Don Schumacher – nicknamed “The Shoe” when racing – was at the top of his driving game in the 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 organized NHRA and other drag racing organizations.
A memorable win came in a 1970 Plymouth Funny Car when he earned the prestigious U.S. Nationals title.
As the sport reached its early stages of professional organization in the ’70s, Don won the 1972 Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars Championship for Funny Cars, five NHRA national event titles, nine International Hot Rod Association titles and the 1973 American Hot Rod Association World Championship.
During that era, his Plymouth Barracuda Funny Cars were sponsored by the fabled Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
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 was equally impressive.
His engine, clutch and aerodynamic advancements made his Funny Cars the leading performers. 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 brought a business-like approach to drag racing decades ahead of others.
In addition to his partnership with the Stardust, 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 traded hotel rooms, parts or food for putting logos on racecars.
But 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.
While his retirement surprised the drag racing community, it didn’t disappoint his on-track competitors.
Funny Car legends like Raymond Beadle in Texas, Pat Foster and Don Prudhomme in California and “Jungle Jim” Liberman in Pennsylvania might have been relieved but competitors of Schumacher Electric should have been alarmed.
Don approached the business with the same work ethic and professionalism that made him an innovative racing champion.
When he shifted focus to the business there were about 400 employees there.
Today, Schumacher Electric Corporation 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.
BACK ON TRACK
Don’s interest in drag racing returned when son Tony began racing NHRA sportsman cars in the early 1990s. Tony progressed from sportsman cars to a 300-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 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, Don Schumacher Racing – DSR – and Tony won the NHRA Winston Top Fuel 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 a decade of successes on and off the track for DSR, Tony and the team.
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.
Today, Don is joined at NHRA events by daughter Megan Fessel Schumacher. Megan is a college student and contributes a regular blog about DSR at shoeracing.com/blog.
THE LIST GROWS
Don’s organization at DSR has become the most creative in marketing and sponsor relations in drag racing.
At each of 23 NHRA national events held across the country, a hospitality staff including chefs caters to about 1,500 guests in major hospitality areas situated between DSR pit areas where drivers visit frequently.
In the past year, DSR has added a graphics department with an artist and the equipment to produce the colorful, vinyl decals seen on the 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.
This season that list of DSR partners includes: U.S. Army, Matco Tools, Aaron’s, FRAM/Prestone, NAPA AUTO PARTS, Valvoline NextGen, Service Central, Mopar, Freightliner, Oakley, Gates and Mail Terminal Services.
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