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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Interview with the Pros: Tony Schumacher

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, 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.

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 am.

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 child, Anthony?

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 bother you?

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 all-American team.

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 Don Schumacher?

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.

NHRA Communications

 

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