Relishing a Sunday in which his organization provided both finalists for both the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes, Don Schumacher gave a peek at the thought process of the mastermind of NHRA drag-racing success.
Following Antron Brown's Top Fuel victory over Don Schumacher Racing colleague Spencer Massey and Jack Beckman's Funny Car victory against Matt Hagan at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals near St. Louis, the team owner shared how he feels about pressure, point-counting, personnel changes, and pride in the performance of his employees.
And his drivers -- including ones who didn't win Sunday at Gateway Motorsports Park -- talked about how they size up working in the DSR environment, for a team that's just five trophies away from reaching the 200-victory plateau. With three more races to go in the season, DSR will have to have a couple more race days like Sunday's, starting at this weekend's Auto-Plus Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, near Reading, Pa.
Both Schumacher and his drivers are feeling the pressure as the Countdown passed its halfway point Sunday, with no clear favorite for the championships. The difference is that for Schumacher, the pressure is nonstop.
Schumacher said he's grateful that once his teams line up an all-DSR final round he feels the pressure evaporate.
"But every round before that there's a lot of pressure," he said. "There's a lot of pressure before we get here. With all of these team members and all of these sponsors, I deal with a lot every day and every week. It's not an easy task, but to get the reward out here -- to have the final two in Top Fuel and the final two in Funny Car -- that's just incredible for my whole organization."
Incredible, yes, but in one sense it's hardly unpredictable.
"You have to understand: my whole organization has developed these race cars and these engines for my teams," Schumacher said. That involves, in his words, "a lot of unique parts, pieces, and people in place, doing unique things that allow us to go out and do what we do."
Putting those unique people in their specifically unique productive places is an art. It requires talent. Schumacher knows he has that flair, and his drivers know it, too.
For example, Schumacher said his decision to pair Tobler with Capps and disrupt Beckman's team wasn't easy. However, he said, "We needed to kick that team in gear, which that certainly accomplished."
Said Beckman, "Sometimes change is difficult. There have been a lot of different drivers in Don Schumacher Funny cars since I started driving there in 2006. You're adding teams, moving people, shuffling things around. I think I've had seven different crew chiefs since I've been here. And every single one of 'em has given me a car that can win a race. So I think that shows you the depth of quality that we're able to bring into DSR."
Beckman said he didn't become overly worried when Schumacher's early-April post-Las Vegas move switched Tobler and crew from his pit to Capps' and brought in Todd Smith to head the former Capps crew.
"I knew at that point, after having six crew chiefs, in the past, that you never second-guess Don," Beckman said. "He's thought about this. He gets this stuff.
"Here's the thing about Don: He's driven the cars, so you can't BS him about that. He's tuned the cars, so the crew chiefs can't BS him about that. He can look at the computer and tell you what's going on. He can look at the car the first 100 feet and tell you what's going on. So I think everybody's open and honest about what we're doing right, what we need to improve upon," he said, "and I think that philosophy has kept us moving forward and upward."
Schumacher revealed that he had passed on the chance several years ago to hire Smith but discovered later that Smith indeed is an individual who would fit the DSR corporate culture.
"I tried to hire Todd Smith about three years ago. He had a different philosophy about how to run a car that wouldn't have fit into my organization," Schumacher said. "After [Kenny] Bernstein shut his team down, Todd sat on the sidelines for a little bit. He's come in with a philosophy -- he's a team member. And [he's] doing a great, great job -- an awesome job -- of being a team member, accepting what we do inside DSR and that other crew chiefs can supply him with knowledge, experience, steer him in the right direction and then it's up to Todd and [assistant crew chief] Terry Snyder."
Beckman said, "The great thing about DSR is that tune-up [for the Funny Car] has evolved over about 10 years. So when we brought in Todd Smith -- who is a dragster guy -- we already had great parts, pieces, tune-ups and advice for him so he can fit right in, make runs under the tutelage of the other crew chiefs, then figure out how things were working when he made changes."
And Beckman and Capps, who lost to Hagan in Sunday's second round, said DSR has no team orders, no pecking order.
"There's never team orders at Schumacher's," Beckman said. "We care about our teammates. They work side by side in the shop. We hang out together. But once the helmets go on and once we get to the front of the staging lane, burnout to turnout, there's no friends. It's just nice to know that we've got a car that can challenge for the championship."
Funny Car points leader Capps knows that all too well. Hagan is not in the Countdown, and the reigning champion has defeated Capps four times in the past six races. The salve for Capps is that those other two races were victories in his NAPA Dodge Charger.
On the flip side, Capps eliminated DSR's Johnny Gray in the first round Sunday. "We were in a no-recovery situation after missing the run on Friday night," Gray said. "Because of that, we ended up with Capps in the first round - and the bottom line is that we got our butts handed to us. We were trying to run a 4.10, and we were disgusted that we didn't, but it turns out that wouldn't have won it, anyway. Capps just made a real good run." Nowhere in Gray's words was a hint that he expected anything besides an every-man-for-himself approach from Capps.
So that's why Schumacher counts point. His drivers might claim they don't pay attention to such stuff. But Schumacher didn't mind confessing he does.
"I do count points. I count qualifying points," he said unashamedly. "I count every qualifying point, every run, and my concern right now is that we go to Reading and we qualify."
Schumacher reminded that DSR also fielded all four nitro-class finalists at Sonoma, Calif., during the Western Swing, as Brown defeated Massey in Top Fuel and Gray beat Hagan in Funny Car.
"We did it a year ago in Brainerd, also," Schumacher said. "It's just an incredible feat for my teams: the teams, the drivers, the people back in Brownsburg [the suburban Indianapolis headquarters]. There are about 20 guys who stay back in Brownsburg and machine our engine parts and build our chassis. That's really a salute to all of those people. It's not just the drivers. The drivers get all of the accolades. The crew chiefs get quite a bit. I'm getting more press than I care to get, but that's part of what I do out here. I love the sport, love what we're doing."
But he said it's time to recognize "all of the people who don't get the credit that. Really, they deserve from all of the hard, hard work they do put out day in and day out."
Another unheralded worker, he said, is Snyder, Smith's assistant crew chief for Beckman's Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger.
"Terry Snyder has done an awesome, awesome job over there. He's really an unknown guy out here. He was our track specialist for awhile, then we moved him over into the crew chief position, and really, he's behind the scenes. Nobody has really commented about Terry Snyder, but Terry and Todd do an awesome, awesome job," Schumacher said. "And Jack has done an awesome job of driving."
Both times this season that DSR has claimed all four final-round berths, Brown has won the Top Fuel trophy. Schumacher said that's a collaborative effort between Brown and his crew chiefs. And he gave tuners Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald a vote of confidence.
"Antron does an incredible job on the starting line, and so does Spencer. So does my son, Tony. Antron's able to step up all the time. Brian and Mark cover for any little hiccup Antron might have." For example, the boss noted, Massey had a better reaction time in Sunday's final round.
"Those guys pulled out a [3.]76 on a great racetrack," Schumacher said of the Matco Tools Dragster team, "and the parts just didn't work as well in Spencer's car as they did over in Antron's car. But Brian and Mark do an incredible job of stepping up to the plate to hit it over the fence whenever they need to. So it's really the whole team. It isn't just Antron. But he does his job out there excellently, also. He's an incredible racer."
Schumacher was all too happy to snap Brown back up after he broke into the Top Fuel class with team owner David Powers and then Mike Ashley and those teams dissolved. Brown had raced with DSR in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, so Schumacher brought back marketing partner Matco Tools and reunited it with Brown. "And I'm glad I did," Schumacher said.
It's just a testimony to his keen instincts, and that's why DSR is in the catbird seat in both Top Fuel and Funny Car heading into the final three races of the year.
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