NHRA: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher to race for first time in 20 months


The Sarge is returning to active duty.

Eight-time NHRA Top Fuel Champion Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher will climb back behind the wheel for the first time in 20 months when NHRA resumes its 2020 schedule July 11-12 and again July 18-19.

Both races will be held – with fans in attendance – at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis as the NHRA returns to competition after a more than four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schumacher, son of team owner Don Schumacher, has been sidelined since the end of the 2018 season when a nearly 20-year sponsorship from the U.S. Army came to an end.

It was that same sponsorship that led to the younger Schumacher gaining the colorful nickname of “The Sarge,” complete with a military-style buzzcut hair style that became his trademark.

Unfortunately, Schumacher — the winningest driver in Top Fuel history with 84 career wins — was unable to find full sponsorship to continue his program, so he’s remained inactive since the Army marched away.

Still, Schumacher — whose eighth and most recent championship was in 2014 and whose last win was at Bristol, Tennessee on June 17, 2018 — is ready to get back in the saddle again.

“I’m pumped up,” Schumacher told NBC Sports. “I’ve been looking forward to this and the opportunity to do it at Indy, my most successful track you know ever, and to do it two weekends in a row. Just a whole lot of great things came together, so I’m really looking forward to it. To be able to get in a race car and go fast again after a year and a half, it’s a beautiful moment.”

“The Sarge” is back. Tony Schumacher will compete in two NHRA races on back-to-back weekends next month in Indianapolis. Photo: Don Schumacher Racing.

Schumacher has not been behind the wheel since the season-ending race at Pomona, California on November 11, 2018. He plans to shake off the rust in several test runs at Lucas Oil Raceway on Thursday, July 9, two days before the race gets underway.

“I’ve made an awful lot of laps there,” Schumacher said. “I’ve made so many laps for so many years that it was so natural. I’ve driven that race car enough times where it ought to come right back and be 1,000% natural, you know. It’s just super cool and it’s just a great opportunity.”

While Schumacher’s legion of fans will likely be excited he’s returning, there is a bit of a caveat: for now, it’s just for those first two races at Indy. He has nothing lined up after that, not even for the annual U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.

But at the same time, Schumacher is hoping his performance in those two races will convince one or more sponsors to come on board and get him back on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit on a full-time basis.

Given that there have only been two races held thus far this year – before the pandemic hit – Schumacher could still end up in contention for the championship if funding is found for all of the remaining 17 races left on this season’s schedule (that includes the two races next month at Indy).

“I’d love for someone to step up but I don’t want to lose focus,” Schumacher said. “One thing in 200 speeches a year I did was tell kids do not think about next year and forget to enjoy right now.

This is how Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel dragster will look when he returns to race for the first time in 20 months next month. Images: Don Schumacher Racing.

“I want to make sure that I’m spending 110% of my time focused on the first race, and then the following week, I’ll focus on that. I’ve been blessed right now with an opportunity to run my favorite race of the year twice in a row with an incredible company on the side (Global Electronic Technology), people who care about racing, so that’s pretty bad to the bone.

“If things pan out and later somebody comes up, so be it, I’m always looking forward to that. But I’m not going to lose touch with reality and the reality is I’ve got two races to go, I’m going to have a great time and I’m going to do it.

“I’m getting into a car I haven’t seen in a year and a half. My focus has to be disciplined. I’ve got to go out and win this race. I’ve been missing this. I’ve won at Indy 10 times and I’ve got a chance to add a little bit to something that’s going to be very difficult for anyone to ever reach.”

Schumacher admits that as each day, week and month has gone by since his last race at the end of 2018, there were times he wondered if he’d ever ride again. But he also has never lost hope that something would eventually come through, even if it was later rather than sooner.

“You always wonder,” he said. “For me, I was like, okay, man, do I just leave it that it was the Army car and we’re done? But I’ve had so many good calls with so many big sponsors, and felt something would come up, something’s out there and it’s big.

“I’ve always said that God’s always got a big plan, waiting for the right moment and the right thing. In time, the right thing and a long-term deal might come up. But right now, we’re just going to kick ass, win Indy twice and have an opportunity to do something I’ve longed to do for the last year and a half.”

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Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).