If there was ever anyone who personified a sponsor, it is NHRA Top Fuel dragster champion Tony Schumacher. He looks like a U.S. Army soldier, complete with a buzz cut, hence his nickname “The Sarge.”
He is the center of a recruiting program that brought at least 30,000 youngsters per year in contact with the military service since the sponsorship started in 2000.
Yet, that wasn’t the most touching scene in the NHRA pits. Rather, it was older gentlemen who served as far back as World War II, who often told Schumacher their stories and wished him luck before posing for a photo. They were proud of their service and proud of Schumacher representing them.
Schumacher’s pit will be wild at the season-ending Auto Club Finals at Pomona. It will mark the last time the greatest Top Fuel driver ever will represent the Army. It was announced Sunday the Army will cease sponsoring the Don Schumacher Racing entries. In addition to Schumacher, the Army also sponsors Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett on an associated basis.
Schumacher’s association with Army is extensive. He has visited at least 45 installations, including USO tours. Furthermore, he conducts approximately 200 speeches for students and educators and community leaders.
The sponsorship ties between the Army, NHRA and DSR run deep. At virtually every national event, hundreds of youngsters attend YES (Youth and Educational Services) in addition to the swearing in of new recruits. At each national event, a local Army soldier is recognized for his duty.
It all started in 2000, and Schumacher went on to win the prestigious U.S. Nationals. The program went full-time in 2002.
“Tony Schumacher and DSR have been great spokespersons for the Army as far as being able to get around and do things for us in schools, at the track, at the Pentagon,” Mike Sullivan, a director with the Army Brand Group, said in 2012 when the office responsible for Army marketing and research dropped its NASCAR sponsorship. It was reported at the time the Army was spending $8.4 million sponsoring Ryan Newman’s stock car.
There is a history of military sponsorships in the sport. The National Guard was the title sponsor of the American Drag Racing League; Kenny Bernstein Racing had a marketing agreement with the U.S. Air Force; the U.S. Navy backed Tom McEwen; and the U.S. Marines aligned with Pro Stock driver Tom Hammonds.
With the Army pulling out, Summit Racing equipment will take over as the longest sponsor. Summit has sponsored the Pro Stock duo of Greg Anderson and Jason Line since 2004.
Jeb Allen shared his first winner’s circle with Don Schumacher at the 1972 NHRA Summerationals at the now-closed Englishtown, N.J, track. The pair will team again later in the month at Sonoma
The Hall of Fame Top Fuel driver will sponsor the dragster to be driven by Leah Pritchett of Redlands from July 27-29. The car will carry the name and colors of Palomar Builders, a Northern California construction company owned by Allen
“I owe my success in business to the lessons I learned in drag racing,” said Allen, who won the event as a 18-year-old. “I became involved in drag racing because my mother and father both race. I started as a mechanic and then progressed. It’s important to me to be able to give back and to help someone is progressing in their career.
“Leah is a rising star in the sport and when the opportunity became available to support her, I didn’t hesitate to do so.”
PWC in Northwest
The Pirelli World Challenge sports car series returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 13 years this weekend with the Rose Cup Races at Portland International Raceway.
All eight classes will battle at the 1.97-mile, 12-turn circuit in the Delta Park.
A field of GT, GTS and Touring Car divisions will race Saturday and Sunday. The highly competitive GT and GTS SprintX Rounds 7 and 8 will have the likes of Audi, Bentley, BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Ford, Ginetta, KTM, Lamborghini, Maserati, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG, Panoz, Porsche and SIN Car in the 60-minute, two-driver formats.
Among the drivers will be Jarrett Andretti, Mario’s grandson and Michael’s son. After graduating from North Carolina State, he’s entering the sports car field.
“I worked my way through college racing sprint cars. I would study on Monday through Thursday and then drive to Indiana to race on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night,” he said. “Then drive back to Raleigh for classes. And I made enough money to pay for school. Now, I’m concentrating on just racing professionally.
“We figured I will run 30 racing events in 57 days this summer, including sprint cars and sports cars. Sure, it’s busy, but I want the experience in various forms of racing and competing in the dirt and on the pavement is good for my career.”
— There is no racing card at Perris Auto Speedway on Saturday. Rather, the track will host “Up, Down’n Dirty 4 a Cure Mudrun,” with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. It is an obstacle course that will start and finish in the parking lot with the track infield being turned into a giant mud pit. Additional information can be found atwww.active.com/perris-ca or by calling Cathi Hill at (951) 202-7714.
— The USAC/VRA 360 Sprint Cars will be at Ventura Raceway for the second round of the Battle of the Beach. It’s part of the four-race series in the fifth-mile and will be part of the program that will include Senior Sprints, IMCA Modified and Hobby Stocks. Gates open at 3 p.m., with qualifying 30 minutes later and the first race at 5:30. Cost is $15 for adults; seniors, military and students are $11 with kids younger than 12 get in free.
— The Verizon IndyCar will be in Toronto this weekend for a 85-lap race over the streets for 151.81 miles. Although Josef Newgarden is the defending champion, Will Power has won the event three times. “It can be challenging but always exciting. The new car is going to be fast there and I think that’s going to make it really fun,” said Newgarden, who drives for Roger Penske. “Strategy will be really important here as with any road or street course, so that’s something I know a lot of teams are really thinking about.”
— Steve Waid, a familiar race in the NASCAR garage for almost 50 years and Hall of Fame member, has been named the eighth recipient of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. “For decades, Steve Waid tirelessly worked the NASCAR garage, becoming a familiar, trusted and beloved voice to both competitors and the passionate fans alike,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. “Waid’s distinct voice elevated NASCAR Scene into a must-read publication each week, and we are thankful that he continues to share his literary talents with our fans. The Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence is NASCAR’s highest honor to the media, and Steve is an absolutely deserving recipient.”
— Hendrick Motorsports and Mountain Dew have extended their NASCAR partnership through 2020 with driver Chase Elliott.
Louis Brewster can be reached at [email protected]
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