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Chicago native Don Schumacher to be honored during NHRA Route 66 Nationals

Motorsports icon Don Schumacher will be honored during a trackside Celebration of Life ceremony when the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series heads to the Chicago area for the NHRA Route 66 Nationals, May 17-19.
02 May 2024
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Don Schumacher

Motorsports icon Don Schumacher will be honored during a trackside Celebration of Life ceremony when the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series heads to the Chicago area for the NHRA Route 66 Nationals, May 17-19. The late NHRA team owner and Funny Car pioneer privately battled lung cancer before succumbing to illness-related complications on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023. 

Schumacher is a native of the Chicago area, and the Windy City fostered his rise to prominence. The NHRA community, including officials, crews, drivers, sponsors, and fans, will all come together to celebrate the life of the founder of Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) at Route 66 Raceway, the Schumacher family’s home track, located in Joliet, Ill.

On May 17, all Friday ticketholders are encouraged to gather in a trackside tent for a community-wide Celebration of Life. The ceremony will begin promptly at 11:30 a.m. with NHRA on FOX lead broadcaster Brian Lohnes delivering the opening remarks, followed by a moment of silence led by Racers for Christ. Schumacher had a longstanding relationship with Racers for Christ, having hosted the group’s Sunday services in the DSR hospitality tents for many years. At 11:45 a.m., fans will enjoy a star-studded autograph session featuring former DSR drivers and riders signing a special Don Schumacher commemorative hero card. 

Schumacher was a well-known philanthropist, often utilizing his team’s fleet of race cars to raise money and awareness for causes near and dear to his heart. To honor Schumacher’s commitment to giving back, attendees will be able to purchase a raffle ticket in exchange for a $10 donation to MD Anderson Cancer Center. Schumacher and his longtime friend and DSR sponsor partner Terry Chandler both received treatment at MD Anderson during their respective battles with cancer. One lucky raffle winner will receive one of two 40-inch by 26-inch framed pieces of art featuring every DSR car through 2022, including the cars Schumacher himself piloted in the 1960s and ‘70s. A second raffle winner will win one of the three large-scale Don Schumacher commemorative banners, which will be on display during the Celebration of Life ceremony.

For those not in attendance who would like the opportunity to win one of these limited-edition items, bids can be placed via an online auction, also benefitting MD Anderson. Additionally, fans may choose to support the Schumacher family’s fundraising efforts by making a monetary donation to MD Anderson and can do so by visiting the auction link. Additional available auction items include a framed, race-worn Don Schumacher signature red DSR shirt, a Don Schumacher Wonder Wagon vintage die cast, and a framed photo of Schumacher on the starting line.

Fans following along at home should be sure to tune into the May 19 NHRA Route 66 Nationals broadcast, which will include tributes to Schumacher by several former DSR drivers and crew chiefs. The finals are slated to air on FS1 at 4 and 10 p.m. ET. 

Schumacher, who was 79 at the time of his passing, leaves a lasting legacy as one of drag racing’s most influential figures. His teams amassed 19 NHRA world championship titles and 367 Wallys, including the five he won while behind the wheel of a Funny Car, making him the winningest team owner in NHRA history. During his driving career in the 1960s and ‘70s, he contributed cutting-edge safety innovations for the new Funny Car category, including a roof-mounted escape hatch that allowed drivers to quickly exit when fires occur, as well as becoming the first to mount the lever that activated a fire suppression system on his Funny Car’s brake handle so the driver could apply both while keeping one hand on the steering wheel. Among his other notable contributions, Schumacher also spearheaded the development of an enclosed canopy for Top Fuel dragsters, which has become a standard feature for multiple NHRA teams. His on-track dominance and efforts for the advancement of safety innovation have been widely recognized. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2013, enshrined into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2019, and, in 2022, was presented with NHRA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The trackside Celebration of Life ceremony and autograph session are open to all. Those interested in participating should plan to gather in the tent by 11:15 a.m. on Friday morning. Remarks will begin promptly at 11:30, and the DSR autograph session will immediately follow, beginning at approximately 11:45 a.m. The online auction is now open for bids and will close on Friday, May 17 at 5 p.m. CT.