Tony Schumacher clinched his record eighth top-fuel drag racing championship Saturday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Schumacher locked up the title in the last round of qualifying ahead of Sunday’s final eliminations in the season-ending NHRA Finals.
When qualifying ended, he held an insurmountable 104-point lead in the championship standings over second-place Spencer Massey, his teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, owned by Schumacher’s father.
Top fuel is the fastest class in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Mello Yello Series — the cars reach speeds topping 325 mph — and Schumacher, 44, is the class’ most successful driver in history.
He holds the record not only for titles but also for event victories with 77, including five this season.
Although Schumacher’s seven titles entering this season already had stood as the record, winning an eighth championship was special for the Chicago native because he hadn’t won one since 2009.
“It takes losing to enjoy the winning so darn much,” said Schumacher, nicknamed “The Sarge” for his crewcut, solid build and U.S. Army sponsorship. “Let’s make it 78" wins on Sunday, he added.
Erica Enders-Stevens also is trying to make drag-racing history — for the second time.
In mid-2012, Enders-Stevens became the first woman to win an NHRA event in the pro-stock class. Now she’s on the verge of winning the pro stock title, which would make her the third woman in history to win a season championship in one of the NHRA’s major series.
“We definitely feel blessed to be in this position,” Enders-Stevens said. “Win, lose or draw this has been the best season of my life.”
Enders-Stevens, 31, races a Chevrolet for the Elite Motorsports team in pro stock, where the cars travel down the quarter-mile drag strip in about six to seven seconds and at speeds exceeding 210 mph.
She holds a modest 19-point lead over Jason Line, a two-time pro stock champion, in the title standings entering Sunday’s final eliminations.
“We have a lot of faith that the story has already been written, and we just have to execute the best that we possibly can” at Pomona to win the championship, Enders-Stevens said.
If Enders-Stevens does capture the title, she would join Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey as the only female champions in NHRA history. Muldowney won three titles in top fuel and Sampey won three in the pro-stock motorcycle class.
Muldowney and Sampey “are two of my heroes,” Enders-Stevens said. “To be able to have the opportunity [to join them] is awesome in itself. At the same time, I think any female racer will tell you that we just want to be looked at as a driver.”
Enders-Stevens started racing in the NHRA’s junior-dragster leagues at age 8 and worked her way up with more sophisticated race cars. She and her racing sister Courtney were the subject of a Disney Channel movie in 2003 called “Right on Track.”
Early this year the NHRA said the engines in top-fuel dragsters and funny cars — the two “nitro” classes that use nitromethane fuel — were generating about 8,000 horsepower. Now they’re 25% more powerful.
Tests conducted during the season showed that the nitro engines now churn out an astonishing 10,000 horsepower, the NHRA said. That’s roughly 50 times the horsepower of a typical passenger car.