Tony Schumacher returns to NHRA Mile High Nationals after three-year hiatus: “I love this place”

MORRISON — One of the winningest drivers in NHRA history has a soft spot for Bandimere Speedway.

“I love this place,” Tony Schumacher said. “It all started right here.”

Back in 1996, long before his 85 career race victories and eight series championships, Schumacher was an aspiring Top Fuel driver in search of an opportunity. He found it with the Denver-based Peek brothers — Mike, Jerry and Greg — who sponsored Schumacher’s first dragster.

“This was the first place I ever hit the gas in a Top Fuel car,” Schumacher said. “I came out, made some runs and got my license. … To be able to do it right here was spectacular.”

Now, fast-forward to the present day.

Schumacher, 52, returned to Bandimere this weekend at the Mile High Nationals on what you might call a redemption tour. The legendary driver is back after missing two of the past three NHRA seasons in search of new sponsorship. Schumacher last raced here in 2018 with the U.S. Army team.

“I missed everything,” Schumacher said. “But the fans, really. I can get back in the car and go fast anytime. Being out there and having all those kids smiling? It’s a big group of people. I like it. Standing there now — having people come up and say ‘we’re glad you’re back’ all day long everywhere — it’s just spectacular.”

Schumacher teamed up with Wisconsin-based Scag Power Equipment and the Maynard Family Network to finally get back in the cockpit. He described this season as a “readjustment” with a new pit crew. Schumacher entered the weekend ranked No. 12 in the Top Fuel NHRA standings.

“Building your team from scratch? I love that,” Schumacher said. “I never wanted to be out of it. The Army left and we thought we had a sponsor. But it was kind of a hoax. It didn’t go through. It caught us off guard where we were too far behind. We missed a year, and drove the next year during COVID for nine races. … Then we spent (last) year digging.

“Now, we have people lined up ready to get on board. It’s way better and we’re not even running right yet. Wait until we start running and performing like we will. I’m happy to be back.”

Schumacher has the support of opposing drivers who welcomed his return.

“Tony as a driver, a guy, a motivator and a professional speaker, there is nobody better,” said Matt Hagan, Schumacher’s former teammate at Don Schumacher Racing. “They won piles of championships and piles of races. It just shows you that it takes everyone to be there. You’ve got to have the right team, the right driver and everything. That’s when you have success.”

Schumacher relishes the opportunity to once again race at Bandimere.

“The crowd is second-to-none,” Schumacher said. “Jam-packed with the most beautiful view.”

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