NHRA champ Tony Schumacher talks Blackhawks, Kings

Tony Schumacher (photo: NHRA)

Tony Schumacher may drive an NHRA top fuel car for a living, but he easily relates to the pressure that comes from playing in overtime of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final.

Yes, he’s a seven-time World Champion. Yet, perhaps his defining sports moment was in 2006. Entering the final race of the season he and his U.S. Army sponsored crew needed to do just about everything to overtake the points leader – including win the race and set a new elapsed time record. In one of the most unlikely scenarios, it all came down to what’s now known as ‘The Run’ – where he made one pass down the track to win the race, set the record and capture the championship.

Sudden death if there ever was one.

Away from the drag strip, one of his passions is pretty simple to understand too.

“I love hockey,” said Schumacher during a recent conversation. “I grew up playing hockey with the St. John’s Military Academy. If I’m not racing, and people ask me what kind of sports I’m watching, I’m watching guys on ice knock each other over and scoring goals. It’s amazing what the sport has done since the rule changes a few years ago – it is so fast, so good. It’s mind boggling, how a man can put on a pair of skates and be that good at anything.”

When the Kings and Blackhawks battle on the ice tonight, you can bet ‘The Sarge’ will be watching.

“I live in Chicago, so I’m obviously a Blackhawks fan,” Schumacher shared. “But, the only other jersey I have hanging in my office is an LA Kings jersey, signed about four or five years ago by the whole team.”

Originally from the LA area, Schumacher still marvels that hockey has become so popular on the west coast.

“It’s funny because I was born in California, over in Canoga Park. It’s just one of those places you never expected a hockey team to be because it’s all warm, it’s California – beautiful women, blondes and beaches. Here, right in the middle of it all, you have the LA Kings, who have become an an amazing hockey team.”

Still, if home is where the heart is, Schumacher is most likely thinking Blackhawks.

“A few years back when Chicago won the Stanley Cup, it was a long time coming. There was a big transformation, the team played well, they were unstoppable and unbreakable. They were great to watch. As a hockey fan, to be part of a city where a team is that good, it was really cool.”

As he travels the country, in between racing 325 mph in less than four seconds, he regularly speaks to the military and other groups – where leadership is often teamwork.

Does he see any similarity to being part of a race team and what the ‘Hawks and Kings have done over the last few years by building a core group of players?

“Yes, it’s extremely important and leadership is important. Having the key guys that can lead (other) guys who are new and unfamiliar with those big, monster moments – that’s what was so good that year (referring to when Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010). When you get a group of people that you know at any given time are going to be great, and you can send them out for that moment when it’s mandatory, it will make the rest of the guys rise to the occasion because nobody wants to be the weak link. Then again, last year, we saw eight of the guys leave and we saw the demise of that quality. It will take some time to get it back. They still have a good core, but they need to get more of the other players playing.”

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