schumacher’s not done racing and hopes for a reversal of fortune when the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series makes its eighth stop of a 24-race schedule Friday through Sunday for the Menards Heartland Nationals at Heartland Park in Topeka.
Sunday’s finals will be broadcast live at 1 p.m. on FS1.
While Schumacher hasn’t enjoyed his customary dominance at Heartland Park, his competitive streak makes him appreciate the challenge.
“Spending the week thinking about why we can’t win it isn’t going to help me win it,” Schumacher said. “We’ve won 83 races, but we’ve lost hundreds and those devastating hundreds of losses make those 83 races fantastic.”
That drive to win is a central theme when Schumacher speaks to school-age children during dozens of stops each year.
Certainly, it’s not that Schumacher, 47, who grew up in Chicago and now lives in Austin, Texas, has any disdain for the plains. Quite the contrary.
“I love coming here,” he said. “It’s in the Midwest and I was an Illinois guy my whole life. I won by first race at KCIR in alcohol funny car. I just love coming here.”
Kansas City International Raceway (KCIR) is the now-defunct south Kansas City, Mo., racetrack that operated from 1967-2011.
Currently, Schumacher and his U.S. Army dragster sit in second place in the Top Fuel standings, trailing Leah Pritchett by 14 points, in the quest for a ninth crown.
He’d love to check off Heartland Park along the way.
“There are certain places we all excel at, and this hasn’t been my particularly strong racetrack — yet,” Schumacher said.
Regardless, he plans to keep coming back and taking a crack at conquering the 1,000-foot dragstrip.
Schumacher shows no signs of slowing down and has no plans to retire.
“When I find another job that makes me wake up in the morning and smile, I’ll think about retiring …,” Schumacher said. “Mello Yello drag racing’s got two people sitting there that both think they can win. It’s a hands-down brawl, and I love that fight. I love everything about it, and I can’t think what in the world would make me want to get up and change jobs.”
Menards Heartland Nationals
When: Friday through Sunday
Where: Heartland Park in Topeka
TV: Sunday’s final at 1 p.m. on FS1