TONY SCHUMACHER OPENS UP ABOUT HIS SITUATION
Tony Schumacher, the eight-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, certainly isn’t enjoying his involuntary break from the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. He isn’t satisfied that he’s sitting out at this weekend’s Lucas Oil Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., and watching his qualifying streak (second in the NHRA pro ranks) end at 366 races.
However, he said his desire to find the right sponsor – one that will be a perfect fit for him and Don Schumacher Racing, like the U.S. Army was for the past 19 years – is greater than his craving to make more passes in a Top Fuel dragster.
“The business-to-business [aspect] is the most important part of it. It’s the reason I’m here. I don’t get to just send a car down the racetrack. I’m not here to show off. What we do is make businesses grow. That’s why these companies are here. We help Matco recruit people. We help them get people in those trucks and on the road. We help NAPA sell stuff and grow their business. Then we work with them together. So whoever steps in and does this contract will be privy to Shell and Dodge and Mopar and NAPA and Matco. It just takes somebody who says, ‘I never thought of it that way. I thought it was just about racing.’ We’re on the track, literally, for six minutes a year – it’s the fastest sport in the world. But the build-up is what it’s about, the business part of it. That’s what we’re all about,” he said of the Don Schumacher Racing mission.
Some observers have been puzzled that his father and boss of the NHRA’s largest team doesn’t brand the car himself. Don Schumacher, a racer at his peak in the 1970s, has made it clear that he returned to the sport in the late 1990s because he wanted to make sure his son had safe equipment. Today both the driver and DSR are operating at an elite level, one that’s about giving and facilitating and not simply taking money. And that, the champion said, is why they’re seeking the right marketing partner.
And for them, it’s not about the son raiding his father’s wallet.
Tony Schumacher said, “I’ve had lots of people say, ‘Why don’t you put Schumacher on the race car?’ That’s not what it’s about. It’s not about sending a car down the racetrack. It’s about the partnership. Bringing a car out here and sending it down the track will just show everyone that ‘Eh – he’ll do it. He’ll be fine.’ We want to help people who haven’t been here get here. It’s good for the whole sport.”
Being associated with the U.S. Army for 19 years was an abundant and genuine blessing for Schumacher, but it also came with automatic limitations.
“For 19 years with the Army, we were unavailable,” he said. “Through those 19 years, many, many people came up and said, ‘Hey, we want to be on that car.’ And they couldn’t. The Army had specific restrictions on what was allowed.”
He had a message Saturday for those interested: “It’s a great car, an assembled machine, ready to go out and win Pomona, Phoenix, and the rest of them. And the people out there that have thought about racing, now’s the time. We are available.”
“The Yankees don’t come up for sale every day,” Schumacher said. “We’ve heard all too often, ‘the fiscal year . . . We want to do this, but . . .’ Well, let me explain how this works. When the Yankees pop up for sale, you may not have the budget set aside for the Yankees popping up – but you find it, because it’s not coming around for a long time. What’s going to happen is somebody’s going to pick up that team,” Schumacher said. “And whoever does it is going to get me for five years or longer. They’re not going to do a one- or two-year deal. This business-to-business deal that we do at DSR is second to none. If you want that opportunity, now is the time.”
When rumors and speculation turned to reality and no Tony Schumacher at the Winternationals, a sense of alarm arose – not just for Tony Schumacher but for DSR and the entire sport. The buzz became something along the lines of “What’s going to happen with DSR? Is Don going to leave the sport? If he leaves the sport, the whole NHRA is going to collapse.” Tony Schumacher had to assume the role of comforter, a reassuring leader in time of crisis. His nickname for almost two decades had been “The Sarge,” but he had to step up to be a general.
“Last year we had a bunch of sellout races. Viewership is up. This is not a panic thing. It literally just takes time,” he said. “It’s not a cheap sport. And I hope we’re not just going to randomly take whatever’s thrown at us. I like to pick the right thing. It’s important that the next thing, the next partnership, wants to be here. I want somebody I can be a team with.”
And he said he can’t wait to work again with his crew, which is in limbo for the moment.
Schumacher said, “I believe they would come back immediately, I would think. The ones I’ve talked to are, like, ‘We’re not trying to go anywhere. We want to be right here.’ We need to get a deal before we lose some of the best guys that have ever been assembled in a team. We can’t just sit around and keep them from doing what they love to do. No one’s going to sit around and not work. But I believe they’re a very, very loyal team. They stuck with us through the last two months of knowing we don’t have the Army anymore. And they still were there. Love ’em. Love the guys. Really enjoyed working with them. The guys worked incredibly hard to make the car better than it was last year. They worked too hard to go and work somewhere else and have to race against the car they prepared. I’m hoping we can find us a deal soon.
“We have to get somebody out there who says, ‘We’re committed. We’re going to do this,’ And then we can grab those guys [again]. There’s no right answer, he said. “We’re all walking this line of ‘We don’t want to do this [sit out]’ but ‘Got to find a deal.’”
Mike Neff and Phil Shuler, co-crew chiefs for Schumacher, are at Auto Club Raceway this weekend, available for consultation with the active DSR teams.
Schumacher took it upon himself last week to dismiss rumors that he would retire. He said Saturday, “You don’t want people to start to think that. I’m going to be doing this for a long, long time. I love what I do. I love that part of it. People say, ‘You could do some media. Why don’t you do that?’ I love that, and in the future, I’ll maybe do some TV stuff. But right now, I drive the car as well as I’ve ever driven the car. We finished No. 2 to a guy [Steve Torrence] who had a phenomenal year, a Schumacher-style year, and guy [Clay Millican] who had a fantastic year.”
He mentioned that he’d like for a new marketing partner to emerge “hopefully in the next week or two.” But in no way did he hint a deal is imminent or imply that he’s a week or two – or a race or two – away from being back on the track. Even months ago, Schumacher laughed and predicted that when an agreement is reached, his father would announce it before he tells him.
In the meantime, Schumacher, who last was sidelined with a DNQ at Topeka in 2003, is staying positive.
“I’ve got three beautiful, healthy kids. There’s bigger things out there. I don’t want to sit for a minute, not because of the money. It’s because this is my life and passion,” he said. “And I don’t want to miss a moment of it.”
How many more moments he might miss is the question.