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Motorsports Icon Don Schumacher Leaves Lasting Legacy After Battle with Cancer

It is with heavy hearts that the Schumacher family announce the passing of motorsports icon Don Schumacher. The NHRA team owner and Funny Car pioneer had spent the past several months privately battling lung cancer before succumbing to illness-related complications on Wednesday, December 20.

Schumacher, who was 79 at the time of his passing, leaves a lasting legacy on not only the NHRA community, where he etched his name as one of the sport’s most successful team owners and a champion for the advancement of safety innovation, but on the motorsports community as a whole. Schumacher’s contributions to the auto racing industry reach far beyond drag racing and have been widely recognized. In November 2022, Schumacher was honored at the NHRA Awards Ceremony where he was presented with the NHRA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in May 2013, he was enshrined into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama. He also joined a prestigious list of straight-line racing legends when he was invited into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.

A fierce Funny Car match racer in the 1960s and ‘70s who fielded multiple entries with top-notch drivers to fulfill the demand for bookings of his Stardust Funny Cars, Schumacher took a departure from motorsports in the early 70’s to grow the family business, Schumacher Electric. While operating Schumacher Electric, he grew the family business into a global corporation. Schumacher increased the company value more than ten-fold and employed thousands of people around the globe. He was known as a fierce and compassionate leader to all who worked with him.

In 1998, he returned to NHRA Drag Racing to build a team with son Tony Schumacher. Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) made its competition debut at the 1998 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, and by the time the 1999 season had wrapped, DSR had clinched its first of many championship titles. Soon after, the single-car team exploded into a multi-car powerhouse.

As the patriarch of DSR, Schumacher was a force to be reckoned with. More than 25 drivers have raced for the legendary team owner. He created champions, introduced new personalities to the sport, and was responsible for the resurgence of several careers. Schumacher is the only team owner to have wins from each of NHRA’s four professional categories. He was also successful in the Factory Stock Showdown Series, winning the 2018 title in only his second year of campaigning cars in the category.

His teams have amassed 19 NHRA world championship titles and 367 Wally trophies, including the five he won while behind the wheel of a Funny Car. During his driving career, he contributed cutting-edge safety innovations for the new Funny Car category, including a roof-mounted escape hatch that allowed drivers to quickly exit when all-too-frequent fires occurred. He was also the first to mount the lever that activated a fire suppression system on his Funny Car’s brake handle so the driver could apply both while keeping one hand on the steering wheel.

As a team owner, he funded and spearheaded a project to develop a protective, enclosed canopy for Top Fuel dragsters, which has since been adopted by multiple NHRA teams. Schumacher was also intent on utilizing his team’s fleet of race cars to raise money and awareness for various charities. Each year ahead of the U.S. Nationals, DSR hosts a pre-race event at its Brownsburg, Ind. headquarters to benefit Riley Hospital for Children, and for seven seasons, Schumacher, along with Terry and Doug Chandler, campaigned ‘giving cars.’ The program enabled non-profits, such as the Infinite Hero Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and MD Anderson Cancer Center to be recognized through a dedicated tribute livery at no cost to the organization. The impact Schumacher had both on and off the race track is undeniable.

In more recent years, Schumacher turned his focus to growing Don Schumacher Motorsports, more commonly known as DSM Precision Manufacturing and DSR Performance. DSR Performance is considered one of the sport’s leading race engineering and aftermarket parts brands. DSM Precision Manufacturing is a successful precision manufacturing supplier for the motorsports, defense, and aerospace industries. These entities will continue to honor the business legacy of Schumacher.

When not at a race track or leading his teams of employees, Schumacher enjoyed spending time with his children, grandchildren, fishing, and golfing.

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Arrangements, including a celebration of life ceremony, will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests making a donation to MD Anderson Cancer Center.

This story was originally published on December 21, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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