Photos: Richard Shute/Auto Imagery

Don Schumacher to join Tony Stewart, Dario Franchitti, others in Motorsports Hall

Leave a comment

Don Schumacher has built the most successful organization in NHRA drag racing history, a seven-team behemoth that has earned 334 national event wins and 17 national championships in either Top Fuel or Funny Car.

Now, the man who is the figurehead for the organization but humbly likes to stay in the shadows while letting the success of his drivers and teams do his talking for him, will take his well-deserved place among the greatest names of motorsports.

Schumacher, 74, will be one of seven individuals inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on Tuesday, March 12, at The Shores Resort in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, just a quick burnout from Daytona International Speedway.

Joining Schumacher will be NASCAR legend Tony Stewart, IndyCar great Dario Franchitti, motorsports pioneer Augie Duesenberg, motorcyclist Kevin Schwantz, sports car ace Phil Remington and at-large selection Linda “Miss Hurst Shifter” Vaughn.

It is a very humbling experience,” Schumacher said of his pending induction. “This is not something that I ever imagined being a part of.

“To be inducted into America’s Motorsports Hall of Fame with the Andretti’s and Foyt’s and Earnhardt and Garlits, and John Force and Jeff Gordon and on and on, these are the heroes of motorsports, and for my name to somehow be included in that is really a humbling, overwhelming experience for me.”

Schumacher was one of the most successful drag racers of his era in the 1960s and into the 1970s before stepping away from the sport to build a worldwide electronics company that employs over 2,000. He stayed away from drag racing for nearly a quarter-century before getting back into the game in 1998 with the formation of Don Schumacher Racing.

The next 20-plus years has been historic, including his own son, Tony Schumacher, becoming the most successful driver in Top Fuel racing history with eight championships and over 80 national event wins.

“It is really an honor to be able to represent NHRA Drag Racing in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America,” Schumacher said. “It allows me to represent the sport that I love and have been involved in for decades.

“I respect the sport and what it has accomplished for America, but also for my family. It’s a very, very rewarding experience to be able to be out there and represent NHRA Drag Racing.”

Funny car driver and former NHRA champion Ron Capps, who has the second-longest tenure among all DSR drivers, calls his boss’s induction “fantastic.”

“Being able to work for him and drive for him since 2005, I can tell you that he attacks his team ownership like he did as a racer,” Capps said of Schumacher. “If you look back at his driving career in the late 1960s and early 70s, he was an innovator.

“He was one of the first to have a multi-car team. He was one of the first to bring large corporate sponsors to drag racing and the championships he has as a team owner for Don Schumacher Racing tells you that he wakes up in the morning and still has that passion like he did when he was in the cockpit.”

Schumacher will be presented for induction by one of his drivers, Funny Car pilot “Fast Jack” Beckman, who has the third-longest tenure with DSR behind Tony Schumacher and Capps.

“I was beyond honored for my boss, and one of the baddest drivers in the country the first year I attended a drag race, to ask me to induct him,” Beckman said of Schumacher. “Of all the high level friends and fellow racing legends that he could have asked, I’m really not sure why he picked me. My tux is packed, I’ll work on a short speech, and I can’t wait to bring Don up on stage to make it official!”

Don Schumacher secured Funny Car victory No. 150 as a team owner two weeks ago at Phoenix, Arizona, when Matt Hagan captured the win. Schumacher will be looking for another win or two in Top Fuel and Funny Car later in the same week as his induction with the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, March 15-17.

The key to success to accomplish this is the hard work of my teams on all aspects,” Schumacher said. “From the guys that change the oil to the guys that do the bottom end, to the crew chiefs, to the drivers, to my management team; the people at the machine shop and the fab shop in Brownsburg (Indiana), everybody plays a part and works so hard and does such a phenomenal job.

“The fact that we have accomplished this is beyond belief for me. I got into the sport of NHRA Drag Racing back in the early 1960s. I never imagined winning any event, no less 334 events and multiple championships. It’s an overwhelming accomplishment that my people have accomplished for me and I’m the one being honored (referring to the HOF induction), but I have to tip my hat to all of my Don Schumacher Racing and Don Schumacher Motorsports employees.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
1 Comment

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”