NHRA Drag Racers, Fans Pay Tribute to Late Don Schumacher in His Chicago Hometown

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Drag Racers, Fans, Pay Tribute to Don SchumacherCourtesy JCM Racing
  • Tony Schumacher campaigning dragster with livery saluting his late father.

  • Mega-team owner celebrated for his safety innovations, philanthropy, and his penchant for giving career-boosting opportunities to racers.

  • Hall of Fame inductee died this past December after a battle with cancer.

Chicago native and 1960s-’70s-era Funny Car driver Don Schumacher rekindled his drag-racing involvement in 1998, because son Tony wanted to step up to a Top Fuel dragster and Dad wanted to ensure he competed in safe equipment.

That passion snowballed into an empire that fielded the most race cars for a single team, claimed 19 championships, and featured some of the biggest names in the sport. Don Schumacher Racing elevated Tony Schumacher to his status as the Top Fuel’s all-time leader in victories (86) and series championships (eight).


And before Friday qualifying for the NHRA Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 Nationals, racers and fans gathered at the Joliet, Ill., dragstrip for a final salute to the late 2019 Motorsports Hall of Fame of America inductee and Chicago native who lost his battle with cancer Dec. 20, 2023, in Florida.

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Don Schumacher’s 1970 Plymouth Funny Car is the inspiration behind Tony’s Top Fuel Dragster’s livery this weekend.Courtesy JCM Racing

In his opening remarks at the Celebration of Life, NHRA on FOX lead announcer Brian Lohnes remembered Don Schumacher as a man who expected excellence, had a large vision for the potential of the sport on both micro and macro levels, and provided the platforms to raise unprecedented amounts of money for M.D. Anderson Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the Infinite Hero Foundation for struggling military veterans. Schumacher built and filled with trophies a 120,000-square-foot headquarters that housed as many as seven teams and expanded to include a thriving machine shop that served the automotive, aviation, and fishing industries.

But Lohnes said, “The measure of Don Schumacher goes far beyond the physical things he created.” He described Schumacher as having a “locomotive-like” approach and a nearly incessant work ethic to find the right mix of people to carry it all out. His legacy includes such safety innovations as the Top Fuel cockpit canopy and the Funny Car roof escape hatch.

All that was in addition to the Schumacher Electric battery company that he grew into a global empire that employed workers from the United States, Mexico, and China.

Racers for Christ chaplain Eddie Baugher led attendees in a moment of silence that extended throughout the racetrack and paused action on the dragstrip. Afterward, Tony Schumacher unveiled the throwback livery he’ll be sporting on his JCM Racing dragster this weekend. It pays tribute to the 1970 Plymouth Funny Car which carried his father to the U.S. Nationals winners circle that year.

Top Fuel driver T.J. Zizzo, a Lincolnshire, Ill., “neighbor” of Schumacher, took the loss harder than some. He said, “Don Schumacher is one of the major reasons Zizzo Racing is still getting to do what we love at the highest level. He was a great friend and mentor. His impact on racing and the Chicago business community was massive.

"I think about him every day. And every time I go into the shop, I am thankful for every opportunity, every conversation, and the words of encouragement he gave me and our team. He was one of the iconic figures in our sport, and this weekend will be a celebration of his generosity and impact.”

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The legend of drag racer Don Schumacher was born in the 1960s with his often unbeatable Star Dust-sponsored Plymouth.The Enthusiast Network - Getty Images

The Schumacher legacy lives on with Tony Schumacher, who for many years was a resident of the westside Chicago suburb of Long Grove, Ill. But it will be a long time before drag racing – or maybe all of motorsports sees the rise of another Don Schumacher.

“I got my dad's [likeness] painted on my helmet. He's just done so much for the sport," he said following his first qualifying run. “Apparently he touched a lot of hearts, and there's probably 15 drivers, maybe more, that got their start [from him]. Some of 'em own teams,” he said, referring to Top Fuel’s Antron Brown and Funny Car’s Ron Capps.

"It's just a blessing to be part of something so cool, to be able to pay tribute to a man that did so much for my family, for [sisters] Megan, Tara, Sam[antha], just all of us and all people that love me. A lot of people are here from our neighborhood. We have a lot of people here from Schumacher Electric. It’s just awesome to be able to represent him.”