Don Schumacher has devoted much of his life over the past 50 years to drag racing and enjoyed a 2012 season like none other.
The pioneer of Funny Car racing guided two of his teams – Antron Brown in Top Fuel and Jack Beckman in Funny Car – to 2012 NHRA world championships that give him 11 prestigious world titles.
His teams combined to win an astounding 22 NHRA national event titles and DSR enters 2013 with 196 NHRA “Wally” trophies.
Adding even more luster to his resume, Don was selected for induction on May 2 into the 2013 class of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala.
It’s a long way from when Don worked on racecars in the garage behind his parent’s house near Chicago in the late 1960s.
Back then, he couldn’t have been happier and never imagined one day he would have an organization of 120 professionals working on his NHRA drag racing teams in a 120,000-square-foot shop he built in 2005 at Brownsburg, Ind., not far from Indianapolis.
As a racer and professional team owner beginning in the mid-1960s, Don was noted for the professional appearance of his crew and expanding to a fleet of Funny Cars with various drivers to take advantage burgeoning “match-racing” opportunities.
Don brought a business-like approach to drag racing decades ahead of others.
In addition to his partnership with the Stardust Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, he secured major sponsorship from Wonder Bread for a four-car fleet of Chevrolet Vega “Wonder Wagon” Funny Cars that sported paint schemes to mirror the red, yellow and blue balloons of the bread company’s wrappers.
It was in an era when most racers’ sponsorship programs traded hotel rooms, parts or food for putting logos on racecars.
Don was nicknamed “The Shoe” when at the top of his driving game in the early and mid-1970s.
As a driver, the 2007 inductee into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame is remembered for an unequaled record in match races across the country, as well as great success in NHRA and other drag racing organizations.
In addition to his success as a barnstorming Funny Car driver, Don won five NHRA national events including the prestigious 1970 U.S. Nationals. He won about 70 percent of 560 races from 1968 to 1974, the 1972 Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars Championship for Funny Cars, nine International Hot Rod Association event titles and the 1973 American Hot Rod Association World Championship.
Don and the Stardust regularly set records comparable to his best run in 1974 of 6.18 seconds at 241.95 mph. His record runs were set as far away as England when he was an international ambassador for the sport.
As a car owner, Don’s record is equally impressive.
His engine, clutch and aerodynamic advancements made his Funny Cars the leading performers in the first decade of the “floppers.” Others followed his cutting-edge safety innovations, like roof-mounted escape hatches that reduced the threat of fire-related injuries at a time when many Funny Car drivers suffered serious burns.
Don’s penchant for safety continues with the introduction of an enclosed, safety canopy introduced on son Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel dragster in 2012. The protective unit will be on each DSR dragster in 2013.
His retirement at the height of his career in 1974 surprised the drag racing community. Racing adversaries like Funny Car legends like Raymond Beadle in Texas, Pat Foster and Don Prudhomme in California and “Jungle Jim” Lieberman in Pennsylvania might have been relieved but competitors of Schumacher Electric should have been alarmed.
Don’s priorities shifted after the 1974 season. He had two children – 5-year-old Tony and 1-year-old Tara – with another daughter, Samantha, on the way.
His family’s business also needed his full-time involvement.
Don approached the family business with the same work ethic and professionalism that made him an innovative racing champion. His drag racing mantra of “the harder you work, the luckier you get” worked well for Schumacher Electric Corporation.
When he took the reins of Schumacher Electric, the business employed about 400. Today, Schumacher Electric employs about 2,000 worldwide and is the world’s foremost manufacturer of battery chargers. It also engages in designing and producing custom transformers for the electronics industry and its product lines include electronic assemblies, custom-built transformers, welders, specialty assemblies, toroidal products, linear power transformers, high frequency magnetics and welding accessories.
The company, which is headquartered in Mt. Prospect, Ill., has facilities in Matamoros, Mexico, and Wujiang, China.
Don began drag racing in 1963 with a street car at the U.S. 30 Drag Strip at Gary, Ind., but 11 years later he quit racing to focus on Schumacher Electric, which was founded in 1947 by his father, Al Schumacher, and Otto Woodward in Chicago.
In the mid-1990s, Don's interest in drag racing was peaked again when Tony began racing NHRA Sportsman cars in amateur events. After watching Tony's continued success at various levels, Don decided to re-enter the NHRA racing community as an owner and formed Don Schumacher Racing.
Tony progressed from sportsman cars to a 290-mph jet dragster and a 250-mph Alcohol Funny Car before spending 1997 driving the Peek Brothers’ Top Fuel Dragster.
With nitro pursing through his son’s veins, it wasn’t long until Don’s passion was rekindled. With Don’s business savvy and Tony’s exceptional driving and public relations talent, the Schumacher duo showed enormous potential.
A race team was assembled for Tony in 1998 and the team competed part-time in 13 NHRA events. In its first full year of racing in 1999 with major sponsorship from Exide Batteries, Tony gave his father and DSR its first NHRA season title when they won the NHRA Winston (now Mello Yello) Top Fuel world championship.
The following season, DSR partnered with the U.S. Army in what has been labeled one of the greatest sponsorships in NHRA history following more than a decade of success on and off the track for DSR, Tony and the Army. Four years later, the team delivered to the U.S. Army its first NHRA Top Fuel world title. Tony went on to win five more championships to culminate a run of six straight.
Don translated his business acumen to building a Top Fuel Dragster team for Tony and what would become the biggest team in professional drag racing. In addition to campaigning Tony’s U.S. Army dragster, DSR fielded six other NHRA professional teams in 2012. DSR has successfully fielded entries in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
DSR’s facility, about 15 miles from downtown Indianapolis and only few miles from the home of the NHRA U.S. Nationals, builds all of its race car chassis and houses a CNC and machine shop, fabrication shop, clutch shop and room for 14 18-wheel racecar transporters to pull inside. DSR currently makes nearly 200 parts for its racecars.
In addition to putting about 60 race team crew members on the road for each of 24 annual NHRA events, DSR also sends about 30 others including those who staff the hospitality operation with two 18-wheel hospitality units and a mobile catering kitchen. Enhancing sponsorship marketing is a fleet of show cars that traverse the country.
Don’s organization at DSR has become the most creative in marketing and sponsor relations in drag racing.
In 2012, DSR added a graphics department with an artist and the equipment to produce the colorful, vinyl decals seen on race cars and transporters. It also added a communications department with a focus on social media.
Don learned 40 years ago winning is only part of the equation in achieving success in racing. The expansion and championships are largely the result of having good marketing partners.
DSR and several other major drag racing teams are based in the growing town of Brownsburg, located about 15 miles west of Downtown Indianapolis, where its central location and moderate cost of living make in a very desirous location.
Close proximity to major motorsports equipment and service provides like Aerodine Composites, Impact by MasterCraft Safety, A.E.D. Motorsports Products, ProKote Indy, Midwest Performance Hardware and Spot On Control Cables also make Brownsburg a town of renown and center of the world’s fastest motorsport.
DSR was honored at the end of 2011 as the Top Business in Brownsburg for companies with 50 or more employees by the Brownsburg Chamber of Commerce
“DSR displays excellence, a drive to succeed and are willing to give back to the community,” said Brian Rose, executive director of the Brownsburg Chamber of Commerce.
Fans have two chances a year to see inside the magnificent DSR racing facility. DSR participates in the Brownsburg Open House Tours in May of each year, and also hosts a U.S. Nationals Open House to Benefit Riley Children's Foundation on the opening Friday of the U.S. Nationals.
The facility is closed to the general public, but tours for schools and organizations are available by appointment. Two public events are held annually.
Over the past seven years, DSR has raised more than $200,000 for the Riley Children’s Foundation through an annual bowling tournament and Open House on the first day of the NHRA U.S. Nationals over Labor Day Weekend near DSR headquarters.
“To reach $200,000 is a milestone,” said Mike Lewis, DSR senior vice president. “Our turnout of about 4,000 to 5,000 fans was our biggest crowd, the car show was the biggest we’ve ever had and we raised more money in one day than ever before.
“I can sum it up with two words: best ever.”
The eighth annual Don Schumacher Racing Open House is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 30, with a goal of topping the record-setting event in 2012.
The five-hour event will feature an autograph session with DSR’s professional NHRA drivers, tours of the spacious DSR speed factory, massive car show and motorsports art show. In 2012, a silent auction and other fundraising efforts generated more than $25,000 for Riley.
Money raised at the event, which is free to the public, goes to the Riley Children’s Foundation that supports Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Riley Hospital has served as Indiana’s only comprehensive children’s hospital since 1924.
Lewis added, “I’ve been in this community for over 17 years, and I’ve seen what Riley Hospital does; Riley makes miracles happen, they save the lives of young people.”
DSR has an on-going relationship the Motorsports Engineering program at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
IUPUI, located in Downtown Indianapolis, and DSR began collaborating in 2009 and major strides were made after one year with the development a new Top Fuel Dragster chassis that debuted in 2010 with what at the time was the quickest run ever at 3.752 seconds by former DSR driver Cory McClenathan.
In addition to offering the country’s only four-year motorsports engineering Bachelor’s degree, IUPUI in 2012 introduced a Master’s degree program with a motorsports concentration in January.
“There is such a great synergy between our program and DSR,” said Pete Hylton, director of motorsports for the IUPUI Motorsports Engineering program, "We see several areas where we can achieve mutual benefit for the team, the university, the students and the sport."
Don Schumacher added, “The future of our great sport of NHRA drag racing is not just in finding talented drivers but in cultivating mechanics, crew chiefs, machinists and engineers.
“Our wonderful relationship with IUPUI and its dedicated and intelligent faculty and students contributed to our DSR teams winning two NHRA world championships this season. And with the reciprocal relationship between IUPUI and DSR we hope to win more while keeping our drivers safe.”
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