In the wake of the terrorist attacks, NHRA Top Fuel dragster pilot Tony Schumacher said he had the "whole world immediately behind him" at the NHRA national event in Memphis last weekend.
Schumacher just happened to be piloting the U.S. Army-backed dragster.
He noted that a American flag decal was painted on the side of his car, American flags were sewn on his team member's uniforms, his fire suit and American flags waved from his trailer transport.
His team's merchandise trailer also offered special white T-shirts at the race. The American F=flag was on the front and below it was listed Sept.11, 2001. On one side of the date was an illustration of the World Trade Towers and on the other side an illustration of the Pentagon. On back of shirt was the black and gold Army logo.
One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sales went to the Army Emergency Relief fund and Federal Employee and Education Assistance Funds.
"It was nice and they were selling as fast as I could sign my name," he said in a phone interview on Monday. "There was only one place for the money to go."
"If you could drive any car in the world wouldn't you want to be driving this one" during this time in history? he asked.
Schumacher, who was in a Pennsylvania school where military jets were flying overhead on the day of and a day after the attack, also drives interest in the Army at each race. His guests include recruiters who are both officers and in the enlisted ranks. And on every Saturday before the final eliminations Sunday, he invites between 30 and 60 youngsters enrolled in the Army delayed entry program to watch his race team in action.
He said since the attacks, the recruiters have told him that several former Army soldiers have wanted to sign up again.
"You can tell the recruiters are thinking (about the situation)," he said this was one of the differences he has noticed since the attack.
Schumacher's hosting of the delayed entry program youths is meant to make them think teamwork, he said.
"The focus is you guys are part of the team and that's why we're paired up," is what Schumacher said he tells the youths.
He commented like the Army of One commercials so too is his team. For example, his clutch man is just responsible for the clutches.
"We're all specialists and together we make a team," he said.
He has been driving the Army dragster for a little over a year, introducing it at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis the first week of September, 2000.
With this sponsorship also came some Army training for Schumacher. He has trained on tank simulators, shot several weapons including the M-16 rifle, M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) machine gun and the 9-millimeter automatic pistol. He also has toured several Army posts, including Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Riley, Kan., West Point, and the Pentagon.
These visits also have allowed him to meet Army Rangers plus learn first hand how well trained soldiers overall are trained.
"I guarantee there is no place I'd rather be than the United States," he said. "There's not even an issue there."
It also wasn't an issue when an Army general took Schumacher and Funny Car pilot and teammate Whit Bazemore in a ride on his Blackhawk helicopter. Schumacher said he was in Englishtown, N.J., before its national event and watched the chopper land.
Schumacher said this ride was a lot different than two previous rides in other helicopters.
"These guys were good," he said. "My stomach just dropped."
Schumacher's stomach also could drop in November. He and the person of his choice are slated to skydive with the Army Golden Knights. This will be his first Army jump but third jump overall.
He admitted that he wouldn't really be disappointed if the jump was canceled.
"Both (jumps) scared the crap out of me," he said.
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