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 2016 to include 16 NHRA world championships. Don Schumacher Racing won its 200th event title on April 7, 2013.
DSR closed out 2016 with two more world championships, and its total of event titles won reached 293 after winning 26 times and setting 27 of a possible 42 NHRA track records in nitro categories. DSR starts 2017 holding three of four NHRA world records in nitro.
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, 72, 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. His 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.
In addition to DSR’s prowess at the racetrack, its list of marketing partners grows in 2017 to include Papa John’s Pizza corporation that joins longtime supporters U.S. Army, Matco Tools, NAPA AUTO PARTS and Chrysler’s Mopar and Dodge brands. Through innovative corporate hospitality programs and business-to-business opportunities, those major corporations have a combined 76 years with DSR.
In 2014, Don formed a partnership with New Mexico philanthropist and drag racing fan Terry Chandler in which she has funded two Funny Car teams with the sole purpose of supporting and benefitting the Make-A-Wish organization and Infinite Hero Foundation. These programs have raised awareness throughout the country for the worthy organizations, hosted hundreds of Wish families and soldiers who returned home from service with physical or psychological maladies and has raised more than $500,000 for Infinite Hero.
Don also has guided the expansion of Don Schumacher Racing and Don Schumacher Motorsports, DSR’s manufacturing division, to major expansions throughout 2016. The headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind., about 10 miles west of Indianapolis, grew by 25,000 square feet to 145,000 square feet for its fleet of more than 20 tractor/trailers for eight race teams, show car and hospitality operations along with a fleet maintenance area.
The machine has nearly doubled in size in a year for the addition of nearly a dozen new high-tech computer assisted machining units and a conference center for partner Sandvik Coromant, the international leader in manufacturing of cutting tools and providing machining technology.
DSR employs more than 100 full-time, year-round employees.
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 nearly 600 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 in September 1998, and in its first full-time season the following year it delivered the first of 16 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 eight more with current drivers Antron Brown (Top Fuel in 2012, 2015, 2016), Matt Hagan (Funny Car in 2011, 2014), Ron Capps (2016), 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, 2016) and it’s done it four times.
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.
Six 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.