The Man Who (Practically) Owns NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car
As well as the company that built the battery charger you just bought for your car.
If you’ve bought a battery charger for your car at Walmart or Pep Boys or most anywhere else, you know where Don Schumacher made his money – Schumacher Electric, the world’s largest manufacturer of chargers.
It’s what Schumacher does for fun – and profit, for that matter – that we’re addressing here: If you watched the NHRA drag racing coverage from Gateway Motorsports Park just east of St. Louis this past weekend, the man in the bright red shirt, standing there at the starting line, was downright ever-present during the Top Fuel and Funny Car eliminations.
There was Don Schumacher standing there for the Top Fuel final between his son, Tony Schumacher, who has eight Top Fuel season championships, and his challenger, Shawn Langdon. At the line, it was Langdon. But Don Schumacher shed no tears: He owns both cars.
In the Funny Car final, it was Jack Beckman against Tommy Johnson, Jr. Johnson’s engine lays down, and Beckman wins. Good, and bad, for Don Schumacher: He owns both of those cars, too. (That’s Johnson taking out John Force Racing driver Robert Hight in the semifinals in the photo above.)
He also owns Antron Brown’s Top Fuel dragster; Brown was going for his fifth straight title at Gateway. With five wins this year, Brown is still the Top Fuel points leader. Schumacher and Langdon are third and fourth.
He also owns Ron Capps’ Funny Car: Capps, with five wins this year, is still the Funny Car points leader. Johnson and Beckman are second and third.
Don Schumacher also owns Matt Hagan’s Funny Car; he’s sixth in points, but has won three times.
And Schumacher owns Leah Pritchett’s Top Fuel dragster; she’s ninth in points, with one win.
Bottom line: In the NHRA’s six-race “Countdown to the Championship,” drag racing’s version of NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship,” all seven of Don Schumacher’s cars are in the Countdown.
NASCAR prohibits one owner from having more than four teams. NHRA makes no such distinction.
Don began racing in 1963 with his street car at the Gary, Indiana, drag strip, and went on to be a successful Funny Car racer himself. He was among the first to realize the value of sponsorship: According to his biography, he scored major sponsorship from Wonder Bread for a four-car fleet of Chevrolet Vega “Wonder Wagon” Funny Cars that sported paint schemes to mirror the red, yellow and blue balloons of the bread company’s wrappers.
He eventually quit to run his father’s Schumacher Electric business, but by 1998, when it was apparent son Tony had a lot of driving talent, Don returned to the strip as team owner. A year later, father and son won the NHRA Top Fuel title.
Eventually Don began building cars for other drivers, and in 2005, he built a 120,000 square-foot shop near Indianapolis that has room inside for 14 eighteen-wheeler transports.
Casual drag racing fans tend to think of John Force or Connie Kalitta as the powerhouses in NHRA drag racing: Compared to Don Schumacher, they play second fiddle.
Look for the white-haired guy in the bright red shirt at the starting line of NHRA events this year. Odds are, you’ll see him a lot.