Don Schumacher had no intention of returning to drag racing when he left the sport in 1974 to focus on his young family and expanding Schumacher Electric Corporation near his hometown of Chicago
By then, he already had carved a niche in the growing form of motorsports as a pioneer in the marketing and safety of the new Funny Car drag racing category by competing nearly year-round throughout the country with a focus on guaranteed-pay match races.
After a 23-year hiatus from racing, Don returned with his son Tony Schumacher and began building what has become a drag racing dynasty.
As a driver/crew chief/owner, Don won five NHRA national event titles, including the 1970 U.S. Nationals, through 1974. Since his return as an owner in 1997, Don has extended his resume through 2014 to include 13 NHRA world championships. Don Schumacher Racing won its 200th event title on April 7, 2013.
DSR closed out 2015 with 267 NHRA Wally trophies and another world championship, and through 22 of 24 events in 2016 the total of event titles reached 292.
During the 2015 Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, he was honored with the “Mopar President’s Award,” a special honor to reward the outstanding contributions by a brand ambassador who upholds the qualities and values that add to Mopar’s legacy and reputation. Two months later he was inducted into the Maple Grove Raceway Walk of Fame near Reading, Pa.
His lofty on-track accomplishments and contributions to racing is why he also was selected for induction on May 2, 2013, into the prestigious International Motorsports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 along with NASCAR stalwarts Rusty Wallace, Rick Hendrick and Dale Inman.
Don, who will be 73 on Nov. 2016, is the 11th member of the drag racing community to be enshrined in the Hall since it opened in 1990 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. He joins such drag racing luminaries as NHRA founder Wally Parks (1992), Don Garlits (1997), Don Prudhomme (2000), Shirley Muldowney (2004), Bob Glidden and Joe Amato (2005), Warren Johnson (2007), Bill Jenkins (2008), and John Force and Kenny Bernstein (2012).
Don’s overall body of work in drag racing earned him selection on the first ballot by an international panel of motorsports journalists.
His mantra as a racer and businessman, who built Schumacher Electric into the world’s leading manufacturer of battery chargers, has been consistent: The harder you work, the luckier you get.
Don, nicknamed “The Shoe” early in his career, was at his driving zenith in the early 1970s.
The 2007 inductee into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame is remembered for an unequaled record in special events by winning about 70 percent of 560 match races from 1968 to 1974. He also won 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.
As an owner and crew chief, his engine, clutch and aerodynamic advancements made his Funny Cars among the leading performers in the first decade of “floppers.”
Don assembled a Top Fuel team for son Tony Schumacher in September 1998, and in its first full-time season the following year it delivered the first of 13 NHRA season titles to DSR 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 longest-running and most successful sponsorships in motorsports.
In addition to Tony’s eight championships, DSR has added five more with current drivers Matt Hagan (Funny Car in 2011, 2014), Antron Brown (Top Fuel in 2012), Jack Beckman (Funny Car in 2012) and former driver Gary Scelzi (Funny Car in 2005).
DSR is the only organization to have won national event titles in each of NHRA’s four professional categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. DSR also is the only organization to win two NHRA world championships in the same season in Top Fuel and Funny Car (2005, 2012, 2014).
Midway through the 2016 season, he added a fourth Top Fuel dragster team for driver Leah Pritchett.
Although Don focuses on winning events and championships, safety always has been his highest priority.
When Don was driving, he contributed cutting-edge safety innovations for the full-bodied Funny Cars including a roof-mounted escape hatch that allowed drivers to quickly exit when all-too-frequent fires occurred. He also was the first to mount the lever to activate a fire suppression system on his Funny Car’s brake handle so the driver could apply both while keeping one hand on the butterfly steering wheel.
Three years ago, he began helping to fund a project to develop a protective, enclosed canopy for Top Fuel dragsters with U.S. Army crew chief Mike Green and James Brendel, who owns Hondo Boats and Brendel Safety Capsules in Riverside, Calif.
The concept first was tested in January 2011 on Tony’s dragster then improved a year later and approved for use in competition by NHRA in August 2012. The canopy, which is manufactured and sold through Indianapolis-based Aerodine Composites, debuted a few days later at the NHRA event at Brainerd, Minn. The 2013 season began with canopy units on each of three DSR Top Fuel Dragsters and two years later three other teams were using the safety device.
DSR NHRA world championships - 14
Tony Schumacher 8 (Top Fuel, 1999, 2004-09, 2014)
Matt Hagan 2 (Funny Car, 2011, 2014)
Antron Brown 2 (Top Fuel, 2012, 2015)
Jack Beckman 1 (Funny Car, 2012)
Gary Scelzi 1 (Funny Car, 2005)
Don’s 5 NHRA National Event Funny Car driving titles
1973-1: DON def. Kenny Bernstein, Pomona
1972-2: DON def. Al Marshall, Grandnational; def. Ed McCulloch, Englishtown
1971-1: DON def. Kelly Brown, Springnationals
1970-1: DON def. Leroy Goldstein, Indy
(through Oct. 16, 2016)
Top Fuel 137
Funny Car 134
Pro Stock 3
Pro Stock Motorcycle 18
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