Getting a victory has U.S. Army team looking up

Our midseason two-week break is over and it's now time to get back to work.

The second half of the 2006 NHRA drag racing season begins this weekend with the Mopar Mile-High Nationals outside of Denver at Bandimere Speedway.

The Mopar Mile-High Nationals is the first of three races that comprises the NHRA's annual Western Swing, which also goes through Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., on successive weekends.

Traditionally, results posted during the Western Swing can make or break a team's season. It can also help separate the contenders from the pretenders for the world championship.

Last year, the U.S. Army Top Fuel team clearly used the Denver, Seattle and Sonoma events as a springboard to the title. Specifically, we won the race in Denver and then went to the finals in Seattle.

The U.S. Army team is heading for "Thunder Mountain" coming off a big win at St. Louis two weeks ago. It was the first time since the season finale in 2005 that we had visited Victory Lane.

It certainly took a while to get to Victory Lane, but the most important thing is we finally got there. Frankly, it was just a matter of time. Despite our first-half struggles, we knew we had a good race car. Now, we know we have an even better race car. As a result, I'm looking forward to getting to Denver.

During the opening 12 races, we faced plenty of adversity that kept us from performing at the level we were all used to. That being said, I have to credit my hard-working team for remaining focused throughout. Like our soldiers, the guys showed plenty of loyalty and they would never accept defeat. Collectively, we never gave up on one another.

With a half of a season to go, the immediate goal is to continue our rise up in the standings. Currently, we're in sixth and within serious striking distance of fourth. Ultimately, we would love to get close enough to challenge Melanie Troxel and Doug Kalitta for the top spot.

If there's a team that could knock off a bunch of wins in a row, it's the U.S. Army team. If we can accomplish that task, who knows where we might be by the time we get to Pomona, Calif., in November? So, stay tuned. You may be in for one big thrill ride the rest of the way.

With that, "The Sarge" has to pack his bags for a long, three-week journey. As always, I'd like to extend my usual group salute to all of you fans. Also, please remember to keep our soldiers close to your heart.

We'll be back with you again next week just before our stop at Pacific Raceways outside of Seattle. Until then, please stay well.

Three-time world champion Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher drives the U.S. Army-sponsored Top Fuel dragster in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and is providing a diary to ESPN.com during the 2006 season.