Don Schumacher interview

Don Schumacher is all about business. He should be considering he has a four-car NHRA team. The team is made up of Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher in the U.S. Army dragster, Whit Bazemore in the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus Funny Car, Scotty Cannon...

Don Schumacher is all about business. He should be considering he has a four-car NHRA team. The team is made up of Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher in the U.S. Army dragster, Whit Bazemore in the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus Funny Car, Scotty Cannon in the Oakley Pontiac Firebird Funny Car and three-time NHRA champion Gary Scelzi in the Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car.

All of that points to one thing - Don Schumacher does not have a lot of extra time on his hands. He does, after all, still run a multi-million dollar business when he is not at the track. Schumacher, one of the early stars in organized drag racing, has been the name behind countless records in the sport. He stepped out of the driver's seat in 1974 to develop the family business and he returned in the '90s to compete at the highest level.

In this Q&A session, Schumacher talks about what it is like to have such a diverse group of drivers under one team name, what he does in his spare time and whether he would like to pull up to the startling line again as a driver someday.

Q: What did you want to accomplish during the offseason and did you get it done?

Schumacher: Everything we wanted to do during the offseason got done. We switched two of the Funny Cars over to Dodge bodies. We were a little behind on that (to start the season) but we had a lot of other engine components that we wanted to test before the season started. We had a lot of things to get done before we even went to Pomona.

Whit Bazemore.
Photo by Greg Gage.
Q: How did the Dodge deal come about?

Schumacher: We were looking to change body styles with a company that wanted to perform in Funny Car racing. We wanted to be with a company that was looking to compete with technology, aerodynamics and downforce. We partnered up with Dodge and Mopar and we feel very fortunate to be able to do that.

Q: How long did it take to get the fourth car ready to race in 2003?

Schumacher: It was decided at the Finals in Pomona (in November) on Sunday, to bring a fourth team out. It was an idea that was decided at Pomona, not before that race. Because of that, we were very busy getting ready for the season. We had to get a new transporter, new trailer, and more equipment and put everything together.

Q: What are the benefits of having a four-car team, nonetheless a three-car Funny Car program?

Schumacher: Information and the ability to take other teams out with multiple cars. The information that you can gather from making that many passes down the race track does nothing but help your overall team performance. The crew chiefs share everything. None of the cars are R&D (research and design) cars. They each run their own program, each crew chief makes his own decisions but we share knowledge, we share experience and we share different things that we are doing. Dan Olson is really involved in bringing new technology to the team. We are in the process of starting to manufacture some of our own parts and components and taking things to a whole new level. We have a clutch dyno and we have a blower dyno back at the shop and we are working in both those areas on new technology and new ideas that are being developed internally.

Q: What are the disadvantages of having such a large organization?

Schumacher: Cost. It is just very expensive. There is a lot of equipment moving down the road. It takes massive amounts of dollars to be able to do this.

Q: How are you going to be successful in operating a four-car team?

Schumacher: People are a big part of this. How can we be successful? Our plans are to go out and win the Top Fuel championship and a Funny Car championship in 2003.

Q: You have four drivers, two, Schumacher and Scelzi, have already been NHRA champions. What do you think about your group of drivers?

Schumacher: I think I have an excellent group of drivers. They are all real strong individuals that have unique personalities. It is an interesting task to blend them all together and have them work together, but they do. It is very rewarding in that area. Gary coming on and joining our team is really an asset. He is an energetic individual and he will motivate all four teams and all of the crewmembers. He is just very personable and great. Scotty is the same way. If you know him, he is really much different than what the public persona of Scotty Cannon is. He is a great guy.

Q: Did you think from the start that all four of these guys would get along and be able to work together?

Schumacher: Even before Gary came on and when I brought Whit on board with the Matco Tools car I think people questioned whether Tony and Whit would work together. They are both professionals. They are both adult businessmen that work very well together. This sport is full of professionals. It isn't a bunch of amateurs that you have to worry about. They are all individual businessmen. There is not a concern I have at all about the personalities of these people getting together and working well together.

Q: What do you like most about drag racing?

Schumacher: The competition. Undoubtedly I have an enormous desire to fill a hole inside of me with competition. That is what brought me into the sport in the first place, that is what I have utilized in my other business to be successful. I am a competitor and I like beating every other person out there. Drag racing is one of those things that allow me to get my fill of competition.

Q: You have been out of the driver's seat for more than 25 years. Do you miss being behind the wheel?

Schumacher: I warmed Whit's car up last year and it wouldn't be hard for me to get hooked into driving one of these things again. But I have so many other responsibilities that it just isn't something that I could really focus on and put all my energy and attention toward. To be a great driver out there you better have driving as your main goal, your main responsibility. There are not many guys out here like John Force that can be the guy who created the whole team, goes out and finds all the money, does all the promotional stuff and yet is just the best driver out here.

Q: Why do you think the drivers of today have to focus just on driving, whereas when you first came into drag racing, drivers wore many hats and had several responsibilities?

Schumacher: Every sport or profession that evolves through the years requires experts in each situation. You really need your crew chief to focus and concentrate on just tuning the car and the same goes with the driver. He needs to concentrate on strictly driving that car and going out and doing a good job because that is what you are competing against. You can't be a jack-of-all-trades and go out and compete against all of the professionals out here if you are spread too thin on responsibilities.

Q: There have obviously been countless changes in the sport since you became involved with drag racing, but what is one of the biggest changes that sticks out in your mind the most?

Schumacher: The computer information that you get from making a run. That used to be discovered all by the seat of your pants and you would tell the tuner about the run when you got out of the car. Now all of the information from a run is given to you based on the technology that is built into these cars. We have bigger superchargers, better components, better blocks, better heads, better ignition. All of those things, I believe, are part of a normal evolution of the sport. But the major change is the computer system that gave us the knowledge that we weren't locking up clutches and that we were slipping the clutch the whole quarter-mile in the '70s. That has caused the cars to go much faster and much quicker.

Tony "the Sarge" Schumacher.
Photo by Greg Gage.
Q: Do you have any plans to add a second dragster in the future?

Schumacher: I would love to bring a second dragster to this team. Do I want to have five teams? Not necessarily. But I would love to have a second dragster in the sport. The information would just be best for the sponsors and everyone involved. A second dragster would be good for my team and I think for the sport. I work on sponsors everyday and that is what it is going to take to get a second dragster - a sponsor to come on board. As my team has grown, some of my major sponsors get concerned about the distractions and for me not being able to concentrate on one team or two teams. So that is a concern also. I am very content with what I have out there and I am not looking to expand the team any further. If one of the Funny Car teams was to back down from being a Funny Car and if I had the opportunity to add a dragster, that would be great.

Q: What do you do when you are not at the track or thinking about drag racing? Do you have a hobby of any kind?

Schumacher: I have Schumacher Electric Corp. where I have a thousand employees and we do about $90 million a year in automotive battery chargers. I love my businesses. I love being a successful businessman. But I do like fishing probably more than anything else outside of working. I go about six times a year. I get away once in a while and when I go I usually go out and do a little salmon fishing. I would love to get away to Canada. I enjoy doing those things.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Gary Scelzi , Scotty Cannon , Don Schumacher