BRISTOL — He has been called the Rick Hendrick of the National Hot Rod Association, but the comparison with NASCAR’s top car owner doesn’t give Don Schumacher credit for all his roles in drag racing.
Schumacher, 66, owns cars driven by his son, Tony, a seven-time Top Fuel champion, and other Top Fuel pilots Spencer Massey and Antron Brown.
In fact, Schumacher owns seven NHRA teams in the nitro divisions. Heading into this weekend’s U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, his cars have collected 154 career wins, 314 final-round appearances and eight World Championships.
However, prior to becoming drag racing’s top car owner, Schumacher was a pioneering driver.
“I still can remember the first national race I ever won, an AHRA event at Long Island, N.Y.,” said Schumacher, a 1997 inductee into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. “Then, I remember winning Indy in 1970 and running the IHRA events down at Bristol. I just remember those days as traveling the country and living the life.”
As a Funny Car driver at Bristol Dragway, Schumacher took back-to-back wins in 1971-72 at the IHRA Spring Nationals and later added a win at the All-American Nationals.
“I always enjoyed coming to Bristol and racing,” he said. “It was a great organization to race for when Larry Carrier ran the IHRA. The facility was one of the best in the United States like it still is, and the competitors were wonderful down here. I have nothing, but, positive memories of Bristol Dragway.”
He also was a five-time winner on the NHRA circuit, driving a Plymouth to top honors at the U.S. Nationals in 1970.
The Chicago native, who added the AHRA World Championship to his resume’ in 1973, was noted for piloting the famous “Stardust” Funny Cars as well as a Chevrolet Vega dubbed the “Wonder Wagon.”
More than 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.
“In ‘73, I was driving a Camaro with a real low profile,” he explained. “We put side windows in it for aerodynamics. The way we used to get out of the Funny Car was through the side window.
“How I was going to get out it was a real question. With the escape hatch, it was for two reasons, so I could see out of it better and the biggest reason for safety. The last thing I wanted to do was to have my behind sitting in something on fire. That was the quickest way and the safest way to get out of it.”
Retiring from racing in 1974, Schumacher enjoyed great success as a businessman in the automotive world. His family business, Schumacher Electric Corp., remains one of the world’s leading manufacturers of battery chargers.
“I never dreamed when I stepped out of drag racing that we would grow to the degree we are today,” Schumacher said. “We have over 2,000 employees in the United States, in Mexico and in China.”
He returned to racing in 1998 as a car owner for his son during an abrievated season. They ran full-time in ‘99, a year when Tony Schumacher won his first Top Fuel World Championship.
Building on that success, Don Schumacher also ran teams in the Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks from 2003-09.
Overall, the DSR empire has accounted for 157 No. 1 qualifying efforts and 17 finishes in the top two of the NHRA point standings.
“I’ve been blessed with both Schumacher Electric and with racing,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed with the success I’ve had.”