Schu Shines: His Drivers Are Dominating NHRA

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 16 2009

Funny Car driver Ron Capps and Don Schumacher, his team owner, are off the line quickly this year.

Funny Car driver Ron Capps and Don Schumacher, his team owner, are off the line quickly this year.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

 In all forms of motorsports today, multi-car teams have a distinct advantage. It’s true in NASCAR, as Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs, Richard Childress and others have shown.

 But compared to the NHRA’s Don Schumacher, Hendrick and his NASCAR buddies are in a slump.

Heading into this weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Schumacher’s teams are leading the point standings in all three classes in which they compete.

Top Fueler Tony Schumacher, despite losing former crew chief Alan Johnson and the entire crew to Larry Dixon over the winter, has bounced back already with new head wrench Mike Green. They’ve won the last two events, at Houston and Las Vegas, and are atop the standings.

Funny Car driver Ron Capps has three wins in five starts this year to lead his class, and his rookie teammate Matt Hagan is second. And Matt Smith is the leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Since 1998, Schumacher’s teams have won 127 national events. The sweep by Capps and Tony Schumacher at the most recent race, Las Vegas, was the 21st since Schumacher began fielding multiple entries in 2001.  At Vegas, the only drivers to beat Schumacher drivers were other Schumacher drivers.

 Like other successful multi-car owner, Don Schumacher is on top of the pack in other aspects of the business as well. At NHRA events, DSR’s hospitality stands out. His team PR reps are among the best in the sport. There’s great emphasis on driver and crew being fan friendly.

It’s no accident, the owner says.

“You have to take everything to the highest degree you can in every area,” Schumacher said. “I stress to my drivers and crews that we’re out there because of the fans. If we don’t take care of them, we can’t find the sponsors to support us. My philosophy is to take care of our ground floor foundation.”

Despite the on-track success this season, there have been challenges, largely related to the slumping economy. Merchandise sales have softened, among other things.

“The economy has cost us some associate sponsors,” he said. “We have to find ways to conserve and spend less and concentrate on the future more than today. It’s going to be pretty tough for another year. I think 2010 may be tougher than ’09.”

But ’09 is shaping up to be another good year on the track.

Capps’ initial success, coming on the heels of a sub-par 2008 season, is almost as surprising as Tony Schumacher’s recovery from a wholesale crew swap.

The driver and team owner give Capps’ crew chief Ed “Ace” McCulloch much of the credit.

“Both Ron and Ed McCullough decided to take no prisoners and do anything necessary to do that,” Schumacher said. “They’ve done a great job. Anybody that doesn’t look at them as top contenders is deceiving themselves.”

And he said his son Tony, and new crew chief Mike Green, have done well in a hurry because both are “premier” performers in their respective positions.

Although Don Schumacher was a successful Funny Car driver in the 1960s and ‘70s, he’s not as much of a hands-on car owner as one might imagine. Instead he functions more in a managerial role, “the high-end decision maker” in his words. But his driving experience does come in handy.

Capps said it’s a big advantage when the boss is a veteran driver.

“Don knows what’s going on,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll be explaining what the car’s doing, and he’ll cut me off in mid-sentence.”

And Capps said, his boss does a good job of keeping a lot of competitive personalities focused on the job at hand w hile still sharing information, which is one of the main keys to the success of any multi-car team, no matter what circuit.

“It’s tough to get everybody to get along,” Capps said. “I haven’t been with a multi-car team that has run as smoothly as this one is now.”

Schumacher said that part of his job is “a challenge and a task that I enjoy.”

“Each driver and crew chief is an individual character and you have to understand that,” he said. “You’re dealing with very intense, capable and creative people.

“It’s very challenging at many races, but when they’re performing at the highest level, it’s less of a constant challenge. All of the crew chiefs and drivers are true professionals and they understand what they’re supposed to do.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 16 2009
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