The worldwide Pandemic has made a mess of a lot of things, and for drag racing, it has created a situation the likes of which has never been seen.
Virtually every entity from sanctioning bodies to track owners to race teams and everyone else in the community has been affected by weeks of isolation.
Don Schumacher has always faced a monumental challenge coordinating his multitude of race teams, sponsors and employees. Schumacher, in his time as a team owner, has faced an energy crisis, recessions and the loss of sponsor. However, nothing could have prepared him for the unthinkable challenge which hit drag racing front and center on March 12, 2020.
The NHRA, at the urging of Florida government officials, postponed the Gatornationals until June, a date which cannot assuredly be set in stone.
CompetititonPlus.com’s Bobby Bennett caught up with Schumacher for a chat about the state of affairs in the straight line spot. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, as Schumacher confirmed.
BOBBY BENNETT – About a week ago I talked with Bill Bader Jr., and, of course, me being Captain Obvious I would say tha it’s not a good time to be a track owner. But now probably isn’t too good of a time to be a multicar team owner, either, is it?
DON SCHUMACHER – It’s a very difficult time for most every business, whether it be a track owner, whether it be a race team owner. The people that work for you are family, and it’s a difficult time to be able to maintain everybody in a positive manner with what’s going on here in the world.
BB – I can tell you as a COVID-19 survivor before it all hit home and races were being cancelled, I didn’t really take the whole thing seriously. And then it hit me, and then I got really serious about it. What was your initial thought regarding all of this? Did you think that everybody was overreacting? Or did you look at it the way it needed to be right from the very first?
DS – My personal position on it from the very beginning was it was difficult, but I never imagined in my wildest dream that something could do to the world what this has done to the world at this point. It is unimaginable in my eyes, stepping away from just racing because this is much, much bigger than that and I know this interview is basically targeted at the racing side of it. This disease or this pandemic is affecting every one of us in so many ways. And I have been blessed, and my family has been blessed, that none of us have come down with it as of yet. None of us have experienced what you’ve gone through, and too many other people have gone through here in the United States. And it has to be unimaginable, the effect on some of the people.
They say some people get it where they really don’t even show any symptoms and others get it where it takes their life. Very difficult, very tough times that I couldn’t have ever imagined. I was in total agreement with what NHRA did when they cancelled Gainesville. Yes, all of us were there. I wasn’t there as of yet. But all of the cars were there. All of the rigs were there. All of the teams were there. Everybody was checked into their hotel rooms. But this has grown to be so much bigger than anything that any of us could have imagined. I don’t know how to respond to a lot of the realities of this.
BB- I would imagine that this has had to put a heavy, I don’t want to say burden, but it’s been extremely tough with what your sponsors have faced. How has it been working with the sponsors through all of this?
DS – Well, we cannot perform today for what the sponsors are paying us to do. Yes, we’re doing some social, we’re doing as much possible social media as we can possibly do and generating positive results in that area. But we’re paid to go out and race, and perform, and do that in front of tens of thousands of people. And we can’t do that at this time. So sponsors are looking at it in that light. But most of my sponsors’ businesses are being affected. And it’s a very difficult time for them as it is for my companies. And we just look forward to getting on the other side of this.
BB – How hard is it going to be for drag racing to rebound from what it’s experienced thus far in 2020?
DS – It is such an unknown today. I have no idea. I need to look at the population of the United States, we’re used to getting out, and doing things, and going places, and having entertainment, and all of the things that we’re used to. I don’t know what it’ll be on the other side. I have no idea. It’s an unknown. It’s an unknown, with the world that we’re in today with how it’s affecting everything.
BB – Would you foresee, if we do get the call to go back at the first of June, how many weeks do you think it’s going to take for the teams to be prepared to come back out and race? Or do you think they’ll be able to flip the switch and go right back?
DS – The teams were ready to race in Gainesville. And so everybody is 100% ready to race. I don’t see that as being a problem. So how many team members and family members and such have been affected by this pandemic? Every one of us have been. Maybe not health-wise, but in some way or another. But every team was ready to race at Gainesville that was there. And all they have to do is get to the race track and get started.
So flipping the switch will be relatively easy. It’s how many races in a row that teams can run, and perform at, and travel. That’s an unknown. I don’t think any of us know what the world is going to be on the other side of this.
BB – That is very true. Well, looking back in the archives, let’s say you experienced the energy crisis of the 1970s. You experienced the time of 9/11. You also experienced the 2009 recession, and now we’ve got this. Man, it has not been easy sailing for you, either as a racer or a team owner, has it?
DS – All of those other events that you speak about impacted us all in ways, but it was at different times in our lives that we found ways to deal with it, and get through it, and move on forward. I have not, in my lifetime, ever imagined or experienced anything like what is transpiring right now. And getting through it, or getting on the other side of it. We’re not there yet. I don’t know what it’s going to be.
BB – And you know what? Another thing that I mentioned to Bill Bader Jr. is that how could we ever prepare for this when we never saw it coming? Yeah. How do you prepare for something like this?
DS – I’m speechless; there’s just no way that we could have ever prepared for this or had any idea that something like this was going to transpire. It just wasn’t in the realm of any of our thought processes or our imaginations.
BB – This time has created such a difficult situation for everybody. Was there ever the thought that “Maybe this might be the time for me to step away from drag racing.”? Or are you committed to it more than ever?
DS – Like I said early on, every one of my employees are family members to me. And I am committed to supporting them to whatever point I can. I am committed to living life tomorrow. But I don’t know what it’s going to be. I am in a total area that I have never imagined being in, and uncertain of what will be in the next two, three months. But I am certainly looking at what has transpired in the last, let’s say the last week, and looking at the possibilities of positives in the next two weeks. That does not mean that I have any imagination that we will be back racing in the next two weeks. But I’m hoping that our scientists, and our doctors, and our world will be able to conquer this and start to move forward in a few more weeks.
That doesn’t mean we’re going to be gathering. That doesn’t mean all of the restaurants, and bars and everything are going to open back up. It’s an unknown period right now. But it appears that the U.S. government, with the steps that they’ve taken, has caused things to start to settle out. And I’m hoping that there’s positive news for us to continue to deal with in the next two weeks.
BB – on a personal note, you’ve battled and overcame cancer. And you’ve really lived a life without restriction. And with the pandemic, I guess you would be considered one of those at risk. How hard has it been for you as a man who knows no limits, or apparently looks like he knows the limits, to be able to, I don’t know, hold yourself back some for your greater good? How tough has that been?
DS – Well, I’m in an unusual place, here in Florida, where I live during the winter. And I still have the ability to get out a lot more than most people. Not necessarily out and doing things, but I’m able to be outside. I’m able to enjoy some of the other distractions that are available to me here. But also, at my age, I’ve become more laid back than I was when I was 30 years old. So that’s made it easier for me to deal with this on an internal basis.
I really struggle for the rest of my family, which means all of my children, my grandchildren, but also all of my employees, how difficult this has been and is being on them and me being a little more controlled at what I go out and do, and can’t travel and move around like that, it’s just been something that I’ve had to deal with it. It’s a change in life that all of us have to deal with different things as we take every step in life.
The postponement of live events, and suspension of drag racing as a whole, has put drag racing in a precarious position. A no-nonsense interview with Summit Motorsports Park owner Bill Bader Jr. #DragRacingNews – https://t.co/jb9oN8tQpH pic.twitter.com/26ygRvMOUo
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) April 1, 2020