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Hot rod legend Tony Schumacher

A hot rod legend like his father before him, Tony Schumacher holds the land-speed record for a quarter-mile run along with countless other drag racing achievements.

Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher is arguably the most successful drag racer in the history of the sport.

An eight-time National Hot Rod Association champion, he led the pack in consecutive years from 2004 to 2009. He is the winningest racer in the NHRA’s “top fuel” class, posting 53 career victories, holding the record for the fastest quarter-mile run and reaching 330 mph in competition before any other racer.

The son of fellow drag racing legend Don Schumacher and Susann (Passananti) Schumacher, Tony was raised in northwest suburban Park Ridge. Given his pedigree and resume, you’d think that he grew up behind the wheel. Not so, the hot rod superstar reveals.

“I originally went to college for marketing and business,” Schumacher says. “I was 20 years old and I really liked what I did. [Then] I got offered the opportunity to drive a professional race car.”

After that, he was off to the races and he never looked back. In the beginning, his goals were modest enough.

“I thought it would be amazing to win one race someday,” he shares. “I had to race against guys that were already legends.”

And he remains modest as a person today despite his mindboggling success.

“I just think I found the right people,” he says. “I speak to kids all the time and I tell them that we can always perform at a high level, but it’s about surrounding yourself with people who can too, and then you push each other.”

It certainly didn’t hurt to have a trailblazing father.

A five-time NHRA champion, Don Schumacher won the U.S. Nationals from 1970 to 1974. And since his return to the track as the owner of multi-team Don Schumacher Racing in 1997, he has garnered 16 world championships, setting 27 out of a possible 42 NHRA track records and notching nearly 300 victories, with his son accounting for many of those wins.

Though he was raised by the best drag racer of that era, Schumacher never felt pressured to follow in his father’s footsteps, or compete with him once he did.

“I never needed more than knowing I’m going to have Thanksgiving with him and talk about how I raced,” Schumacher says. “He let me work at it for a very long time until I was good at it. Then he built us a team, and as a team we are the most winning in our sport.”

Schumacher earned his nickname during his long association with the U.S. Army. That particular branch of the military was looking for a motorsport to sponsor in the late ’90s, settling on drag racing. When it came time to choose among four finalists to represent the sport, Schumacher landed the job when he walked into the meeting sporting a shaved head and a military demeanor. For the next 19 years, Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher proudly represented the U.S. Army on and off the track.

“They enlisted me for recruiting,” he explains. “I got on a plane and drove a tank. I could do any job for them.”

Though Schumacher isn’t currently racing, he does podcasts to stay in touch with his enormous fan base.

“My son brought up the point that my fans still want to hear from me, and if I’m not at the race track and they can’t see me race, I should go on and talk to them and answer their questions,” he says.

A high schooler on the brink of college, Anthony Joseph Schumacher has a world of options open to him. Is he destined to climb behind the wheel, like his father and grandfather before him? The choice is entirely up to him, according to his dad.

“Racing is one of those things that you don’t put your kid in, he’s got to want it,” Schumacher says. “They have to love what they do.”

The above appears in the November 2019 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Vincent Martorano

Vincent Martorano is a student at Ball State University majoring in news journalism with a minor in sports journalism. He began writing his senior year at Vernon Hills High School, choosing sports writing because it brings together two of his passions.