NHRA Great Don Schumacher Remembered as One Tough Competitor

Jackson Wheeler
7 Min Read

Don Schumacher was the winningest team owner in the NHRA Drag Racing Series with 367 event wins and 19 championships—including a record eight Top Fuel titles with son Tony.

Schumacher was also a champion of safety in the sport as well as a champion in the boardroom as founder of Schumacher Electric—a company that specializes in batteries and chargers.

Schumacher’s racing innovations include the closed canopy used by many in the Top Fuel dragster classes that has saved countless drivers from serious injuries. He also devised a roof-mounted escape hatch so that drivers could quickly exit their car in the event of a fire and spearheaded creation of an in-cockpit-activated fire suppression system.

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Antron Brown, left, and Don Schumacher celebrate Brown’s 2016 Top Fuel crown.

Icon Sportswire//Getty Images

Schumacher died Wednesday at the age of 79 after a long and private battle with lung cancer.

“He was a stout competitor, that’s all I ever heard from anybody who talked about Funny Car racing back in the day,” said three-time Funny Car champion Ron Capps, who raced for Schumacher from 2005 until forming his own team after the 2021 season. “He was just very involved in all the teams. He’d be up in the trailer talking to the crew chiefs, and if the car didn’t run good, he wasn’t happy. He’d let the crew chiefs know it.

“If a driver didn’t drive well, he’d let you know it. He was involved. He knew enough about the cars mechanically that he could have a conversation with the crew chiefs, and he obviously drove for all those years so he could have a conversation with a driver. He was very involved.

“He was always trying to be the first and the best at whatever he did.”

Schumacher, who last drove in the NHRA in 1973, was well respected in just about every corner of the racing industry. He was presented with the NHRA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022. He is also a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. As a driver, Schumacher won the 1972 AHRA world championship, nine IHRA events, five national NHRA events and countless non-sanctioned race-anywhere-for-a-buck match wins at tracks throughout the country in the 1960s and ’70s.

His stable of cars and drivers was legendary.

“When I made the switch from Don Prudhomme to go race with Don Schumacher with my my buddy, Gary Scelzi, it wasn’t a couple years into me driving for Don and he he had eight teams and at one point even a Pro Stock team and a Pro Stock bike team,” Capps said. “It was crazy. You know, there were times in the pit area that I literally wouldn’t even run into any my teammates. It was so spread out in the pit area. It’s like we had our own row.”

Antron Brown won three Top Fuel championships with Schumacher before breaking away and forming his own team in 2022.

“The drag racing world lost a great one last night,” Brown said. “I’m so thankful that Don took a chance on me and believed in me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all his support. He had such an incredible impact on our sport and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.”

Schumacher stepped out of the NHRA spotlight in recent years, peeling back to a one-car team with son Tony in 2022. He sold majority ownership of his team to team sponsors and philanthropists Joe and Cathi Maynard later that year.

“There’s no denying Don Schumacher made a profound impact on the sport, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the lasting effect that he made on myself and my late wife, Cathi, as well,” Joe Maynard said. “He was our mentor and our sounding board; he guided us as we navigated our first year of team ownership. I will continue to do my very best to carry on his legacy and hope to make him proud.”

Schumacher’s loss was felt over at Tony Stewart Racing today with two former DSR winners.

“It is undeniable the positive impact Don Schumacher has had on my life,” said Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett. “He gave me my first professional racing opportunity, and enabled me to flourish in the sport. I am forever thankful for his passion for racing, and his compassion for his friends. “

Added Matt Hagan, “The sport lost a legend today. One that I had the luxury to work with for majority of my career. Driver, team owner, teacher, father, business owner. This man wore the hat for whatever he needed to be in the moment.

“I’m a better man for having known him. The sport was built on the backs of these men. We owe a great debt to the paths they paved.”

Headshot of Mike Pryson

Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and MLive Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek in 2011. He won several Michigan Associated Press and national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for auto racing coverage and was named the 2000 Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club’s Michigan Motorsports Writer of the Year. A Michigan native, Mike spent three years after college working in southwest Florida before realizing that the land of Disney and endless summer was no match for the challenge of freezing rain, potholes and long, cold winters in the Motor City.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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