Drag Illustrated Issue 178, September / October 2022 | Page 80



■ The Maynard Family Racing team ( JCM ) announced today that crew chief Phil Shuler has joined the Tony Schumacher-piloted Top Fuel operation in an official capacity . The news shouldn ’ t come as a major surprise for NHRA fans , who may have noticed Shuler ’ s presence on the starting line and in Schumacher ’ s pit for the last several events . Prior to Wednesday ’ s announcement , Shuler had been lending his knowledge and serving as an extra set of eyes since temporarily joining the JCM / DSR camp for the Sonoma , Calif . event in July when crew chief Todd Okuhara was sidelined due to COVID . Shuler then continued on with the team as they raced to victory near Seattle at the NHRA Northwest Nationals , and remained onboard for the Topeka , Kansas outing and runner-up finish in Brainerd , Minn . last weekend .
The initial plan was for Shuler to join JCM crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant crew chief Marc Denner on a temporary basis , but after seeing how well the trio has worked together and the team ’ s recent uptick in performance , the decision was made to bring Shuler in-house as a full-time team member
and serve as co-crew chief alongside Okuhara as the crew prepares for their 2022 Countdown to the Championship title campaign .
“ The addition of Phil to our team became a must-do as I watched the brain trust of Todd , Phil , and Marc work with Tony and our crew to attain the victory in Seattle and continue with performance improvements since that race . Cathi ( Maynard ) and I are excited to know we have our team set !” said JCM team owner Joe Maynard following the group ’ s second final round appearance in three events .
As a tuning duo , Okuhara and Shuler have a long history in the nitro ranks . The drag racing veterans worked together from 2003 to 2006 at Don Prudhomme ’ s operation before joining Don Schumacher Racing in 2006 , where they collaborated on Jack Beckman , Gary Scelzi , Jerry Toliver , Cory McClenathan , and Spencer Massey ’ s cars through 2016 . Ahead of the 2017 season , Okuhara was named crew chief on Leah Pruett ’ s machine , and Shuler joined the U . S . Army team where he served as assistant crew chief of the Schumacher-driven dragster .
Shuler ’ s tenure on the Army car marked his first time working with the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history , and he was an integral part of the team ’ s second-place finish in 2018 .
“ After the 2019 season , I stepped away from nitro racing to work on Pro Mods , but I ’ m happy to be back out on the NHRA circuit full-time again and reunite with Todd and Tony ,” said Shuler , who has made a career out of straight-line racing for the past 24 years , including working in a variety of ‘ chief ’ roles for the last twenty . “ Todd and I have a long history together , and Tony and I worked together for a few years on the Army car . This is my first time working with Marc Denner , and I think our group has found a good balance as far as how we all complement each other .
“ For me , being away from fuel racing for two years allows me to look at things differently and bring a different perspective ,” he continued . “ You learn things from other forms of racing such as Pro Modifieds , Drag Radial , and Outlaw cars , that applies to nitro racing .”
For Schumacher , an 86-time
event champion who is gearing up to make a run for a ninth Top Fuel championship title , the addition of Shuler appears to perfectly round out his crew chief lineup .
“ They just work well together , plain and simple ,” said Schumacher of the Okuhara / Shuler combination . “ On their own , they ’ re both great , but when they are able to collaborate , they ’ re even better . It ’ s clear our team has been making big strides as of late , and I feel good about the direction we ’ re headed in .
“ Drag racing comes down to being on your game at the right time , that ’ s why you always hear people say you ’ ve got to get hot at the right time , and I think we ’ re only just beginning to demonstrate what we ’ re capable of , performance-wise ,” added Schumacher , who has vaulted from 12th in points up to eighth since Sonoma , and has put himself back into the title hunt conversation . “ We have the capability to run right up there with the top-ranked cars in the category , and I feel good about our abilities to keep this momentum rolling into the Countdown . I ’ m very happy with our current Todd-Phil- Marc arrangement .”
80 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 178