‘New Sarge’ Brings Fresh Perspective To Proven Top Fuel Team

‘New Sarge’ Brings Fresh Perspective To Proven Top Fuel Team

Eight-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher picked up his nickname – “The Sarge” – during his 18-year run with U.S. Army sponsorship.

But now “The Real Sarge” is in charge of Schumacher’s pit.

Joe Maynard, a retired Army-sergeant engineer, and wife Cathi Maynard, who served in the Army as an M.P., accelerated from fans to sponsors to team owners. He bought controlling interest in what arguably is the sport’s most victorious franchise, Don Schumacher Racing, with its 19 championships and 367 victories. Schumacher remains active with the team as a minority partner.

And the newly branded Maynard Family Racing, sometimes referred to as JCM/DSR, clearly has a new vibe – and new three-year marketing partner in SCAG Power Equipment. Like the Maynards, SCAG – an industry leader in commercial and residential lawn mowers and professional and residential debris management equipment – has deepened its commitment this year.

What’s different is the new team owners’ already successful approach to competing in the Camping World Drag Racing Series. The Maynards bring a joy in appreciating fast race cars – something their Mustang-loving son drew out of them but was in their DNA all along.

He said they have “maybe a few” fast cars in their Clarksville, Tenn., garage: “We have factory cars that run under 10 seconds – GT 500s [Shelby GT500 Ford Mustangs]. We have old cars and new cars. We’re into cars.”

Although Joe said he used to street race – “but nothing that you can count” – Cathi confessed with a coy smile that she was the one who had the lead foot on the gas. And her husband quickly confirmed it. Without hesitation, Joe Maynard said, “Yes, she did” and tattled that she has been known to sweet-talk her way out of a few speeding tickets.

We had no idea we were going to buy the team. It was a sponsorship deal. All year this year it’s been steadily getting to know each other. We treat everybody like they’re a big family. That’s the Army way. – Joe Maynard

He gets a kick out of sharing how they started thinking about becoming drag-racing team owners one day. The “seed for speed” actually was planted about 15 years ago.

“The first time Cathi saw a drag race in person was in Bristol. We had handicapped parking. We pulled up right at the finish line. And I heard a Top Fuel car fire up. We were late, of course.” He urged her to go get as close to the action as she could, and she didn’t waste any time. “So she went by the line, by the fence, and Tony went by about 300 miles an hour. She came back to the van and said, “I want one someday.” Well, here we are. Didn’t know it was going to have to be him.”

Why on Earth would she want to own a Top Fuel dragster, this former Army softball and volleyball player? Her husband was “all-Europe in golf and bowling” while pursuing sports under the Army banner, so he wasn’t pushing her to say that. Her answer: “Because I have a need for speed. He used to call me a horsepower snob.”

He said, “She is a horsepower snob.”

But she said, “I just fell in love with it. They call me stubborn. I call me determined.”

“We kind of did a lot of sports stuff together. That was the genesis of what made us happy. It just kind of evolved into cars,” Joe Maynard said.

What Makes Them Happy is a key ingredient into this freshly baked recipe that has turned out perfectly from the start (including a victory at Seattle and a runner-up finish at Brainerd). When the Maynards first met the decorated driver and his wife, Summer, hoping just to sponsor the team, Joe Maynard said he remarked, “It’s going to be fun.” And, he said, “that’s exactly what we said: “It’s going to be fun as a sponsor.” And it’s been fun ever since. All of us work hard and play together hard, building a team together that’s going to be tough.”

There’s people that lead with an iron fist, and there’s people who go, ‘I’m going to hire great people and let ’em do their jobs. – Tony Schumacher

“Fun” is a word Don Schumacher seldom used. His pleasure seemed to be in the poetry of the business deal, in calculating the next trend or safety issue, in envisioning ways to increase a sponsor’s return on investment, and in micro-managing the winning formula. He used his intuition to discover new talent among drivers and crew chiefs and was a master at pairing just the right combinations for ideal chemistry. And Schumacher was excellent at it. But after a company-building hiatus from the sport and a laser focus on Schumacher Electric, he returned in 1998 to make sure his son would be racing in safe equipment. He was a man on a mission. “Fun” wasn’t a motivating factor particularly, and by time the Maynards emerged on to the scene (first as a sponsor for Leah Pruett’s dragster), Schumacher was not embracing “fun.” Surely he is proud of the startlingly impressive array of trophies in the lobby of the Brownsburg, Ind., headquarters. But the mass exodus of drivers, whether for greener pastures or because of funding issues, took its toll on Schumacher.

“I love working with my dad. We’ve worked together since the beginning. We’re both here because of each other. But I felt like he was not as happy the last couple of years,” Tony Schumacher said. “My dad still is one of the owners. They’re all friends. They get along good.”

Cathi Maynard said, “Last year we had no idea we were going to buy the team,” and Joe agreed. He said, “No, we had no idea we were going to buy the team. It was a sponsorship deal. All year this year it’s been steadily getting to know each other. We treat everybody like they’re a big family. That’s the Army way.”

So it’s simply a different set of owners with their own unique backgrounds. And it’s clear the Maynards get along fabulously with Tony Schumacher, who didn’t partner with the U.S. Army until 2000, six years after the Maynards retired. (“That’s how we got to following Tony. We were already civilians by then. We were big Army fans,” Joe said.)

They worked out their deal in what Joe Maynard called a “straightforward” way.

“Cathi and I had developed a pretty good relationship with Don. When Leah [Pruett] announced she was leaving Don [Don Schumacher Racing], and we had been a sponsor on Leah’s car, I just asked him, ‘What do you want to do next year?’ And he said, ‘You got time to meet me next week in Indy at the shop? I’ll give you a tour of the shop and we’ll talk.’ The opportunity to sponsor and get Tony back [out on the track full-time] started there. Then this year, I asked him, ‘Would you be interested someday in maybe letting us take over?’ That’s pretty much the way it went. It was just that simple. Some great negotiations, some great talks. He’s teaching me a lot, and I’m listening. That’s the way it works.

“Don and I had a good negotiation. We’re two businessmen who sat down and decided (A) if it was right for both of us and (B) what was a fair price. Like any deal, you negotiate. And that was that,” Maynard said. “We both shook hands and a month later did a contract. We had decided we were going to do it. There wasn’t any wrangling or handwringing or anything like that. We were just two guys who had something in mind and decided we’d do it together.”

Cathi Maynard said when she first met Tony, “I thought he was a doll. He was sweet and personable.”

Her husband laughed. “A doll? That’s an interesting thing,” he said, shooting her a bemused smile. He said, “She was a fan. You meet him as fans. Then we got around to having a real relationship. That’s the way it works. He’s a good kid, a good guy.”

Joe Maynard gets a kick out of Schumacher’s sometimes silly sense of humor. After Schumacher won at Seattle, for the first time since the fall 2020 Houston event – in the Maynards’ first race as principal team owners – he said, “We’ve been struggling mostly on straight tracks.” Maynard chuckled, shook his head, and rolled his eyes.

It’s not all laughs all the time. Both father and son Schumacher want to win, and the Maynards want to win.

Tony Schumacher said he was a little puzzled when he realized the Maynards wanted to purchase majority interest in the team, “because we’re getting our ass whooped. I’m like, ‘Shoot, how many people will be trying to buy the team if we can’t win again?’ But we’re going to, and I think that’s what made it exciting. They went, ‘Boy, we see a light at the end of the tunnel. We see the fire here. We want to be here when it’s right.’”

And it was right, right away. The ink on the contract barely was dry when Schumacher won at Seattle’s Pacific Raceways. That’s when Joe Maynard said, “I think I bought a winner. Cathi and I don’t have any doubt this is winning team. It just hadn’t started yet. We think it started today, and we plan on it staying this way for a long time. We’ve got the best that’s ever been, so I’m going to go with that. This is the basis of our decision – and those young guys [crew]. We’re proud of it.”

One of the Maynards’ and Don Schumacher’s shared successes was landing a long-term sponsor for Tony Schumacher’s dragster. SCAG Power Equipment has increased its seven-race primary/six-race co-primary one-year partnership to a multi-year agreement that makes the Wisconsin-based company primary partner of the Maynard Family Racing team through 2025.

Joe Maynard – who changed the level of his investment significantly, as well – said, “Moving from primary sponsorship to ownership has made Cathi and me very aware of the importance of a great partnering sponsor like SCAG.”

It’s the value that SCAG and its President and CEO, Randy Gloede also saw. Gloede said, “The decision to not only continue, but expand upon, our partnership with Tony Schumacher and the Maynard Family Racing team was an easy one. NHRA was a new market for us, and we looked at 2022 to be somewhat of a trial run. Our distributor and dealer network quickly capitalized on the value of our relationship with Tony through social media campaigns, appearances, trackside hospitality, midway interactions, and customer appreciation events. The NHRA fanbase includes a high percentage of property owners in need of outdoor power equipment, and SCAG is quickly becoming their brand of choice. Tony is an excellent ambassador of our brand.”

 Schumacher said it’s “truly unbelievable how this program has grown. Everyone has been so supportive and excited, and it feels like an actual family. After the Army left, I wondered who could ever fill those shoes. And I made it clear that I didn’t want just ‘any old sponsor.’ We wanted a company that was truly behind us and excited about the partnership. That is what we have found with SCAG.”

The transaction was seamless. And that’s in part because, as Schumacher said about Maynard as he awaited the first qualifying session of the Countdown, “He’s business. He really is. Right now he’s doing business. He’ll be here in a little while, but he’s out buying a company. He likes business.”

He said the Maynards “are happy to be out here, like you want an owner to be. Give us what we need to win the race, come when you want to come to the race, and let us do our job. I’m of the belief that the greatest business owners hire the right people and then they let them do their jobs. There’s people that lead with an iron fist, and there’s people who go, ‘I’m going to hire great people and let ’em do their jobs. Some days it’ll be great. Some days it’ll be a little harder. But ultimately, if I hire the best team, they’re going to do the best job they can.”

The Top Fuel class’ most successful driver put his career in perspective: “I’ve won 86 races. But I’ve lost hundreds.” (He has gone home without the trophy 444 times, for the record.) “You don’t win these things half the time. It’s just not like that. So find a guy you like [to work with]. Find someone you can get along with and have a good time. Please your sponsors, please your fans, and do what you do. We are entertainment.”

Only John Force Racing, with 21 series titles and 299 victories, comes close to the Maynards’ inherited accolades. And boss John Force, a 155-time winner by himself, said, “I like [Don] Schumacher being here, because he brought seven teams to the sport and a lot of people. I like what he’s given to the sport – and he’s still giving.” And, truth be told, Force rather misses the verbal jousting with Don Schumacher and their often-intense competitiveness.

“Joe and Cathi are new. I’ll get ’em to piss John off at some point,” Tony Schumacher teased. “It’s what makes it fun, what the fans want to hear. Nobody wants to see all the hugging down at the finish line.”

Besides, he said of Joe Maynard, “He’s a nice guy. And it’s not about trying to make people mad. That’s not the goal. It’s trying to do your job well for somebody, and that makes the guy you’re competing against mad.”

Maynard indicated Schumacher still can make some people mad in this Countdown: “If we didn’t think we had a chance to win, we wouldn’t be focused so much on the constant improvement right now. We think the team is motivated. We’ve got the crew chiefs we think are right. The mojo’s always there. It’s just a matter of getting it going. [Tony] knows how to motivate others. And he knows how to do his job once they’ve done theirs, and that’s very important. He didn’t win eight [championships] because he doesn’t know how to go down the track. We’re proud of him. We’re proud of the team. But we know this is a tough group out here. Nothing guaranteed.”

NHRA/National Dragster Photo

Well, one thing is: the Maynards support U.S. military- and children-centric charities. Joe Maynard debunked the misinformation that he and Cathi have a foundation but wholeheartedly expressed support for causes dear to their hearts.

“We don’t have a foundation. That’s a myth. Somebody said that, but we don’t have a foundation. We sponsor a couple of major charities. We’re a big sponsor of theirs, but we don’t have a foundation. A Soldiers Child and American Mobility Project are our two big ones. They’re both 501(c)(3)s. They both support military people with disabilities, and A Soldier’s Child supports kids who have lost their parents,” Joe said.

“They’re the only organization that only supports kids…their birthday, Christmas, and any kind of camp you can think of,” Cathi said of A Soldier’s Child.

He said, “Everything we do supports either a child, a veteran, or a homeless [person] or some combination thereof. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, we won’t donate. [Longtime DSR beneficiary] Riley Hospital for Children – that’s another one we support, because it’s for kids.”

A car that gulps nitromethane and puts out 11,000 horsepower isn’t kids play, but Joe and Cathi Maynard have brought a kid-like exuberance to their “new” Camping World Drag Racing Series team. And another elite-level driver has full-time ride for three more years – which is a salute to the newest Sarge in the sport.

About the author

Susan Wade

Celebrating her 45th year in sports journalism, Susan Wade has emerged as one of the leading drag-racing writers with 20 seasons at the racetrack. She was the first non-NASCAR recipient of the prestigious Russ Catlin Award and has covered the sport for the Chicago Tribune, Newark Star-Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, and Seattle Times. Growing up in Indianapolis, motorsports is part of her DNA. She contributes to Power Automedia as a freelancer writer.
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