Don Schumacher Racing will win both the Top Fuel and Funny Car championships. His Top Fuel trio are 1-2-3 in the standings, and no one but a DSR driver has led the points all year. DSR colleagues Jack Beckman and Ron Capps are set for a Funny Car showdown.
Only one other time has an organization won both the nitro championships — and it was Don Schumacher Racing, in 2005, with Tony Schumacher and Gary Scelzi.
It’s even more remarkable, considering that Don Schumacher himself won only five national events in the early 1970s as a Funny Car driver but his team is closing in on the 200-victory plateau. OK — call it a stupendous season, one during which Don Schumacher was surprised July 1 to learn that he had been selected for 2013 induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala.
So what has Don Schumacher done to get to this point? Plenty, his drivers say.
Antron Brown, the Top Fuel points leader, said, “The coolest part is that at DSR, you have the best of everything.”
That includes the best cooperation among crew chiefs. Brown said that this past winter, “They all talked about what they wanted to develop for this year. Look, our new chassis is built in house. They all worked on that. And Norm [Boutot], our head fab guy, they collaborated on it, and we had these new parts come out. And that’s just a testament on how great this organization is about innovation. Look at the enclosed cockpit. They’ve all worked together and developed all this innovation and taken things to the next level.
“We do our own blocks, our own cylinder heads, our own rods. And it’s not that we were getting bad parts, but if you want to go out and win championships and you want to run against Al Anabi, Alan Johnson who makes his own stuff, you have to innovate beyond that edge to make your stuff better,” he said. “Our quality is better, so our part failures are less. We’re going A to B without blowing up engines. We capitalize on that stuff and make fewer mistakes, go down track more, and that’s what Don has orchestrated. Also, just collaborating and making it happen for all of our race teams, including our Funny Cars. That’s why I think you see all seven of our race teams this year have done so well.”
On the track, Brown said, boss Schumacher reminds them to take one increment of the race at a time: “Any day you can look back and say, ‘Hey, I did every step to the best of my abilities, the whole team has, and this is where we’re at now. And I think that’s why you see a lot of our teams in those final rounds and we’re all running for these championships. ‘ “
Tony Schumacher said, “He’s put together good teams, good combinations, and we saw this shift with Beckman and Capps, with the crew chiefs, everyone was up in arms: ‘You can’t do that.’ But look at them now — they’re four points apart going into the last race. We’re fairly good at moving people into the positions they need to be at to keep us on top. If you could go back to our shop, you’d see guys in our fab shop late at night and you’d see guys in our machine shop late at night. They’re not getting paid extra to be there late at night. We found those people, the people that it takes to make a championship team, to make perfect cars, to make fewer mistakes. And because the organization is so good, they don’t want to leave. They don’t want to go to other teams. We’ve got the right people right now, and hopefully we keep them a long time. “
Beckman, who has driven for DSR since 2006, counts Todd Smith as his seventh crew chief there. And the Funny Car leader said he has learned to adjust to various sponsors, teammates, and personnel combinations.
“I learned my lesson a long time ago. Yes, you get disappointed. Yes, you get used to the continuity of staying with the same team, and change can be difficult. But I’ve never driven for a bad crew chief. All seven of them have given me a car that’s won a race,” he said. “So I knew that I had to just check my emotions and that things would eventually swing back to where they are now.”
Beckman added, “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.
“[After the April switch] Ron Culver and John Collins, Ron Capps’ crew chief right now, never let us go,” Beckman said. They always were there to offer advice and help us and support us. The proof is the way things turned out for both teams. Schumacher is a genius at doing this, and I don’t second guess him.”
Capps agreed, saying “Don makes these changes with a lot of thought. I’ve always told Don, ‘Whatever your choice is, I’m going to do what you want to do with full support,’ and Jack is the same way. This is what we do for a living. You sometimes sit back and wonder what he [Schumacher] is thinking, but everything usually turns out like gold. And all you can do is give him your full support, because he gives you everything you need to win. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
“The Don,” using a reference from Spiderman comic and film lore, said his business experience is the key.
“It’s not a spider sense, not a ‘This feels right.’ It’s my knowledge and experience of working with a lot of people in a lot of organizations over my career,” he said.
“I have another 2,000 employees on the other side of my business. In every company, you have to make decisions and put the right people in the right place and to do the right thing at the right time,” Schumacher said. “Undoubtedly that’s some unknown ability that I seem to have been lucky with.”