Tony Schumacher Part 1 of 2 Tony Schumacher could quite possibly be the busiest driver in the NHRA. He lives and breathes racing. When he isn't at the track, the driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster is making appearances for his ...
Part 1 of 2
Tony Schumacher could quite possibly be the busiest driver in the NHRA. He lives and breathes racing. When he isn't at the track, the driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster is making appearances for his sponsor. Those appearances, by the way, include going to military bases around the nation, shooting weapons and taking rides in Black Hawk helicopters. When the 1999 Top Fuel champion isn't learning the various duties of today's soldiers, he is speaking to thousands of kids - another duty attached to his U.S. Army sponsorship deal. Schumacher wouldn't have it any other way. Going into the Craftsman 75th Anniversary Nationals at Route 66 Raceway this weekend, the Chicago resident is third in points with two victories this season. In this Q&A session, Schumacher talks about driving the most patriotic race car in the NHRA, whether he thinks the team can repeat as champions and what his relationship is like with team owner and father, Don Schumacher.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
Schumacher: I would have to say the fans. Being in this position, you get to meet a lot of people. I have always been a people-person and I like being around people. No matter what job I will ever have, even if it had been something other than driving a race car, I would always be around people. I get to do something that is totally intense and something I love to do. Very few people get a chance to do that. Not very many people get paid to do something that they would do for free. When I wake up in the morning, I am a very happy person. I love my job. On the days that I am not at the race track, I am thinking about what I need to do when I get there. I love racing. There are not many days where I would rather be doing something else.
Q: What would you be doing if you weren't driving a Top Fuel car?
Schumacher: People ask me that all the time and I tell them that I would be a fireman. We own a company, with Schumacher Electric Corp., which makes it very hard to say that I wouldn't go do that. I am just saying that if I didn't have the position I do and if I had to make a choice out of anything in the world, I think almost absolutely I would be a fireman. It is a team deal, it is very intense and it is life-saving. You can save lives.
Q: How big was the recent win at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals?
Schumacher: It was huge. That was an incredible win. We've done it three years in a row for this program. The Army team took the win in 2000 and Whit (Bazemore and the Matco Tools Funny Car team) took it last year for Don Schumacher Racing and then we grabbed another Top Fuel win there this year. That is a big race. Not only that, but you couldn't have written a better script. It worked out better for our team than anyone. We had Vice Chief of Staff/Gen. John Keane there, we had Lt. Gen. Dennis Cavin there. We also had Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle there. We had a two-star, a three-star and a four-star general there. We had so many people there, right from the Pentagon to make sure that the money being spent and the team effort was there. They want to make sure they have the right guy and the right team for the job. Everyone of them walked out of there with a big smile and they all said they couldn't have picked a better team. To us, that meant a lot. These are great men. They truly are men of honor. They have been there, done that. It was nice to see them come out there and agree that the NHRA is clearly the place for them to be.
Q: The team won the February race in Phoenix, but have had some difficulties getting back into winner's circle ever since. Was the Indy win critical?
Schumacher: It was very timely. We just switched to a new car in Brainerd. (Crew chief) Dan Olson had said we needed a new car for a long time but when a car is not running up to the level of performance you expect it to be, it is easy to come up with reasons why. Right then and there, Dan proved that what he said was right. We all put faith in the team and the crew chief, but it is nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel come through. Every now and then you have to see that happen. It was one of those deals where we got through last year, which was brutal. We got through it and none of our guys left because we are a great team of people. That's a team. We took adversity and strangled it. We said 'no problem, we can get through this together,' and we are. We went out and won Indy after we got pummeled all year.
Q: How did the U.S. Army deal come about? When did it happen?
Schumacher: It was in 2000 and I was driving for Exide, which was great. We didn't know it was the Army, but we knew there was a great corporation that was looking to come into the NHRA. They were looking for a team, whether it was in Top Fuel or Funny Car, and they made their choice to go with Top Fuel. You look at it now, and I have had tons of fans say the same thing, I can't believe the other branches aren't out here. I have to explain to people that we have the exclusive on recruiting on site, but this is still the absolute perfect market for them. They had to get it passed through Congress to let them spend money on racing. That was very impressive. They got it passed through Congress in 1999 to try this out for five years. They got it passed, and then they went out looking for a team. You have to remember they went looking in NASCAR, IRL, everything. They had a specific amount of money and they wanted to reach the most people, not just through advertising. They can run a commercial if they want to do that. They wanted to talk to the greatest amount of people and answer their questions.
Q: What do you like most about being attached to the U.S. Army name?
Schumacher: Everything. There isn't anything bad about it; it's incredible especially since everyone is so patriotic, now more than ever. We've had the chance to do a lot of things with them. We have been able to jump with the Golden Knights. They are a partner unlike most. They spend as much time helping me and teaching me as I have done helping them get recruits. I have been in the Black Hawks, I have driven tanks, been in flight simulators, shot weapons at Fort Benning, been to Fort Carson with world-class athletes, been to West Point, been to the Pentagon and every place we go, we meet incredible people. Those people are all about teamwork and that has helped me with what I do. I drive a race car and that is all about 100 percent team effort. That is exactly what the Army is about. It's a great tie-in.
Q: As part of the Youth and Education Services (Y.E.S.) program, you regularly speak to kids at various schools across the nation. You talk about jobs at the track and teamwork in general. Do you like talking to the kids?
Schumacher: I love it. I have a blast. They are just starting out. How many people in the world think, 'If I could just go back 10 years, I would do something different' or something like that? It's great to be able to give a little guidance because there are so many people who think they would have done something different or at least tried something different if they could have. I get the chance to get up there, and tell them all how much I love my job and give them a little bit of encouragement. I tell them that if they want to do something, they can. People see race car drivers and race teams as the impossible. They think they could never get there and that's not true at all. Every one of us got here. All of us. I don't know how many thousands of people get to race in the NHRA. Not Top Fuel, but just all around. We all started out somewhere. Not a single one of us just jumped right into a Top Fuel car. So it's nice to tell the kids that if they put their mind to it and surround themselves with the right people, you can get wherever you want to go. Nothing can stop you.
Q: You also speak to hundreds of people at the track each weekend. These people have signed up for the Army and are getting ready to leave for boot camp. What do you think they get out of participating in the programs?
Schumacher: They are getting ready to go away to basic (training) and they come out to the track, come into the Army pit area and listen to various people talk. They are getting ready to leave and they are getting nervous. They are thinking they are in the Army for four years and all they are going to do is crawl around in the mud and that is not at all what it is about. We say that it is an 'Army of One' and that means that I do my job. I am a specialist at driving. I don't know the clutch, so we have a clutch specialist. We have guys who do the bottom-end, the right side of the engine, the left side, the crew chief. Everyone has a specialty. All of us together, we are all individually an Army of One, but we all have a common goal, and that is winning races and winning a championship. The recruits come in and they get to watch the team work on the car before each round and they can see something they want to be a part of. This is a great team to watch. The recruits are going to be part of a much bigger team, but still, this is a place where they can see individuals make up a team, that make up an even bigger team, the NHRA. We have had incredible success at keeping the people in the programs that might have dropped out before even going off to basic. We get them in the boots and off to basic to at least try it. That is something because it is going to change some of their lives forever.
Tony Schumacher press conference, part II