Historically, Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway has been very good to Top Fuel star Tony Schumacher.

It was again Sunday.

Schumacher won for the seventh time at the facility when he took home top honors at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Schumacher won a pedal fest with reigning world champion Doug Kalitta, clocking a 4.236-second elapsed time at 259.41 mph to defeat Kalitta’s 4.890.

“It was funny you guys had your marquee matchup in your favorite and you said, ‘How are you going to win this thing?’ I said, ‘I don't know. It seems like you guys have more of an idea than I got,' because we hadn't gotten past half-track," Schumacher said. "We'd blown some motors up and destroyed some parts, but we found some things and it's always great when the crew chief goes, ‘No, I'm serious. This is what we found.’ You listen and you go, ‘That would make sense. It truly makes sense.’ Because when you have a year like we had last year, a lot of things are like, ‘Oh, we figured it out, but it doesn't seem to progress into anything.’ The last couple of days, we truly had everything. Even the last couple of weekends didn't qualify great, but the tune-up they did on race day seemed to be exactly what we needed.”

On Sunday, Schumacher, who pilots the Waltrip Brewing Co./Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel dragster, ousted Jasmine Salinas, Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican and then Kalitta. He qualified No. 12 with a 3.917-second time at 310.91 mph.

“I think after the car went out, the first time we went down the racetrack, I was like, ‘Okay.’ It did exactly what they said the changes were going to do. From that moment on I was like, ‘We (have) got a race car.’ I knew that running 79, Kalitta goes out and runs that low 70 and you go, ‘Okay, we are going to have to deal with something later.’ But it was funny to watch the number 12, I think 14 and 15 cars," Schumacher said. "But when you look at the ladder and those are the three on the bottom half, you know some of them are going to get it figured out. Didn't know all three of us would, but it was great. I mean after we get the momentum going calm and cool and just going down this racetrack, it's so easy for me to race here because I've had so many good moments here, so much success and it just seemed you find your way to the winner’s circle.”

Schumacher’s seven Bristol wins – 2004, 2008-10, 2012, 2018 and 2023 – make him the winningest pro driver at Bristol Dragway. He and Funny Car standout Ron Capps were tied for the most victories in Bristol at six.

Schumacher also moved up to fifth in the points standings.

“Even there that final round, I do not believe I drove it well. I think I drove well the first three rounds, kept it dead straight, did what I had to do,” Schumacher said. “That final round, I rolled in, waited. Long tree, I think I heard Doug hit the gas. I don't even know what I heard. Someone hit the gas and it wasn't me. And then I hit it and then he double stepped in his, I don't know what he had for light, but whatever happened it went out there and it spun the tires, and I pedaled it, and it was murdering itself. But the win light came on and that's one of those bittersweet moments. We don't need to hurt parts, we don't have as big of a budget as we used to have, but we got to win.”

The win meant more for Schumacher because his team owner Joe Maynard calls Bristol his hometown.

“We got to win in Bristol, where Joe Maynard is from. Where Michael Waltrip has a brewery. Where Leatherwood Distillery is in Clarksville,” Schumacher said. “Everything you could have asked for at a home track for the boss and we got it. And not only that but I think half the guys on my team have never won a race. Half the guys have never held this trophy yet that they've earned. So, it's going to be an awesome night to go down there and let each of them pass it around and just enjoy the moment. They work their butts off all week and proud to be here, man. Love this place.”

The win was Schumacher’s first since the Flav-R-Pac Northwest Nationals in Seattle, on July 31, 2022, when he beat Brittany Force. This is Schumacher’s 87th career Top Fuel victory -- the most all time in the class.

And Schumacher knew his team was close to finally getting back to the winner’s circle after a talk with his wife Summer earlier this week.

“She's here (in Bristol) so I can't embarrass her, but I sat in there in the garage. I have this beautiful little lounge chair I can put in the garage, and I have in my cigar, and I was sitting there looking at my car and a couple motorcycles and I was having a martini,” Schumacher said. “I said, ‘Babe, you know we can win both these races?’ And she went, 'Ha.' It was kind of a snigger. Where are you at? Come here. Kind of sniggered a little bit and she goes…

That’s when Summer responded.




“He tried to prove me wrong,” she said.

Tony answered with “Really?"

Then, he went into a deeper response with why he was capable of winning again – especially since he won eight world championships in 1999; 2004-2009; and 2014.

“I said, ‘Man, I've been doing this a long, long time.’ We went out and won in 2000, won a championship. We were leading and suddenly in 2001, 2002, 2003, we just couldn't get down the (track). But then won 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. There are times where you got to figure it out and maybe it's a step back and maybe it takes a little longer than you want, but what makes it great to go through adversity and smiling through because it's going to come. You got to be naive in this world today looking at the people we have to race to think you're going to go out and dominate like we used to do. You can win races, you can win championships, but there's 12, 13 cars on race day any day, any race, that can win and that is the best racing we've seen in a long time.”

Schumacher knows his words will light up his social media, which he is ready to answer.

“I know I'm going to go home and open my Facebook and people are going to be like, ‘Dude, racing was better in the 1960. There were like 200 Funny Cars.' Okay, I get it. But there was one Funny Car that was winning and the 199 that were there to get paid. Different world. Wasn't the same Big Daddy and all the other guys. You had (Don) Prudhomme and the rest of them. It just wasn't the same. Right now, when we went up there, I'm like, ‘I'm (No.) 12 and I'm favored two to one.' That's unheard of.’”

Then his team, led by crew chief Mike Neff, delivered a victory.

“We did our job, sat up there. Didn't feel like I was super on time first round; should have had a better light. Second and third round, did a good job. And in that final round, man, when the win light came on, I was blown away because I've had too many opportunities to work with Alan Johnson to ever underestimate that man,” Schumacher said. “And I've been battling with Doug Kalitta for so many years and so many final rounds. We've just kicked each other's butt so many times that it's hard to believe when you go out and you get a win against him. And he says the same thing. It's like I don't know what happened, but the fans always win when it's a Kalitta-Schumacher final round, they're going to see some great stuff, and they got exactly what they paid for.”

Schumacher and Neff have championship experience, but their team has been a work in progress the last year and a half. Now, it appears the team has had a turning point.

“I can't say that if you went back and said to Phil or Zippy or Mike, if you said, ‘Hey, man, are you where you want to be?’ No, we got a trophy. We went to the finals at the last race. We're racing smart, but this is the right time for us to race smart,” Schumacher said. “I and Doug and a few others have the most experience in the heat. So, as it gets hotter and uglier out, we're going to perform better. But we're going to have to step up. When you get into those conditions again coming up in the Countdown where the conditions are outstanding and you got to rise, the performance has to be there. We still need to get there. We have a lot of great parts, a lot of great pieces, some changes that we made, and I can't ever talk about the changes, I hate that, but they were really good, and they were spot-on.”




When times are going bad, Schumacher acknowledged he thinks about words of wisdom his late father and legendary NHRA team owner Don Schumacher told him.

“My dad, since I started racing, said, ‘When you're lost and you can't figure it out, it's going to be that two by four that hits you in the back of the head and you're going to go, 'Of course.' And it literally was something so basic, but it was just a change we made in parts and pieces that weren't the same as what we had before and we had to find it,” Tony said. “They spent all night last night, they went through things, and we started pulling stuff out of the garbage and looking at pieces and parts and we found it and I said, ‘Okay.’ And for me, I've been around them long enough to say, ‘Okay, I got to have faith that what they found is going to work. Are we going to go out and dominate? I don't know, but I think that we're going to go on the racetrack.

“It's what we did at the last race (in Epping, N.H.). We went to the final round, and God bless Alan Johnson for running an 80 in the heat at the last race. I got out of the car and went, 'Seriously?' And Alan went, ‘Yeah, man.’ Alan drove by later and I go, ‘What were you thinking, man? You tried to run an 80.’ He goes, ‘Didn't want to leave anything on the table. We got beat in Chicago on a holeshot running low 80. We don't want that.’ I'm like, ‘Well, I would've appreciated that.’ But I've worked with him a long time. Those guys are brutal -- understatement of the world. They're just great. And now that Doug's a champ, he has all the confidence and he's a great driver. So, I didn't want to leave anything on the table there.”

If winning at Bristol wasn’t good enough for Schumacher, he also became the first member of the Legends of Thunder Valley – the track’s ring of fame – to win after they've been inducted.

“That's amazing. Anytime you're on a board, I got my father up there. Shirley Muldowney up there. You look up. Prudhomme, my dad, (John) Force, that's a pretty good list of names to be on and I'm just proud and can't say enough,” Tony said. “You don't wake up in the morning and go, ‘You know what would be great? If I could win with my name up there.’ It is another thing that gets mentioned after, but it's incredible.

“What makes us great is figuring out your personnel and that's what we're good at. It's getting through it because we're going to have it again and again. And I'm not the kind of guy that goes, ‘Oh, you know what? We just can't get the car on the track. Let's give up.’ It's, ‘Let's figure it out.’ I go up in the lounge and I look at Mike and go, ‘What are we struggling with? Where's the problem? Am I doing something? Am I hard on the brake? Am I easy on the brake? Am I holding it too long? Is there something I can change?' Nope, I can't. We're going to move on. What's the next thing you're going to do? We just work through it, and we discuss it, we talk about it, and we enjoy the time and the effort it takes to become another one of the holy motors to win these things. They're really tough, man. And you can go on a great run and win three or four or five, seven in a year. Look, you can do that, but it's not as easy as it used to be and you're not going to see it, in my opinion, like you used to."