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Wed, 14 Nov 2007, 08:54 AM

Reflecting and Good News for The Grump
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2007 Auto Imagery, Inc.

Schumacher vs. Bernstein
Maybe this will make "Grumpy" Happy!...It hasn't been officially announced yet, but our "very reliable sources" tell us that Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins has been chosen to enter the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama next year. This continues a growing trend of drag racers being recognized for their accomplishments in the world of motorsports. More info to come but we wanted to be the first to congratulate the "Grump."

It's hard to believe that Tony Schumacher won the Top Fuel championship in the same way this year as he did in 2006. With all of the hoopla and talk, both pro and con, about the new Countdown format, nobody really expected that the TF title, or any title for that matter, would come down to one run and that it would be the last run of the season. At least I know that I didn't. Even when Rod Fuller went out in round one I still thought that the championship would be decided before the final round. And when I saw that Tony and Brandon Bernstein would meet in the semi-finals I thought that the title might be decided there, and yet it wasn't. And when Bob Vandergriff made it to the final round I thought that it was fate that he would win his first race of the year, and his career for that matter, by beating the Army car, but I was wrong. Again.

Johnson, Tony and Don Schumacher
The two race, winner-takes-all format played out perfectly for Tony and his team. From what I heard, and from what I expected, Tony, Don Schumacher, Alan Johnson and the rest of the Army team loathed the new Countdown format when it was announced last year at Indy, and rightfully so. In fact, the three teams who should have objected to the new format where Tony's, John Force in the Funny Car class and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock. After all, those teams had locked up their championships as early as Indy in the past and that took all of the suspense and excitement away from the class for the rest of the year. Sure, in 2006, the championship came down to "The Run," but that was the exception and not the rule. So, when the new format was announced, the three dominant teams all cried foul, and rightfully so, but as the season played out all three of those teams, for a variety of reasons, began to embrace it, and rightfully so. Going into Las Vegas, the first race of the "Countdown to 1," Tony, Robert Hight with John's team, and Greg Anderson, along with several other teams, all had shots at winning the championship. As strange as the TF battle was, I'm sure that nobody figured

that the Funny Car battle would be over, virtually over, after the Las Vegas race. And I'm pretty sure that Jeg Coughlin wasn't considered the favorite coming into the last two races, was he? No, the Countdown provided some excitement, some drama and lots of surprises and that's exactly what it was designed to do. Having said that, with the addition of a new race next year, a race that will take place after Labor Day, I would have to believe that there will be some minor changes to the Countdown format. Assuming that the Maple Grove race is still used as the final race for the first segment of the Countdown, I would assume that the second part, or the "Countdown to Four," will still consist of the next four races on the schedule with the last part, the "Countdown to 1," being three races instead of two like it was this year. Now mind you, I haven't heard anything one way or the other about this, I'm just looking at the schedule and thinking how I would do it. If it does play out that way that would mean that Richmond, Las Vegas and Pomona would then be in the final segment of the "Countdown" and that could make for even more excitement, if that's possible, than we had this year. It would also alleviate the problem of having one bad race or one bad run down the stretch. The start of the new season will be upon us before you know it so I imagine we'll find out what the changes are very soon. Of course, we also have to find out if that other race is going to be held in Charlotte or some other town in North Carolina. Knowing the parties involved, I'm betting on Charlotte.

Schumacher vs. Vandergriff
I am always surprised when people say that someone, in this case Tony Schumacher, "lucked out" and won the championship. He did win the championship but it wasn't lucky. Playing by the rules and within the confines of the new system, Tony and his Army team did exactly what they had to do to secure their record-tying fifth championship and record breaking fourth in a row. Sure they had all of those nasty round one losses during the season, but when they had to be good, they were. Like in Pomona. At the last race of the season Tony drove well (his worst reaction time of the day was an .075 in the final round) and the car ran well all day long. Of course you expect the car to run well with Alan Johnson tuning it, don't you? Did you know that this was Alan's 91st win as a fuel crew chief? That includes stints with his brother, Blaine, Gary Scelzi, Bruce Sarver and the "Sarge." Of course Alan won his first race as a Top Fuel crew chief at this very same race, the "Finals," in 1995 with his brother, and just like he did this year, Alan tuned the winning car to the low elapsed time of the event en route to the win and he did it in the final round. Since I mentioned those first round losses, did you know that in the "modern era," that is, 1974 until today, that only one Top Fuel champion has gone through the year without losing at least once in round one? That person was Shirley Muldowney who didn't lose a single round one match on her way to the championship in 1980...The win in

Shirley Muldowney
Pomona was Tony's sixth in as many trips to the final round in 2007 and it ran his consecutive win streak to nine going back to Indy of last year. Did you know that the last time Tony lost in a final round was in Brainerd of 2006 when Brandon Bernstein beat him? Over the past three years Tony and his team are an incredible 20 - 6 in final rounds and there's nothing lucky about that. Tony's 2007 season ran his overall record in Top Fuel to 379 - 196 and that's really good, in fact, if you do the math it comes out to a winning percentage of 66% and that's good in anybody's book. Not lucky, mind you, but good. Plus, if you look at all the champions this year, did you know that Tony is the only one who led his class in the number of wins in 2007? Tony won six races while Rod Fuller won three and finished second, Brandon Bernstein won five and finished third and Larry Dixon won three and finished fourth. Neither Tony Pedregon, Jeg Coughlin nor Matt Smith, all champions, won the most races in their class in 2007. But then we all remember Rob Bruins don't we? Rob's the guy who, in 1979, won the championship and didn't even win a race all year. Lucky? I don't think so. He was consistent all year, went to three final rounds, lost to some pretty good racers, like Don Garlits, Kelly Brown and Bob Noice, and still won the championship. In short, he did all of the things that Tony did this year to win the championship, and everyone else had the same opportunity to do the same.

Alan Johnson
At the awards ceremony this year Alan Johnson accepted the Full Throttle award for his team and he promptly thanked them all for what they have done. I think he said something like, "I only make the parts and put them together but it's the team who does all the work." That may not be word for word, but you get the idea. Alan is certainly blessed to have a great team with him, with most of them returning from the 2006 championship team. Among those on the Army team are Jason McCulloch, the assistant crew chief and Brian Husen who works on the rods, pistons and ignition and who also serves as the team manager when they're on the road. Rodger Whitworth is the clutch specialist, while Nick Peters handles the superchargers and Jeremy Gutierrez is the short block specialist. All of them were on the team that won last year, too. Ryan Pethtel handles the cylinder heads, Shane Boyington works on the tires and Adam Baranski rounds out the team. Joe Arena, who was with the team for years on a full time basis, also lends a

Team Schumacher
hand when he can and he was with them at the awards ceremony, and of course, everyone on the team is quick to thank Lanny Miglizzi for his help with the tracks and track conditions. Don Schumacher should also be thanked for assembling such a great team and everyone should get a pat on the back for being able to keep most of the key players in place from year to year, because that may be one of the toughest things to do these days. If you look at the really good teams they have a minimum amount of turnover and, in turn, they make the fewest mistakes.

Later on during this off-season we'll take a look at the rest of the Top Fuel field and project ahead to 2008, but for now, let's congratulate the Army team for another championship season. Now, with five titles and four of them in a row the real question is, what can they do for an encore next year?

By the way, despite what you may have read or heard elsewhere, Hillary Will and her team will be back next year. In fact, they may be out testing even before the end of the year. Hillary, Scott Kalitta and Jack Beckman all had their cars on display at Camp Pendleton on Monday after the "Finals" and it was quite an experience for everyone. "Just to listen to the families talk about their situations was very moving," Hillary said. "It sure puts a lot of things in perspective." Scott's team started his car up and the drivers spent most of the day talking to the Marines and their families. All in all it was a very good day for drag racing and for the folks at Camp Pendleton.

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