TOPEKA — Reigning NHRA Top Fuel series champion Tony Schumacher is struggling with an exit strategy.
Schumacher has won 63 career Top Fuel races, the most in history, and his seven Top Fuel championships — including the last six in a row — are also Top Fuel records.
Schumacher, 40, said he is considering retiring in the next few years, but how to do it? Does he go out on top after winning his next championship? Or does the U.S. Army driver known as "The Sarge" wait until someone snaps his championship streak before walking away?
"That's a beautiful question," he said. "If you go out on top, that's the right way to do it, but if you (retire) after you get beat, I don't want people to say, 'Oh, he can't handle losing,' because that's not the case.... When I make that decision, whether at the end of the year, or two years, or five years, I'll make a decision and live by it no matter where we finished.
"I love what I do, but I have three beautiful kids and a beautiful wife that deserve me at home. I always said I'd be home when they started playing baseball. They're about to play baseball."
While Schumacher has won just about everything there is to win in drag racing, he has a couple of glaring holes on his resume. Schumacher has yet to win at Heartland Park Topeka, site of this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals.
Heck, he hasn't even reached a final at Heartland Park in his 13-year career.
"It's the same exact distance as everywhere else," said Schumacher, who also has yet to win at Atlanta, where he lost in the semifinals last week to Larry Dixon. "I've won the U.S. Nationals at Indy eight times; I've won Pomona a bunch (six) of times, Vegas a bunch (five) and Gainesville a bunch (four), and the list goes on. For whatever reason, there are two tracks that have avoided me.
"Everyone seems to have their weekend. Dixon seems to win on Father's Day all the time. I'm lucky, I've got Indianapolis.... Every year I go to Topeka I have a great time. We just haven't gotten the grand trophy at the end of the day. We have a couple more years to pull it off."
Schumacher, who in 2008 set Top Fuel records for wins (15) and consecutive wins (seven) en route to becoming the third NHRA racer to win Driver of the Year, comes into Topeka sitting an uncharacteristic fourth in the standings, a distant 112 points behind Dixon, but just 35 points out of second.
He finds it amusing that people wonder if the Army team is slipping.
"It's funny, people were saying that last week, too," Schumacher said. "I said, 'Look, we won Gainesville, we won St. Louis ... people would kill to win two races in the first seven.' Now, we're eight races in. That's 25 percent. That's pretty darn good.
"I wouldn't trade my chances and my team for anyone in the world. I don't care what position we're in, we have the right people to win championships with, and we're a much better under-pressure team."
The hardest part will be walking away.