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.
“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.
“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.