There is little doubt that Tony Schumacher, a Top Fuel dragster driver, knows his way up the drag strip. Yet while drag racing is a passion for the 44-year-old, eight-time National Hot Rod Association champion, so is devotion to his main sponsor, the Army.
In a way, one might say Schumacher spends more time with the visiting troops at the facilities than he does heading up the speedways. After all, he has established several records at the various tracks and currently holds the top E.T. time at 3.736 seconds. A possible eight trips of the track at the various speedways, if he goes all the way to the finals, could be accomplished somewhere in the neighborhood of 32 seconds.
OK, Schumacher does spend a lot of time with his crew, making sure his dragster is ready for its quick trips. But here is a driver who also has a passion for making sure that the troops he visits, overseas and back home in the U.S., are well taken care of.
Schumacher will put his dragster on the starting line in the Mopar Mile High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway this weekend. The event is the first of the National Hot Rod Associations Western Swing, followed by the Sonoma Nationals in California. July 26-28, and the O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals in Seattle, Aug. 2-4.
“I haven’t been over to Afghanistan or other combat areas nearly enough,” said Schumacher, who has three wins this season. “Mostly now I go to the bases here in the U.S. They are leaving and coming back, and I can see more people. When you get off to Afghanistan or Iraq — there are a lot of countries that we’ve got a lot of troops in — you really don’t get to see that many of them.”
Schumacher also knows that he, like the troops he visits, could come under fire at any moment in his overseas journeys. Yet, it doesn’t matter which service or when the men and women in the military served, his team welcomes them all to his site at the tracks or in the field.
“It’s nice, they are off doing their jobs, and it’s great when the present soldiers come home,” Schumacher said. “It’s just fantastic. Our soldiers come back as heroes. It’s a big trip, overseas, something you plan for a while. You are stuck in small places. You are in some areas where it’s pretty intense and pretty unique.”
In Schumacher’s last race, he carried the medals of a Vietnam veteran — his Purple Heart and Silver Star.
“I got beat, but at least I got to carry his medals,” Schumacher said. “To be able to carry a medal, something that men have earned under harsh conditions, is a blessing. If there is anyone in the world that deserves to come into our pits, it’s a veteran from any war. They have served our country.”
Schumacher also welcomes young people to his tents over the course of the season. On Fridays, his crew invites kids from the high schools, colleges and vocational schools to the racetrack, giving them free tickets to get in.
“We give them a little speech — I’m not saying you got to join the Army,” Schumacher said. “I’m a race car driver. I do say, `Be a part of the team.’ Figure out what you want to do, find people that are similar that want to do that job and get yourself around the right group of people. I drive the Army car, but every branch is necessary and incredible.”
And, there is little doubt Schumacher has served the racing community well, along with his racing team. He set his first world record at Brainerd, Minn., in 2005 at 337.58 mph, and over the course of his career, he has 72 wins. He won 15 events in 2008, including seven in a row out of his 18 final rounds.
Schumacher won his first title in 1999 and has won eight overall. This includes seven in a row from 2004 to 2009. He also was the first driver to go the quarter mile at more than 330 mph.
While Schumacher is quick up the track, it’s nice to know he will always take time to talk with soldiers and his fans.