Videos: Drag Racing Legend Don Schumacher Passes at 79

Successful drag racer and businessman Don Schumacher passed away on December 23, 2023 at the age of 79, after declining health caused by lung cancer. Schumacher was a drag race team owner and former drag racer who significantly impacted the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) drag racing scene. He is the founder and owner of Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), a highly successful and competitive conglomerate in NHRA.

Above: Schumacher came on the scene in the mid-1960s with a Dodge Charger Funny Car. After another Charger, he switched to Plymouth, running several Barracuda-bodied Funny Cars. (Photographers unknown)

Schumacher had a successful drag racing career before hanging up his helmet for a suit and tie. After a decade of a gypsy life of racing NHRA, International Hot Rod Association (IHRA), and American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) events, matching racing coast to coast, and operating a three-car team in 1973, Schumacher called it a career after the 1974 NHRA U.S. Nationals.

Above: The early Funny Cars were crude by today’s standards, but Schumacher and a handful of other drivers made a good living on the road barnstorming from track to track. Match racing was the key to making money in the ’60s and ’70s. (Photographer unknown)

The costs of racing, coupled with the difficulties brought on by the energy crisis and the responsibilities of a growing family, two children with a third on the way, helped him decide. As a driver of several Plymouths and then Chevrolets under the Stardust banner, Schumacher won the 1972 AHRA world championship, nine IHRA events, and five national NHRA events, including the 1970 NHRA U.S. Nationals. Schumacher also won countless non-sanctioned match races at tracks throughout the country.

Above: The early ’70s Funny Cars bodies sat high on the chassis. Aerodynamic testing was in its infancy, and little was known about moving air around the car while minimizing the airflow under the chassis. (Photographer unknown)

When Schumacher stepped away from drag racing, he went to work at his father’s business. Schumacher’s father, Irwin, co-founded the transformer manufacturer known as Woodward-Schumacher Electric in 1947. Early on, at Don’s insistence, Woodward-Schumacher Electric purchased a struggling company that specialized in manufacturing automotive battery chargers and related products.

Above: By ’72-’73, the Funny Cars were getting more aerodynamic. The teams were experimenting with different rear spoilers (three different designs in the photos), and the front ends of the cars were getting lowered and pinched tighter. Schumacher also got a major sponsor when Wonder Bread came on board his ’72 Cuda. Schumacher would continue with Wonder Bread in a succession of Chevrolet-bodied Funny Cars to the end of his driving career. (Photographers Unknown)

Irwin stepped aside, and Don Schumacher accepted the leadership of the company. Under Don’s guidance, Schumacher Electric Corporation increased from 400 employees to over 2000. It became known for producing battery chargers, jump starters, and other accessories designed to help users maintain and charge vehicle batteries.

Additionally, Schumacher Electric provided various products suitable for multiple types of vehicles, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, and boats. In 2020, Schumacher Electric garnered new investors and was sold to Ripple Industries in 2022.

Above: A full-size poster of Schumacher’s 1971 Cuda was produced. Your author took it to several NHRA events over the years, hoping to get an autograph, but was unsuccessful. The poster will now be framed and earn a place on the shop’s wall. (Gary Densford photo)

In 1998, at the insistence of Don’s son, Tony, the elder Schumacher returned to NHRA competition as an owner of Tony’s Top Fuel Dragster. Following his reintroduction to drag racing, DSR fielded cars in various NHRA categories for over two decades, including Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock Car, Pro Stock Motorcycle, and Factory Stock Eliminator. Over the years, DSR’s involvement with Mopar achieved nineteen championships and 367 race victories, making Don Schumacher a respected figure in the drag racing community.

Above: Yet another poster from your author’s collection represents the progression of several of Schumacher’s most famous Funny Cars. All his early vehicles were Mopars, but like many in the early to mid-70s, Schumacher switched to the Chevrolet Vegas. (Artist unknown)

Due to his significant contributions to motorsports, Schumacher earned many accolades, including the IHRA Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. In 2022, NHRA honored Schumacher with the sport’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

After the end of the 2021 season, Schumacher downsized and, by 2023, no longer had any teams involved in NHRA drag racing. However, DSR shifted its focus to DSR Performance (established in 2020) to offer competitors and enthusiasts decades of engine technology development and performance parts. DSR Performance manufactures components for Nitro, Sportsman, and GEN III HEMI competitors and a collection of officially licensed 2015 and 2021 Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak parts.

Above: In ’14 and again in ’15, your author was an honorary crew member of Tony Schumacher’s Army Top Fuel Dragster. My involvement with Pennsylvania College of Technology‘s Army program provided the opportunity. I met most DSR team members, but unfortunately, Don Schumacher was not on the premises for either event. 

Schumacher’s friends, family, and the drag racing community will miss the man. Still, all can be thankful to have known, witnessed, and benefitted from his many contributions to the business and motorsports community.

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Chris Holley

Technical Contributor Chris has been a college professor for 25 years; at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. for the last 20 years. Chris instructs automotive classes in HVAC, electrical/electronics, and high-performance, including using a chassis dyno, flow benches, and various machining equipment. Recently, he added a vintage vehicle upholstery class to his teaching assignments. Chris owns a '67 Dart, a '75 Dart, a '06 Charger, and a '12 Cummins turbo diesel Ram, and he is a multi-time track champion (drag racing) with his '69 340 Dart, which he has owned for 34 years.

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