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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Updated: November 9, 2:42 PM ET
Schumacher team going for more

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

After 17 regular-season NHRA events and five playoff races, which included victories by eight different Top Fuel and Funny Car organizations, it comes down to one group in the same shop for all the glory.

Don Schumacher Racing is going to earn a championship in both NHRA nitro categories this weekend, barring a miraculous comeback by Funny Car driver Mike Neff of John Force Racing.

One race team winning both titles in the same year may not sound like such a big deal. It is.

No other organization is NHRA history has won both the Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in the same season, except DSR. That was seven years ago when Tony Schumacher won in Top Fuel and Gary Scelzi won in a DSR Funny Car.

Jack Beckman, Don Schumacher, Antron Brown
Jack Beckman, left, and Antron Brown, right, have given Don Schumacher plenty to smile about this season.

"It's a very difficult thing to win either of these fuel championships," Don Schumacher said. "To have another chance to win them both is amazing, really. It's a big deal, and I'm certainly looking forward to this weekend and taking it a round at a time."

In this era of increased competition, where winning or losing often comes down to inches and thousandths of a second at more than 300 mph, it's remarkable to see one organization with five title contenders in the final event at Pomona.

All three drivers with a shot at the Top Fuel crown are DSR teammates -- Antron Brown, seven-time champion Tony Schumacher and Spencer Massey.

The Funny Car title is almost a dead heat between DSR drivers Ron Capps and Jack Beckman, who leads Capps by only four points heading to Auto Club Raceway. Both men are trying to win the championship for the first time.

Brown is hoping to become the first African-American to win a major American motor sports title. He has a 65-point lead over Schumacher (about three rounds of racing) entering the Auto Club Finals. Massey, who finished second to Del Worsham for the 2011 title, is five points behind Schumacher.

How can one organization be that good?

"We're fairly good at moving people into the positions they need to be at to keep us on top," Tony Schumacher said of his father's operation, which is headquartered in Brownsburg, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis. "If you could go back to our shop, you would see guys in our fab shop late at night and guys in our machine shop late at night.

"They're not getting paid extra to be there late. We found those people, the people that it takes to make a championship team, to make perfect cars, to make fewer mistakes. And because the organization is so good, they don't want to leave. They don't want to go to other teams."

DSR is the biggest race team in the NHRA with over 120 employees. Some people now say it's the Hendrick Motorsports of drag racing. Rick Hendrick has more than 400 employees in his NASCAR operation.

"I've met Rick, but we've never really spent time together," Don said. "He has an amazing organization over there. I have the utmost admiration for him and I'm proud anyone would mention me in that category, but it's really apples and oranges.

"I do my own things and just focus on operating within my own world. That's how I've always been. If I remove myself from that, things get too scattered."

Even Hendrick hasn't won a Sprint Cup title and a Nationwide Series championship in the same season. He has won Cup and Camping World Truck Series titles in the same year -- 1997 and 2001.

Ron Capps
Ron Capps is only four points behind leader and teammate Jack Beckman for the Funny Car title.

Hendrick has 10 Cup championships (and possibly an 11th this year with Jimmie Johnson) because the organization hires the best people and keeps them there for the most part. So does DSR.

"I've always said the people you surround yourself with are going to determine whether you win or lose," Tony Schumacher said. "We've got the right people right now, and hopefully we keep them a long time."

And it's not just the people. Brown said he knows every time he comes to the starting line his equipment is state of the art in drag racing.

"The coolest part of being at DSR is that you have the best of everything," Brown said. "Our new race chassis is built in house. We do our own blocks, our own cylinder heads, our own rods. That's just a testament on how great this organization is about innovation.

"Your quality is better, so our part failures are fewer. We're going A to B without blowing up engines. We make fewer mistakes and go down track more. That's what it's about."

It's also about the boss not being afraid to shake things up when he's trying to make his teams better. Capps and Beckman swapped cars and crews this year when Capps was struggling at the end of March. Capps soon started winning with Beckman's old crew and Beckman began winning with Capps' crew after Don hired new crew chief Todd Smith to help him.

    

"You have to step on that limb sometimes," Don said. "I received a lot of scrutiny and criticism over [the swap]. And there was a lot of concern on my part. I'm blessed it turned out the way it has."

Tony Schumacher is happy to see some vindication for his dad over a move that people questioned.

"Everyone was up in arms about it at the time," Tony said about the Funny Car swap. "People said, 'You can't do that.' But look at them now. I think [Don] has put together good teams and good combinations across the board."

It has taken seven years to get back to a dual championship season for DSR. Don knows it may be another seven before it happens again, but he'll take it.

 

"I've been lucky,'' Don said. "But it's really about hard work. And I truly believe in the old saying: The harder you work, the luckier you get."

Based on that theory, Don Schumacher is one very lucky man.