BOBBY BENNETT: DRAG RACING NEEDED DON SCHUMACHER AND HE DELIVERED
Someone can do their job so well that they become despised for it.
When I look at what Don Schumacher accomplished in drag racing, I see a man who was driven to succeed, grow their product and win at all costs. Isn't this what we see every day in the business world?
Make no mistake; major league drag racing is a business, and Schumacher has been one of its best businessmen. But don't take my word for it; let his 366 national event victories and 19 series championships serve as proof. Additionally, consider the number of corporate sponsors who came into the sport under his guidance as additional evidence.
Those who knew and understood Schumacher certainly didn't despise him. They knew what to expect.
When Schumacher raced in the early 1970s, he was driven by success. He barnstormed the country match racing and competing in every event he could get to.
He was determined to make the most of his participation. When he couldn't keep up with the extensive match race tour, he added extra cars and drivers. When an energy crisis hit the country in 1974, he found a way to keep his rigs on the road with creative measures. Then he walked away to concentrate on the family business because the sport was headed in a direction he didn't care to be a part of.
Fast forward to the end of 1996, Schumacher returned to major league drag racing in support of his son Tony. In its first full season, the one-car Don Schumacher Racing operation won its first NHRA championship. Then it multiplied at a rapid rate. Within two years, a Funny Car driven by Whit Bazemore was added to the program.
I always got perturbed when I saw fans who would immediately jump to the point of DSR's wide-reaching footprint as a reason for drag racing's ills while ignoring Schumacher's interest in the sport that kept some of the best fuel racers in competition. Did Schumacher often try to leverage his massive investment to his advantage? Of course he did, and why wouldn't he? I know a handful of teams that wouldn't be out there today without him.
Don and I sometimes didn't always see eye to eye on things. And we realized that was okay. One thing I did see was his importance to the drag racing world.
He revolutionized the presentation of the sport to corporate America. While his approach to one-race deals and spreading multiple sponsors across his multi-car operations was hardly groundbreaking, it worked and it worked well.
Don protected the corporate image of drag racing when at times he could have thrown it under the bus publicly - he declined to do so. Looking back, it was the right thing to do. It was his mindset of future sponsors and airing dirty laundry as a detriment to the future.
Whether some want to admit it, Don Schumacher has been an asset to the sport, and I, for one, will always be grateful.
Don, I will if no one else says it.
You helped drag racing when it needed helping. Our sport is better because you've been a part of it.
I know you're not entirely stepping away, but it's okay if you do - you have earned it. There will be far more than me who will have appreciated what you brought to the sport.