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Schumacher named Thunder Valley legend

June 15th, 2014 3:48 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Schumacher named Thunder Valley legend

BRISTOL — Don Schumacher was named to the Legends of Thunder Valley on Sunday celebrating his history both as a championship-winning driver and car owner.

Prior to becoming one of the most successful car owners in NHRA history with 11 World Championships and 225 national-event wins, Schumacher was a pioneer driver.

His victories included back-to-back wins in 1971-72 in the IHRA Spring Nationals at Bristol Dragway. He later added a win at the All-American Nationals. 

“Those were fun, fun times,” said Schumacher, now 69. “We ran around this country like a bunch of gypsies. Today, we run around like a bunch of professionals, but things are similar. The euphoria of the wins are still great and the disappointment of the losses, you look to next weekend. But, those were special times.” 

The owner of three Top Fuel teams with his son Tony, along with Spencer Massey and Antron Brown as drivers and four Funny Car teams with Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr., Schumacher was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame last year and the Drag Racing Hall of Fame back in 1997. Still, he was humbled by the latest honor at a track where his son, Tony, is a five-time winner of the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals. 

“It’s just remarkable to be honored the way I have been with the two previous ones based on drag racing,” Schumacher said. “But, this one here at Larry Carrier’s facility he created, to have my name up there with his, that’s really special.”

Schumacher raced in all the major drag racing organizations of the day. He was a five-time winner on the NHRA circuit, driving a Plymouth to victory at the 1970 U.S. Nationals.

He added the AHRA World Championship to his resume’ in 1973 and drove the famous “Stardust” Funny Cars as well as a Chevrolet Vega dubbed the “Wonder Wagon.”

Besides performance, Schumacher was credited with many safety advancements. His innovations like roof-mounted escape hatches reduced the threat of fire-related injuries at a time when many Funny Car drivers suffered serious burns.

He retired as a driver in 1974 to concentrate on the family business, Schumacher Electric Corporation, which he built into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of battery chargers with over 2,000 employees in the United States, Mexico and China.

Schumacher returned to the sport in 1998 as the owner of his son’s Top Fuel team. They ran full-time the following year as Tony Schumacher won the first of his seven Top Fuel World Championships. 

He points to two years ago when his son and Capps won in Top Fuel and Funny Car at the Thunder Valley Nationals on the same day as his best moment as a car owner. Still, he goes back to the driver’s seat as the one he will never forget.

“My double-up win out here, that was a special, special one,” he said. “But, I have to say my first national win out here when I was driving was the win I remember the most.”

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