Interview with the Pros: Tony
By NHRA Communications
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,
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
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
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
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
Q: The race for the Top Fuel championship is coming down to a battle
between two teams. What do you think they need to do to win, and are you
planning on playing the role of the spoiler and going out and winning
another race or two?
SCHUMACHER: I think about that. If it came down to the last race and
it was me against whomever and if I won the race, then they would lose
the championship, that's not my fault. I am going to do my absolute best
to win every round because that is my job. I would feel bad for one or
the other if it came down to that, but it wouldn't change the way I
drove that car. It couldn't because that round is not what it is about.
It is about the 22 races before that as well and they could've picked up
round points in any of those events. It's not my fault if it comes down
to one race. It is my sole purpose to make sure that the next guy I race
goes home. That's it. I am such a nice guy that I would be willing to
let a couple of my guys go over and help them pack up their stuff, and I
don't care which one of them it is. That's just the kind of swell guy I
Q: How would you describe the relationship between you and your
father and team owner, Don Schumacher?
SCHUMACHER: That is a good question. It is very intense and I think
that is a good thing. It is easy to look back and say that it is too
intense and that I hate having to work with family. That's a crock. They
just push you harder. But I am also a Top Fuel champion. I won Indy
twice and five other races. What would I have done if I didn't have
someone pushing me? It's hard to tell. I wouldn't trade anything,
anywhere for what I do right now. I would not trade it for any amount of
money. From family to the crew, to the United States Army, I get to
associate myself with the best people around. I wake up everyday and
smile. Simple as that. I work with great people.
Q: What is it like racing now that you and your wife, Cara, have a
SCHUMACHER: He loves racing. She will always be nervous about it, but
he just loves it. He is not even one yet, but he plays with the race
cars and makes the sounds of the car. He doesn't even wake up when we
are warming the car. Those things make 7,000 horsepower, and he doesn't
even budge. It's great having them around all the time. That is why I
bought a motor home, so they can go to a lot more races and he has a
place to stay, with all of his toys. I am probably one of the busiest
drivers around. I have activities other than racing and it is good to
have them here because if they weren't here, I would never see them. Now
I get to see them everyday.
Q: How difficult is it to repeat as Top Fuel champion? Is this U.S.
Army team capable of capturing another championship?
SCHUMACHER: No question about it. Look out next year for this team.
We have something going and we are just now fine-tuning this car. It's
an incredible car and this team does not crack under pressure. They
proved that in 1999. They are just strong guys. It is an excellent team
and I wouldn't want anyone else on my side. I think we can repeat. I
think in 2000 we had a good chance to do it. If I didn't go over that
wall (in Memphis) and break my leg, we would have had a strong chance to
win it. It's impossible to say for sure we could have done it because
Gary Scelzi was running so well anyway. No question about it, we could
have at least made a run for it.
Q: Do people still ask you about the accident in Memphis? Does it
SCHUMACHER: People ask me about that all the time and it doesn't
bother me at all. Those things do not happen often and it is just part
of racing. To say that I wish I would never crashed would be like me
saying that I wish I never raced, I wish I didn't win the championship
or any of the races. I would have to give up all of the good stuff to
avoid one crash where I went over the wall for one-tenth of a second.
That's not going to happen. If it happens again, so be it. I hope it
doesn't. I am sure everyone hopes they don't go over the wall at 315
mph. That is just part of the deal. When I went over that wall, we came
up with 10 different ways to make the car safer. I sure hope all those
ways work. We'll find another way to crash and I know we'll find even
more ways to make the cars better.
Q: How have you evolved over the years as a driver?
SCHUMACHER: I think Dan Olson helped me evolve a lot. He has been a
very good teacher. He studied a lot of very important ways to qualify
better than some of the other people I have worked with. He helped me
stage shallow or drive better. He is more precise and he is very
particular with those kinds of things. That can only help make you a
better driver. You don't win a championship by accident; you win them by
being consistent. That helped a lot. It would be very easy for me if I
want to look good as a driver to stage deep and make my reaction times
look better. But you have to be willing to give up a championship to
just look good. It's not about me; it's about that big trophy. We've got
to do that as a team. If that requires me to look a little worse and
stage shallow, and have a worse reaction time, so be it. We are a team.
If I get beat on a holeshot, I get patted on the back by all of the
guys. We know we'll get them next time. If we smoke the tires, it's the
same thing. We are all doing our best. I think knowing you are
surrounded by guys who are doing their best every time just makes you do
your best. There are some teams that when their driver red lights, the
driver gets pummeled. The hell with that. If I don't red light every
once in a while, that means I am just not trying hard enough. I think
you have to have the support around you.
Q: What's tougher? Going to basic training for the Army or racing a
Top Fuel dragster at the fastest speed in history - of 333 mph?
SCHUMACHER: It's a tough call, but I would have to say driving a
dragster is tougher. The reason why is because the Top Fuel dragster
isn't where you start, and basic training is. The Army dragster is where
you ended because you went through every class to get there. If you were
simply put into a Top Fuel dragster, you would hit everything. You get
through basic because that is the starting point and where you are
trained to do one of 200 jobs.
Q: What is so cool about having the fastest speed recorded? It may
not be a national record (because it wasn't backed up by the 1 percent
rule) but it has to be a good feeling knowing you have gone 333 mph.
SCHUMACHER: Everything is cool about that speed, especially knowing
we did that in the Army car because it represents America and
technology. Having a car that performs that good is very important when
you are looking at the Army. Let's face it, if we had a car that got
whipped every time, it would be awfully hard to put your faith in the
Q: Would you ever consider driving a Funny Car?
SCHUMACHER: Sure. It wouldn't bother me at all. It would be a
possibility, but it would be hard to get out of the seat of the fastest
car in the world into a Funny Car. I am not one that considers them
anything but dead equal with Top Fuel, but people always pick on the Top
Fuel versus Funny Car. It's just that right now, what I can say is that
I am in the fastest car in the world. It would be a hard change to have
to say that I was in the fastest Funny Car, which is just like the Top
Fuel car, but a little shorter. Right now, it is a simple answer. I can
just say I am in the fastest car.
Q: What would it take for you to become a team owner?
SCHUMACHER: Down the line I think it would be something to look at.
Right now I am just so happy where I am at. There is an awful amount of
stress in being a team owner. I would have a hard time watching someone
else drive. It's just like being in a street car. I hate being a
passenger. I get in that car, and if it starts to slip a little, I think
we are going to die. I am pretty sure that guy doesn't have control of
it. I trust myself driving. That's just the way it is. I would have a
real hard time standing behind someone, watching them drive. I am the
most critical person on myself. When I get beat, I am angry with myself,
because I know I could have done better. Whoever was driving for me is
going to get some of that and they better be prepared for that.
Q: What is so special about Gummi Bears?
SCHUMACHER: They are just good. The Gen. Cavin sends them to us. We
used to eat Ju-Ju Fruits and that was working for the team. Then I just
so happened to show up in Indy and a lady walked up and gave me four
bags of Gummi Bears. I thought, since we didn't have any Ju-Ju Fruits,
we could eat the Gummi Bears instead. Then we won Indy. So we got home,
and I got a Fed-Ex package from Gen. Cavin with eight packs of Gummi
Bears to get me through the next two races. You never know when you are
going to need some Gummi Bears.
Q: Who is tougher to deal with? Secretary of State Colin Powell or
SCHUMACHER: Colin Powell. I do really think that is a tough question
because both of those guys have surrounded themselves with strong
people. My dad has done a great job of putting himself around the best
in what he does. It's real hard to compare one guys' job to the other.
Overall, I would still say Powell because he has a lot more people that
answer to him, and more to answer to. But being my dad, Don Schumacher
is tougher being that person in my life - a father.
Q: How do you like racing at Route 66 Raceway, your hometown track,
twice a year?
SCHUMACHER: I think they should cancel them all. Seriously, as far as
the track goes, it is one of the best places in the world. I have tons
of friends and family there. But I just can't get down that track on
race day. I think that is all going to turn around this year. This new
car doesn't care what track we race on. This is a bad hot rod. When we
get to Chicago, I will finally be looking forward to racing there. We
really haven't had a great race car at Chicago. This is the best car we
have been able to bring there. We are all looking forward to get there.
Q: Why are you an NHRA driver?
SCHUMACHER: I have driven stock cars, Indy cars and I just prefer
drag racing. I think it really comes down to the fact that I like the
intensity of knowing that there is a winner every four seconds. I've
played every sport from basketball to tennis. I like the immediate pay
off you get from drag racing. It takes incredible training, and lots of
discipline and you can't make mistakes if you expect to win.