Tony Schumacher is the undisputed king in the NHRA’s Top Fuel class, with eight National Championships (more than ever) with 86 wins. Don Schumacher’s 52-year-old son Tony (it’ll be 53 on Christmas Day) has the sponsorship at least until the end of 2025 with support from Scag Power Equipment. He will continue to compete with the Maynard Family Racing (formerly Don Schumacher Racing) team. Tony’s best time lapsed is 3.649 seconds, with a top speed of 336.57 mph, both in Phoenix in 2018. In last week’s test of a new 1,150-horsepower box engine, the DSR 1150, at Indianapolis Raceway Park, I sat down with Tony (he was a driver coach for quarter-mile passes in a Dodge Demon) to chat. Below are edited excerpts from a longer conversation.
Jim Clash: What is your relationship with your father now?
TOni Schumacher: It’s a little quieter. It’s been hectic for the two decades we’ve run [U.S.] Army car – go, go, go. We signed with Scag Power Equipment, and last week we extended it for three to six years, which is huge. Scag CEO Randy Glowdy said it best, “I don’t know why there aren’t 1,000 sponsors here because this is the greatest sport in the world.” I like it, hearing it from a CEO. It’s also great working together again with my dad.
clash: Drag racing is an all-inclusive sport. Women, African Americans, Hispanics, and Whites compete at the highest levels without any handicap and win.
Schumacher: This is exactly what life should be like. Come on, we get in a car, and at the end, they hand us trophies because we earned them. We continue to attract young people to join our Dragster Jr program as well. These holders should be twice as tall and full each day. People who have never participated in a drag race lose the opportunity. It is a family sport. You can easily get passes, unlike some other racing series. I am very proud of her representation.
clash: What does it feel like to run so fast in so short a time?
Schumacher: These things are wickedly fast – 330 mph in less than four seconds in a 12,000-horsepower machine made by humans. It’s the most powerful four seconds in a person’s life. Somehow, time slows down there. Travis Pastrana from motocross [fame]bad to the bone, said he, “When you hit the gas, your mind is at the starting line and your car is at the finish line [laughs]. It takes a long time as a pro player before you go, “I think of tenths and hundreds of seconds, not seconds and minutes.” The more runs, the better you’ll be able to determine where to put the car, and drive it straight. You care about it so much that perfection becomes a part. From you.
clash: What do you see as the future of NHRA?
Schumacher: This year, we reached 2.8 million [television] Viewers in Reading [PA]. It’s going in the right direction. I look at my dad’s pictures, but the stands aren’t that big. Why aren’t there 50,000 fans at our races while NASCAR is there? But NASCAR is declining, and our stuff is increasing. You have to remember one thing: we are artists. Winning is great, titles are nice, but when the fans smile and say, “I paid $60 to race, and I feel like I owe more money,” it’s a win. Fans have already told me that. Pay your hard-earned money to go to baseball or soccer. I don’t want to turn away and say, “I wish I had gotten half my money back.”
clash: When fans come over for a photo and/or autograph at the end of the day when you’re really tired, what do you do?
Schumacher: I sign, even if the clock line. I always tell myself, “When you’re tired and ready to take a break, the kid who’s waited at the end of the line the longest, when he gets here, sticks the most.” So he smiled. Even if you were defeated and disappointed that day, it’s not the child’s fault. Let it go, the race is over. Let the child see that you can lose with dignity. Winning isn’t fun, I hate it – but that’s how the game is played. I’ve had 86 trophies, and I wanted to win them all, hundreds of races. Go back, and find out what I did wrong. Maybe you were late to the start, got the car out of the groove, it wasn’t working properly, it doesn’t matter. It’s a team effort, no excuses.
clash: What are you afraid of and how do you deal with fear?
Schumacher: I am not afraid of the car, of being hurt. I’m afraid I won’t be able to perform at the highest level at any time. How do I deal with it? Finished. What is this expression – to over-prepare and go with the flow? There are kids out there who are over-preparing. I’m an older driver, not a spring chicken. You look at John Force, in his mid-70s. So this can be done for a long time, and I want to be as good as I can for as long as possible.
clash: Tell me something you’ve never told another journalist before. I asked this question to John Force. He said, “Contrary to what I said before, I don’t want to die in a race car. I want to die with my family around me.”
Schumacher: Wow, that’s a really good question. let me think. I’d be horrible in NASCAR. I don’t have an interest period. She crashed her turn in Bristol. The role seems to be the problem. I’m not a round person, just straight [laughs].