FAST FRIENDS – THE ARMY AND CHAMPIONSHIP DRAG RACING
In 1974 the Army established a sponsorship agreement with drag racing legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. From that year until the conclusion of the 1980 season it proved to be a successful partnership. In 1975 The Snake won 6 of the then 8 national events. The following year he upped that to 7 wins. With Army prominently displayed on the side of his nitro powered Funny Car, he won championships from 1975 to 1978. It remains one of the most dominating stretches in National Hot Rod Association history.
During the first year of that run of titles, Prudhomme became the first Funny Car driver to cover the quarter mile track in less than 6 seconds with a 5.98 run at the NHRA World Finals. In 2001 during their 50 anniversary season, the NHRA selected him as the 3rd greatest racer in the history of the world’s fastest motor sport. Always accessible to his many fans, when asked to name their favorite Don Prudhomme car, many mention his Army cars. No drag racer wanted to see any of them pull up to the starting line. The Snake earned his nickname with his always quick reaction time to the green light used on the Christmas Tree to start a race.
Army sponsorship hasn’t been confined to the 2 wheel nitro cars. At the start of the 2003 season they supported the Pro Stock motorcycles of Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing for 5 years. Angelle, a registered emergency room nurse in her native Louisiana earned 3 world championships during her career. She is the most successful female racer in NHRA history. After finishing the motorcycle chapter of his career, Antron switched to Top Fuel racing. They are the fastest accelerating cars in the world. With his first win in that category, he became the only racer to have national event wins in Pro Stock motorcycle and Top Fuel dragster.
Beginning with the 2000 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher has driven the Army sponsored Top fuel dragster. In that class, he and his Army Strong team have earned the most wins in NHRA history. His 7 world championships are unparalleled. Consecutive world titles from 2004 to 2009 indicate the domination he has held in Top Fuel racing. His 2011 car was memorable. A side panel near the driver cockpit featured photos of Vietnam veterans taken during their service there. As a Vietnam veteran and Top Fuel fan, it was one of my favorite cars.
Although it was not sponsored by a branch of the military, the War Veterans Welcome Home Top Fuel dragster driven by second generation racer Melanie Troxel is easily one of my favorite cars. During the October 2011 race in Las Vegas I told her how much I liked that car and she said “It’s one of my favorites, too”. My wife and I were in Pomona, CA when it made its debut. Seeing a 300 MPH salute to veterans was memorable.