It happened to be the same car he drove everywhere he went.
“That’s the way it was back then,” Schumacher said. “I drove the same car I drove on the streets. Got beat. And it lit a competitive fire under me.”
Schumacher, who is now 68, still is working to satisfy that competitive fire. He still works in drag racing, even though he had a 23-year break between driving and owning cars.
This week, he is in Talladega, one of the bastions of stock car racing, as an invited guest. The International Motorsports Hall of Fame inducted him at a ceremony Thursday night. He went in with NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace and former crew chief Don Inman.
Hendrick, Wallace and Schumacher also attended a lunch in their honor Thursday afternoon in Oxford.
It marked a nice moment for Schumacher, who is participating in a sport in which he doesn’t always get a lot of national recognition, but he loves it all the same.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the whole thing,” he said. “This is something I certainly never thought would happen to me.”
Schumacher drove cars until 1974, winning 11 National Hot Rod Association drag racing championships. He also took top honors at 196 racing events.
But he left the sport, choosing instead to focus on family and his business, Schumacher Electric Corporation, which was based near his hometown of Chicago.
He didn’t intend to return but did in 1997, building a new drag racing career as a team owner. He did it because his son, Tony, was getting involved in the sport as a driver. Tony Schumacher was one of his first drivers.
Tony still drives for him as part of the U.S. Army team and has won seven NHRA championships. In fact, it was Tony who introduced him at the Hall of Fame ceremony Thursday night.
One of his three daughters, 21-year-old Megan, helps with Don Schumacher Racing’s social media.
Don Schumacher said he feels “blessed” that he has been able to maintain a career in drag racing, especially since it includes family.
“When I started, I knew nothing about cars,” he said. “I knew nothing mechanical. But I had a competitive drive. And I always felt that the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.