March 15, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Don Schumacher stood directly between his Top Fuel dragsters for the final race Sunday, trying not to show any favoritism.

He was in the ultimate no-lose situation.

It also was the first time in months Schumacher really was able to mentally leave his cancer behind.

Don Schumacher Racing swept the top two NHRA divisions at the Gatornationals, giving the car owner the perfect welcome back gift following cancer treatment.

''This was really a refreshing move for me to get back involved, not only in this but back in life,'' Schumacher said. ''I've been slashed and burned, and you just kind of deal with it from there. It's a barbaric way of treating a disease, but that's the best thing we have at this point.''

Spencer Massey won the Top Fuel division, edging DSR teammate Tony Schumacher in the final by covering the 1,000-foot track in 3.882 seconds and reaching 320.74 mph. Ron Capps won the Funny Car division by beating surprising finalist John Hale, the No. 15 qualifier. Capps covered the distance in 4.115 seconds and hit 311.05 mph.

''We won a lot of really special trophies,'' Capps said. ''This, having Don here, it was lot of incentive to get this win.''

Greg Anderson got the victory in Pro Stock, ending a 59-race drought with a 6.538-second run against Summit Racing teammate Jason Line. Anderson missed the first five events last season after undergoing heart surgery. Karen Stoffer won the Pro Stock Motorcycle division, the 198th victory by a woman in NHRA history. With one motorcycle and one engine, Stoffer's winning run against Eddie Krawiec took 6.9 seconds and reached 195.11 mph.

But most of the post-race conversation was about Schumacher, a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame who was one of the Funny Car pioneers. Schumacher has 13 NHRA championships and 245 event titles.

It was the 43rd Schumacher sweep of the NHRA's top two series, including his second this season. His son, Tony, and fellow DSR driver Matt Hagan won at Phoenix last month.

Don Schumacher missed that one after a serious health scare.

Schumacher went in for his annual physical in late November. Doctors discovered Stage 1 cancer in his tongue and neck. Schumacher had surgery a few days later that included the removal of a lymph node and then endured 31 radiation treatments, which ended Feb. 20.

Schumacher missed the season's first two races, Pomona and Phoenix, but was feeling good enough to travel to Gainesville.

And boy was it a worthwhile trip.

''Better every day,'' Schumacher said. ''Having cancer is a long-term battle and a long-term fight for anybody who has ever had it. It's fighting every day. I'm recovering. Things are good, it's going along. I'm looking to just continue on and do what I do.

''Coming out here this weekend, first time I've been out and about, this was really a refreshing move for me to come out and get back involved. Not only this, but back involved in life. It's really important for all of us to do that.''

Schumacher said he is cancer-free now after a ''humbling'' experience and looking forward to retaking control of his businesses. He stepped aside in November, not wanting to make any decisions that would affect his 2,200 employees while on pain medication.

His drivers welcomed his return.

''I want you to be at every race forever and ever,'' Massey told Schumacher. ''This is just amazing.''

Although three DSR entries and four of the top contenders reached the Top Fuel semifinals, the elimination rounds were filled with upsets - some stranger than others.

All three John Force Racing entries in Funny Car - Robert Hight, John Force and Courtney Force- exited in the first round. No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon lost in the second round.

And Matt Hagan lost for the first time since Nov. 2. He won the 2014 season finale and the first two races of this season.

Hagan was one of two defending series champs to get booted early. Pro Stock's Erica Enders-Stevens got sent home in the first round.

Of all the upsets, though, Matt Smith's had to be weirdest.

The Pro Stock Bike racer and No. 1 seed got to the starting line, cranked his engine and then saw pieces of a red shop towel spew out the exhaust. The two-time series champion, who was racing his teammate and wife, Angie, was angered by the error once he realized something in the engine was amiss.

He jumped off the bike and stormed away, leaving Angie to get an easy victory.

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