NHRA Drag Racing legend Don Schumacher dies at age 79

By | December 21, 2023

car September 26 Nhra Midwest Nationals

NHRA Drag Racing legend Don Schumacher dies at age 79Icon Sportswire – Getty Images

  • Don Schumacher, whose one-car team grew to as many as seven, orchestrated 367 event victories and 19 championships.

  • He started out as a competitive racer in the 1960s and 1970s and emerged not only as a major company owner, but also as a safety innovator, corporate giant and philanthropist.

  • His motivation for returning to the sport from corporate America in 1998, son Tony Schumacher still competes as the most successful Top Fuel driver with 86 wins.

Top Fuel CEO Antron Brown saw it in 2015, when his then Hall of Fame boss, Don Schumacher, returned to the drag strip after a brutal battle with head and neck cancer.

“This is the best therapy,” Brown said. “You can see the smile on his face and the joy in his heart for being a part of this sport of NHRA drag racing.”

Schumacher – the force behind the safety canopy for the 11,000-horsepower dragster and the roof hatch for Funny Cars in addition to his company’s 19 championships and 367 victories – said: “I am blessed with what I have achieved.”

But the retired business magnate who settled in Jupiter, Florida, was cursed with the return of his cancer earlier this year. He died on Wednesday at the age of 79 from complications of a months-long battle with lung cancer.

“I love what I do, and I will continue to do what I do,” Schumacher said in his 2015 rebound. “I am a businessman, and that is what I do. I love racing. I love the sport of NHRA. I love my companies. I love my family. I love what I do in life.”

Schumacher leaves a lasting legacy not only to the NHRA community, where he etched his name as one of the sport’s most successful team owners and champion for advancing safety innovation, but to the motorsports community as a whole. Schumacher’s contributions to the auto racing industry extend far beyond drag racing and are widely recognized.

In November 2022, Schumacher was honored at the NHRA Awards Ceremony, where he received the NHRA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in May 2013, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama. He also joined a prestigious list of straight-line racing legends when he was invited to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.

Schumacher was a fierce Funny Car match racer in the 1960s and 1970s who fielded multiple entries with top drivers to meet the demand for bookings of his Stardust Funny Cars. In the early 1970s, Schumacher left motorsport to grow the family business. Schumacher Electric. While operating Schumacher Electric, he grew the family business into a global company. Schumacher increased the company’s value tenfold and employed thousands of people around the world, from Mexico to China.

In 1998, he returned to NHRA Drag Racing to build a team with son Tony Schumacher. Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) made its competitive debut at the 1998 US Nationals in Indianapolis, and by the time the 1999 season was over, DSR had captured the first of nearly twenty championship titles. Soon after, the one-car team exploded into a multi-car powerhouse.

As patriarch of DSR, Schumacher was a force to be reckoned with. More than 25 drivers have raced for DSR. He created champions, introduced new personalities to the sport and was responsible for the revival of several careers. Schumacher is the only team owner to have victories in each of the NHRA’s four professional categories. He was also successful in the Factory Stock Showdown Series, winning the 2018 title in just his second year campaigning cars in the category.

“I work very closely with my crew chiefs and my assistant crew chiefs. I spend a lot of my time in the trailers. I certainly don’t tell them how to set up a car or what to do,” he said. not a ‘spidey sense’, not a ‘This feels good.’ It is my knowledge and experience of working with many people in many organizations throughout my career.

“In addition to drag racing, I have another 2,000 employees on the other side of my company. In any company you have to make decisions and look at the people who are there and come and move and make the decision to put the right people in the right place and to do the right thing at the right time. That is undoubtedly an unknown skill that I have been lucky with,” Schumacher said.

His teams earned 19 NHRA world championship titles and 367 “Wally” trophies, including the five he won while driving a Funny Car. During his own racing career, he contributed groundbreaking safety innovations to the new Funny Car category, including a roof-mounted escape hatch that allowed drivers to quickly get out when fires broke out all too often. He was also the first to install the lever that activated a fire suppression system on the brake lever of his Funny Car, allowing the driver to operate both while keeping one hand on the wheel.

As a team owner, he funded and led a project to develop a protective, enclosed canopy for Top Fuel dragsters, which has since been adopted by multiple NHRA teams.

Schumacher also planned to use his team’s fleet of racing cars to raise money and awareness for various charities. Each year prior to the US Nationals, DSR hosts a pre-race event at its headquarters in Brownsburg, Indiana to benefit the Riley Hospital for Children, and for seven seasons Schumacher, along with Terry and Doug Chandler, campaigned for “giving of cars’. The program allowed nonprofits such as the Infinite Hero Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation and MD Anderson Cancer Center to be recognized through a special tribute at no cost to the organization. The impact Schumacher had both on and off the track is undeniable.

In more recent years, Schumacher turned his focus to growing Don Schumacher Motorsports, better known as DSM Precision Manufacturing and DSR Performance. DSR Performance is considered one of the leading brands in racing technology and aftermarket parts in the sport. DSM Precision Manufacturing is a successful supplier of precision manufacturing for the motorsport, defense and aerospace industries. These entities will continue to honor Schumacher’s business legacy.

When Schumacher was not at a race track or leading his teams of employees, he enjoyed spending time with his children, grandchildren, fishing and golfing.

Although his ordeal with cancer did not diminish his grit and his aggressive competitive spirit, Schumacher made major concessions when he completed his radiation treatments: “I must say that I love more people today than before that diagnosis. There’s a lot more love coming out of me today than ever before.”

He still had his rivalries, most notably with sixteen-time champion and No. 1 nemesis on the circuit, John Force. However, Schumacher said: “It’s a very different picture of what life is really about. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s had cancer says it changes you… changes, really, your philosophy of life and people and friends and love. It changes what irritates and aggravates you, which is really pointless when you look at the grand scope of it,” Schumacher said. “Family and friends and the people you surround yourself with are really the most important.

And the sport loved him back.

Arrangements, including a celebration of life, will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

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