LOOKING AHEAD TO 2022: AN INTERVIEW WITH DON SCHUMACHER
This season will be drastically different for Don Schumacher, the winningest team owner in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Just five seasons ago, Schumacher entered the 2017 season with eight teams. When the season kicks off next month in Pomona, Schumacher will roll through the gates with just one professional team, the one driven by his son Tony Schumacher.
Schumacher addresses the downsizing in this exclusive interview with CompetitionPlus.com editor Bobby Bennett. He also reflects on his successful run as a mega-team owner and his time in the sport as a drag racer.
Schumacher also looks ahead to the landscape of his team and if he plans to reexpand or remain as he is now in this first interview ahead of the 2022 season.
BOBBY BENNETT: Don, I guess this season with Tony being the only driver on your team, it's going to be like a bit of deja vu back to the late 1990s. Isn't it?
DON SCHUMACHER: Well, I also have two or three Factory Shootout cars, and we will see what else transpire as we go forward. I am very intimately involved with the NAPA team with Ron Capps and that whole operation there and involved with Antron and supplying parts to a lot of the other teams, including Tony Stewart's teams with Leah and Matt Hagan. So it's going to be a different year, but a very exciting year,
BB: I guess you could kind of say like Don Schumacher Racing has transformed from mega team to mothership, right?
DS: Well, I wouldn't know what a kind of name to put on it, but I'm doing my best to add to the sport, and by adding Tony back in in a Top Fuel car, that'll be another team out there besides the teams that were present last year. Hopefully, there's going to be some other additions to the field and strengthen both Top Fuel and Funny Car, but time will tell. And I'm filled with having the Maynard family, Scags professional lawnmowers on board and, Okuma, CMC equipment on board with Tony, plus some other sponsors that we will be announcing here in the next few weeks. So, mothership, I don't know if I would call it that, but I'm certainly looking forward to working with many of the fuel teams out there in many ways.
BB: Not that you didn't have managing up to eight or 80 million Top Fuel teams under one umbrella down to a science; is there some part of you that believes this year is going to be somewhat less stressful on you?
DS: Oh, it'll be less stressful on me for sure. You know, at my age and things that have transpired with drivers forming their own teams and such, it'll reduce a lot of my day-to-day pressures to keep everything going in the ways that they have in the past. A lot of that responsibility has now been transferred to other people, and I'm there to assist them in any way that's necessary, but it doesn't require me being actively doing it. I'll be intimately involved with the whole Tony car, Maynard, Scag, Okuma, and see how we can grow that operation and go forward from there. But it's going to be a different year for me. And I'm looking very forward to it.
I still maintain relationships, and I would like to offer my condolences to Dickie Venables and his family on the passing of his father this last week.
My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.
BB: The whole downsizing, wasn't this part of a bigger plan that you had your hand in every bit of it. It was just part of your plan eventually, wasn't it? So, it wasn't like all of this was hostile.
DS: I wouldn't know how to really explain the steps that took place and the plans that were put in place with Antron. Things just transpired and changed and went forward in different ways with different people. Some of it was planned and some of it was unplanned. But I'm certainly looking forward to 2022 season and see how everything works out.
BB: So, I come to Don Schumacher with $5 Million, and I say, "I want to drive a Funny Car." Are you going to find me a place?
DS: As long as you give me about two or three weeks to get it done, we can get her done.
BB: So, basically, you're still open for business if somebody wants to field a team under your umbrella?
DS: Yeah, I am still open for business. My heart is in NHRA; my involvement has been in NHRA for a lot, a lot of years. I won my first NHRA U.S. Nationals in 1970 and ran in the first Funny Car season back in 1969. So, I've been involved for a lot, a lot of years, and I look forward to the involvement that I'll have in '22.
BB: I guess seeing your teams that you had cultivated for years going off, I guess for lack of a better word, satellite operations, I guess that had to give you mixed feelings of happiness that you built such a program and sad to see that they're off doing their own thing?
DS: I have to agree with what you're saying there. It certainly has given me mixed emotions. I can't say that I'm sad. I built successful teams with successful drivers and successful crew chiefs, and I certainly hold out the hopes that all of those successes will continue.
BB: Now we were watching a video of you, a dashing young man, wrenching on a funny car back in 1974. And let's say that Don Schumacher could go back in time and speak to that younger Don Schumacher. What advice would you give him?
DS: Live your life to the fullest, enjoy it as much as you can, take on every challenge that's put in front of you, put your head down, work longer and harder than your competition, and you'll win out.
BB: Could you ever see drag racing not being in your life?
DS: That's an impossible question to answer. I thoroughly enjoy NHRA drag racing. I thoroughly enjoy my grandchildren, my children, the rest of my life, and other sporting activities and such. And I stepped away from drag racing in the middle '70s and didn't come back until the late '90s. And I can't say that I missed it, or it tore at me that I wasn't actively out there racing.
You take the challenges that are presented to you and you work as hard as you can at them and continue to go forward, and if that includes NHRA drag racing, I will be there doing the very best I can possibly do. But I'm certainly not going to have it overwhelm my life if, for some reason, I step away from it because of health, financial, family, or any other reasons.
BB: When you launched the team with Tony in the late 1990s, did you have any inclination of what it would grow into, or was that part of the master plan?
DS: Never had a master plan back then. All I wanted to do was put Tony in a safe race car and go out and set records and win championships. And the other parts of it happened because of what the team accomplished and what we were able to do. It grew very quickly to what it became, and I'm thrilled that that transpired. It certainly had its challenges as it went along. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, and a lot of financial commitment to build teams and run race teams. You learn that as they go along.
BB: What is the biggest lesson you've learned in all of your years of drag racing here?
DS: Keep your head up high, always do what you feel is right, don't let the competition or anybody push you down because you're doing what you want to do and you're doing it the right way.