Don Schumacher said he is working on funding to keep his son, eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher, and the entire group of DSR racers on the track full-time in 2021. Moreover, he is talking about adding a fourth dragster.
The sport’s most successful team owner (with 356 trophies in hand) declined to name the racer to fill the fourth Top Fuel seat. Speculation is it could be Austin Prock, who earned rookie of the year honors with John Force Racing, or Larry Dixon, the 62-time winner and three-time champion who for about a decade was Tony Schumacher’s chief rival. Terry McMillen is looking for a new marketing partner, but would he consider not being his own boss? Would Jordan Vandergriff be a candidate, considering his uncle, Bob Vandergriff, helped guide his start in Top Fuel and blood might be thicker than nitromethane? Andrew Hines, the six-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, has expressed interest in driving a dragster one day, and what more might he feel he needs to prove on a bike? Could it be Matt Sackman, the cylinder-head specialist on Antron Brown’s team who earned his Top Fuel license here at Las Vegas last spring and has been racing successfully at the sportsman level? Is it none of the above?
Competition Plus’ best guess is that it likely is somebody who has at least a tentative sponsorship deal at this point. That’s because Don Schumacher has spoken about being focused on finding money to bring back his son and the two Funny Car racers – Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. – whose funding will disappear Nov. 1. Schumacher indicated he has funding in place to ensure a 2021 season for Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, and Leah Pruett, while Brown will postpone his debut as a solely independent Top Fuel team owner for one more year. He didn’t express too much concern about having one more program for which to find funding.
Of course that all is speculation, the stuff of “silly seasons.”
But Schumacher will keep his sponsorship-hunters busy for the next few weeks, taking advantage of the extra-long off-season. Next year’s schedule, marking the NHRA’s 70th birthday, is set to begin March 12-14 at Gainesville, Fla., rather than with the February Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
Paul Mecca is a key piece of the DSR sponsorship-procurement puzzle, and Schumacher said, “Mike Lewis [DSR vice-president] works hard at it. Ted Yerzyk works his tail off, and I have a couple of outside agencies that are working very hard for me. We’re looking at going forward and getting the job done.”
He also said of Beckman and Johnson, “They would be my guys. They have been my guys, but we have to work forward, sponsor-wise and accomplish what we’re working real hard on.”
Those two have driven, with funding from Doug and the late Terry Chandler, the so-called “giving cars” that have raised awareness of the Infinite Hero Foundation and of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center this year and Make-A-Wish and Riley Children’s Hospital in the past.
“I plan on doing my best to run four Funny Cars next year. And we’re looking at doing everything that we can do [with the same four drivers]. That’s what I’m working towards,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher said he couldn’t tell if Beckman was saying “tongue-in-cheek” that he had planned to take up his one-time job as an elevator technician after this weekend’s race. But Beckman said he wasn’t kidding.
“I am going back to work in November,” he said. “I have reactivated my union membership. Hopefully, I find something to keep driving, but I can’t afford not to have a paycheck. I still love what I do for a living.”
Beckman entered this season finale in third place, a single point behind Johnson and only 43 off Hagan’s pace. So right now, he isn’t dwelling on trading his firesuit for coveralls. “We’re still got a great car and a great team,” he said, “and if Vegas is my last race, I want to go out holding a Wally trophy in my hands.”
The same goes for Johnson, who said this race has produced “lots of mixed emotions.” This season has played out in fits and starts and a series of schedule changes and unexpected venues so much so that Johnson said, “Honestly, I’m happy. We’re coming into this last race with a shot at the championship. And I’m happy that we even got a season, because it looked like maybe after the second race of the year we wouldn’t have a season at all. . . . We’ve had a great season and would love nothing more than to be able to cap it off with a win and have a few things go our way and maybe sneak away with the championship, as well.”
That would give him a huge boost as he seeks a new sponsor.
As for Capps and Hagan, his other two Funny Car racers, Schumacher said, “They are solidly in place.”
The only thing Capps might have any anxiety about is whether crew chief Rahn Tobler will postpone retirement and stay for another year.
For Capps, the only immediate uncertainty could be whether his trusted crew chief, Rahn Tobler, will stick around one more year and defer retirement. Tobler indicated he will return to the NAPA Dodge team in 2021. “As of right now, yes,” he said.
Capps said Tobler has “mentioned it a few times here and there. Don’s always tried to bring him back. He doesn’t want him to go.”
The 2016 Funny Car champion said, “You think of crew chiefs and matches with drivers and you think of Bernstein and Armstrong . . . and La Haie and Scott Kalitta . . . and Jimmy Prock and Robert Hight.
[Capps said Tobler] keeps track of the wins we have together. The numbers are incredible, the wins we’ve had since 2012. The majority of our team, with the exception of a few guys, since 2012, I’ve had the same crew guys. You don’t see that lack of turnover very often. So that tells you they love working for Tobler and they love working with me, and I feel awesome every offseason that I’ve got the same guys. They’re like family. I would put us up there.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done together. It’s been fun. When he talks retirement, I don’t like hearing it. It’s kind of a joke with all of us – because we figure there’s no way he could step away. He and his wife have worked on having a plan to enjoy life. We just hope he’ll push it off another year. “
Don Schumacher said Hagan and Pruett will continue to rotate a variety of primary sponsorships for their cars: “It’s very difficult today to rely on just one company to be a full-year sponsor.”
He gave Pruett a vote of confidence, calling her “gritty” and “strong competitor” and “a hard worker.” And he said, “We wish the car hadn’t had the catastrophe that it had in St. Louis. It’d be a different position, points-wise. She’d be a little bit closer to Stevie [Torrence]. She’s still fighting for it. But the reality is – the way I see it, I believe Leah is out of the hunt for the championship, even though numerically, I believe, people can say, she’s still close. I believe Leah is out of the hunt for the championship and it’s going to be between Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta. The best man will win.”
According to Schumacher, it isn’t true that Pro Mod sensation “Stevie Fast” Jackson will drive for DSR next season.
“Oh, I would love to have him drive for me. But I’d have to find a sponsor and put things together,” Schumacher said. “I think he’s a remarkable personality, a remarkable driver, and I think the world of Phil Shuler and his whole group over there that brings him to the level that he’s at. Stevie Fast is a unique individual, and he deserves to continue to excel at whatever class that he wants to get into. And he will excel because of his personality and his ability. But I do not have a program going together with Stevie Fast for next year. But if one comes forward, I will definitely do that.”
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