Jack Beckman and Chandler family representative, Judy Pittman, present a $100,000 donation check to MD Anderson Cancer Center, on behalf of Doug Chandler and his TLC Foundation, during the 2019 Houston race. Photo courtesy of Don Schumacher Racing.

Don Schumacher Racing continues to help others through ‘giving car’ program

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Professional auto racing is by no means an inexpensive sport, and that includes drag racing. 

Many of the teams competing in the NHRA’s highest level would be unable to continue without the assistance of corporate sponsorships, as companies both large and small provide the necessary funds needed to compete in exchange for branding on the team’s cars and equipment. 

Don Schumacher Racing is no different, with the successful team attracting many high-profile sponsors such as NAPA Auto Parts, Pennzoil, and Mopar, among others. 

But what separates DSR from any other organization in motorsports is the fact that two of their Funny Car entries in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series sport the branding of charitable organizations.

Once again in 2020, Jack Beckman’s Funny Car will represent the Infinite Hero Foundation, while The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center branding will be on Tommy Johnson Jr.’s car. Johnson’s car previously carried Make-A-Wish Foundation branding for the previous six seasons.

Both cars are funded through DSR’s unique ‘giving car’ program, which enables a non-profit to be recognized through a dedicated tribute livery at no cost to the charitable organization. 

The giving car program was started in 2014 by the late Terry Chandler, a New Mexico philanthropist and drag racing fan.

The sister of former DSR driver Johnny Gray and aunt of 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champ Tanner Gray (now working his way up the ladder in NASCAR), Terry Chandler took a great interest in drag racing. When her brother retired in 2013, Chandler decided to continue her involvement within the sport by sponsoring one of the team’s Funny Car entries.

However, if Chandler was going to sponsor a car, she wanted to use the opportunity to draw attention to causes that were important to her. Instead of using the sponsorship opportunity for personal gain, Chandler’s focus was to help others.

Terry Chandler and Tommy Johnson Jr. Photo courtesy of Don Schumacher Racing.

“She didn’t want it to be about a business,” said Chandler family representative Judy Pittman. “That really was her nature. She said ‘I want it to be about somebody else.'”

Thus, in 2014, the Funny Car previously driven by Gray was taken over by Johnson Jr. and began carrying the Make-A-Wish Foundation branding.

One year later, the opportunity arose for Chandler to support another car, which brought on the Infinite Hero branding to Beckman’s entry. Infinite Hero is a non-profit that assists wounded military veterans and their families.  

Through these sponsorship opportunities, Chandler and DSR were able to bring greater exposure to both organizations, as well as to put smiles on the faces of children, veterans, and their families.

“When something happens to one member of a family, regardless of if that is cancer or a helicopter crash while serving in Iraq, it affects the entire family, and I think that’s sometimes something that often gets lost,” said DSR Vice President Megan Fessel-Schumacher. “It’s not just affecting the one person it’s actually happening to. Every single member of the family is impacted.

“One thing Don and I always try to instill in everyone is that we are a big family out here, and we’re lucky that Infinite Hero, Make-A-Wish and MD Anderson are now other branches of the DSR family.”

Chandler’s support of the giving car program and positive outlook made her a beloved member of the NHRA community. In 2015, she was presented the NHRA Blaine Johnson Award for her dedication to helping others. 

“Terry became very popular at the track by accident,” said Pittman. “People started knowing who she was because she was such a positive influence. Everybody she raced against she would greet and say ‘I hope you do well.’ She was so positive that people would come from all over to get her autograph. She kind of became the queen of the racetrack. People loved her.”

As she continued to grow in popularity with both competitors and fans alike, Chandler continued to use her role to put smiles on the faces of those she sought to help.

“She would tell children that came through Make-A-Wish ‘this is your car. This isn’t my car. This car is about you,'” Pittman said “She wanted the children with their families for one day to be able to forget about what their illness was.

“She (also) had a tremendous love for veterans. If we were at the starting line and she saw military guests there, she would grab them and pull them up so they could get to see the car. She was an amazing person.”

Chandler passed away after losing a battle with brain cancer in 2017, but her spirit continues to live on thanks in part to her husband Doug Chandler, who through Pittman, has continued to support the giving car program.

With over 500 Wish kids and their families at the track, four Wishes granted, and countless memories made, Doug Chandler made the decision to “spread the giving car love” by fielding an MD Anderson car full-time in 2020 with Johnson at the wheel. 

Jack Beckman piloted the MD Anderson Dodge during the 2019 NHRA SpringNationals last April near Houston. Photo courtsey of Don Schumacher Racing.

“It really warms my heart to be involved with MD Anderson, the giving car, and what Doug Chandler is doing for the future treatment of cancer,” said Don Schumacher. “It is a disease that is being fought very strongly, and MD Anderson is one of the leading facilities in new treatments of cancer, trials, studies and ways to battle this disease today and in the future.”

MD Anderson previously was featured Beckman’s Funny Car in the 2019 Houston event, and the organization has a special place in the hearts of both the Chandler and Schumacher families.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Chandler sought treatment at MD Anderson before ultimately succumbing to the disease, and Schumacher elected to receive treatment provided by the institution when he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2014. 

“I had spent a lot of time at MD Anderson when Don was going through treatment. It’s just an absolutely incredible facility,” said Fessel-Schumacher. “What they do is just absolutely amazing.

“I think for us, to be able to raise awareness of what these causes actually do is the most rewarding part. We’re really thankful that with these cars and with the Chandlers, we can kind of stand together and say ‘Hey, these are some of the incredible programs out there that need our help to continue helping all of these people.’”

Fans can support Chandler and DSR’s initiative by visiting www.mdanderson.org/myfundraising and using the DSRFC solicitation code when making a donation.

Additionally, fans can find out more information about Infinite Hero by visiting their website at infinitehero.org. Fans can also receive autographed challenge coins carried by Jack Beckman on runs in 2020 by making a $100 donation to the foundation.

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Graham Rahal tries to get up to speed in IndyCar iRacing Challenge

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Although he’s just 31 years old, Graham Rahal has been driving an Indy car since the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he still a teenager.

When it comes to the virtual world, however, Rahal is an admitted “newbie.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver hopes to get up to speed in time to be competitive in Saturday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama virtual race. It’s part of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge and will be televised live by NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

The six-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner got his virtual racing rig before last week’s American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International but was still learning the nuances of the iRacing platform. He started 12th and finished 14th out of 25 cars in the contest. The first 12 finishers were on the lead lap. Rahal was one lap down.

“I had never done it before,” Rahal said Friday. “At least it probably had been 10 years since I had driven any sort of sim. It’s addicting…rather addicting. Second of all, it’s bad for your marriage, but it’s a great way to kill a day of quarantine.

“But I think it’s been a big challenge just to get used to the way that you feel a car, the way that you drive a car in the sim, it’s all completely different than real life. To get used to that sensation, to get everything set up right is a huge part of it.”

Inside the cockpit of his No. 15 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal feels at comfortable in his own element. It has taken him time to find that comfort level in the virtual world.

“For me it has been a challenge to just figure out the right settings, what to do from afar, too,” Rahal said. “Obviously you don’t have anybody here (at his home) that plays iRacing or anything to help you firsthand. It’s been a bit of a challenge; but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Next up is Barber Motorsports Park, which in the real world is a very challenging course but it puts on some of the best road course racing on the real IndyCar schedule. Rahal believes it will also be quite a challenge on iRacing.

“I think Barber is going to be actually more difficult than Watkins Glen,” Rahal said. “The track has a little bit less grip than Watkins Glen did last week. Although everybody was still crashing at Watkins Glen, I think you can get away with more than what you can at Barber. In real life it’s that way, too.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be fun.”

Rahal is married to former drag racing star Courtney Force. Both are playing it safe by staying home by statewide order from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. But Rahal still has to find the balance between husband and virtual race driver.

By contrast, some of the other IndyCar drivers are spending 10-12 hours a day practicing on iRacing.

“That’s the challenge,” Rahal said, responding to a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I could definitely spend way more time on it. My line to Courtney is, ‘Just give me two laps.’ Then, one hour and 45 minutes later I’m still sitting there. It’s frustrating.

“As Robbie Wickens said, the frustrating part is you go out, you put in a good lap, then it’s, ‘I need to go beat that.’ You spin and you spin, and you spin. Then you get mad. The competitiveness in you, two more laps, two more laps. You try to go and go and go.

“You sit there for hours and hours and hours.”

Rahal admits he can’t stay away from iRacing for long. He is genuinely curious and interested in seeing what the competition is doing.

“I go on pretty frequently to see what’s going on,” Rahal said. “A lot of guys are on all the time. Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais has been on a load, Tony Kanaan, Willie P (Will Power). I think everyone is enjoying it. But it’s a huge challenge.

“There are a couple of guys that are clearly quicker than everybody else, Will being one of those. I’m trying to figure out where and how to find the lap time. I’m telling you, it’s so different than reality in that way.

“But it’s been fun, man. I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s good for the exposure, good because people are paying attention. You can see it on our Instagram. If you look at the clicks or page views in the last seven days, they’ve been doubled since we started to do this stuff. While it’s great for that, it also does help kill a ton of time.”

These are unique times as the world has essential shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more humans are testing positive of the potentially deadly virus, the threat becomes more real.

It has also created a tremendous void as people try to find something to do to pass the long times of isolation.

By giving race fans a few hours of entertainment, even if it is virtual instead of real, then Rahal believes it’s worth it.

“I think a lot of people are just dying for something to do, something to watch,” Rahal said. “The competitiveness in all of us wants to see some sort of sport.

“I know there are other buddies like hockey players that are watching it because they just want to watch something. They need something to do. So, I think that’s a big part of it.

“I think it’s great that NBC Sports is covering it this weekend other than just being online. I think it will be tremendous to see how that turns out.

“This is very realistic. When you see the cars on track, you watch a replay, see the photos, it’s eerily real looking. I did a race at St. Louis last weekend. It was extremely entertaining I think for the drivers that were participating. Other than 400 yellow flags, which happened early in the race, it was really, really entertaining to be a part of. People who watched that race would have loved the show that they had been seeing. I think there’s a lot of realism to it.

“I think it’s also people just want something right now. The desire and the demand is there to log in or tune in and see something competitive on TV.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500