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NHRA's Tony Schumacher pitches extra protection on his dragster

November 09, 2012|By Lance Pugmire
  • Tony Schumacher, in his enclosed cockpit, makes a qualifying run at the NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex.
Tony Schumacher, in his enclosed cockpit, makes a qualifying run at the… (Jerry Foss / NHRA / Associated…)

Tony Schumacher, the seven-time NHRA top fuel champion, is doing something no other driver in his division is doing.

He’s covering his head with an extra layer of protection.

With NHRA’s approval since August, Schumacher’s dragster is equipped with a Kevlar/carbon fiber canopy that shields the cockpit, which other drivers leave open.

“I’m not saying it has to be mandatory, but I believe it’s the safest thing out there,” Schumacher said Friday, before his first qualifying run at the Auto Club Finals at the Pomona Fairplex, a day after rain scrapped a session.

“I’ve heard the things others are saying about it, and I don’t buy it at all … that it affects your vision. I have way better vision than anybody. They thought it was performance-enhancing until the NHRA inspected and cleared it. I just think if everyone had one, we’d all be life-expectancy enhanced.”

Schumacher’s father and team owner Don Schumacher pushed for the added layer of protection since the  beginning of the season. The 25-pound canopy, made by an Indianapolis company, costs around $16,000, a team official said.

Since putting the canopy on seven events ago in Minnesota, Schumacher has won a race, advanced to two final rounds, and been a top qualifier twice. He trails top fuel points leader and teammate Antron Brown by 65 points in this season-finale event.

“I used to drive these things, I know what can happen,” Don Schumacher said. “I’ve been on fire, had debris thrown at me. Our car, by adding it, has not been enhanced, and it has not been to the car’s detriment, either. What it is, is an unpenetrable capsule.”

In 2004, top fuel driver Darrell Russell was killed when struck from the rear by tire debris from his own car.

Tony Schumacher said he had two near misses with birds in an open cockpit, and also twice effectively dodged debris from other racers’ damaged cars while traveling in excess of 300 mph.

A fire extinguisher remains at Tony Schumacher’s fingertips, and if he was knocked out with the dragster on fire, a fresh-air breathing system will be activated. An emergency release lever is located right behind his seat for emergency personnel to access.

Don Schumacher expects to have Brown and teammate Spencer Massey also using the canopy next season.

Tony Schumacher says the canopy could potentially be used in the Indy Car circuit.

An NHRA spokesman said at this point, the canopy is approved but not mandated for use.

“There’s no reason not to be proactive with a safety measure like this,” Tony Schumacher said. “I’m so tired of people dying, and then people saying, ‘Let’s do something about it,’ when it’s too late.”

Schumacher made the comments while helping to announce the nonprofit organization Infinite Hero, supported by his U.S. Army team and Southland-based sunglasses company Oakley, was providing $1.5 million in grants to military veterans.

The support, which helps military personnel dealing with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, was earmarked for USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies and four other national organizations.

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