On the Throttle with … Tony Schumacher
NHRA Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher, A.K.A. “The Sarge”, is a veteran leader of the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) team of Mopar®-sponsored competitors. He has eight NHRA Top Fuel Championships to his credit in the U.S. Army dragster, and more all-time wins (83) than any other Top Fuel driver (by more than 20). The Sarge is also in the top 10 of the all-time NHRA win list for all racers. At the time of this interview, he was third in Top Fuel points behind teammate Leah Pritchett, who placed first.
MOPAR® MAGAZINE: It’s a great time to be a part of DSR.
Tony Schumacher: “We have an incredible team. Period. We’ve been strong for many years, and this is possibly one of our best starts ever. The U.S. Army car is strong. Leah (Pritchett) is doing well. She’s got good people around her. She’s new but she will be an excellent driver.”
MM: You got win No. 83 in Gainesville this year. Do you get tired of winning?
TS: “No! I get tired of getting beat. Nobody shows up for a tie. That’s the beauty of a drag race. One race, one winner, 15 losers. It’s a humbling sport. The U.S. Army car I am driving serves a dual purpose. Yes to win, and also to recruit and to teach kids. I’ve learned a lot of lessons, as well. I’ve spoken to a lot of kids and the most important thing I can tell them is that all the years when they were growing up and people told them that everyone wins and everyone gets a trophy, well, that’s not always true. They’re not always going to win. There are 83 trophies on my shelf, and hundreds of empty spaces for the times I got nothing. That’s reality. Other people can win too. You have to learn to fight and battle to win. And learn to accept that you are going to lose sometimes. Surround yourself with people who are capable of winning. You have to earn it.”
MM: Are there still big performance barriers that can be broken in Top Fuel?
TS: “Drag racing is a beautiful sport. It’s all about breaking barriers. It’s about following the rules of the sanctioning body and for the crew chiefs to out-think those rules by being innovative and using STEM – all the science, technology, engineering and the math to set world record after world record. We’re seeing it this year. We’ve seen some of the fastest runs in the history of the sport earlier this year. When championships are on the line at the end of the year, we’ll throw everything in the book at them.”
MM: What do you think will be the next big record broken?
TS: “That’s a great question. Are we gonna hit a 3? I can’t tell you that. Will it be a speed record? I don’t know with the required rev limiters if we can do that. But the elapsed times are going to fall and fall. We can get there (finish line) quick, but we just can’t build the speed.”
MM: Will there be big breakthroughs in Top Fuel technology?
TS: “There could be. If there are, we’re going to have them. I know some of the things we’re working on. Look, a few years back, 1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2 was the common (cylinder) firing order in everything, right? We went and fixed that, made it (the engine) more balanced and efficient, but then we got slowed down. So then we had to re-think it again, and we made changes in things like blowers and injectors. We have smart people. I get to listen to all these smart guys and some of it rubs off on me. I do 200 speeches a year to young people and here’s something I tell the kids, ‘You want to be smart, walk in the lunch room and sit at a table with a bunch of engineers. Sit down, you’ll learn engineering. But if you walk in and sit down with a bunch of dummies, you will not get smarter.”
MM: What will Tony Schumacher be doing in five years?
TS: “Some form of teaching. I’ll still be driving. But raising our youth into the right place for the Army is so important to me that I will follow that path at some level. I love what I do.”