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If you'd have told me when I was a kid that the owner of the Chicago-area funny car that I liked, for a handful of REAL scientific reasons, ranging from that he wore long hair and sunglasses, he was FROM HERE, and here's a real gem of a reason, the comet on the side of his car was BITCHIN -- would end up basically owning the drag racing world, I would've had a good laugh. I probably also would have reminded you that Wavey Gravey said you weren't supposed to take those, because it was “manufactured poorly”. And yet, here we are, with the pride of Park Ridge, Illinois, perched atop the drag racing universe.
And what’s wrong with that? I don't mean to go all 'John Cougar-Trailer-Camp' here, but were we not told as kids that we could grow up to "be President someday"? So, the guy got out there, busted his hump, and put together an empire. I say that's pretty much the America I was sold on growing up, and believe in, so good for him! So let’s talk about Don Schumacher, OK?
By now you know I'm not one of those "He began his career driving a such-and-such" type of writers, as I would only screw that up, and it’s already been done...many times, by MANY people, so let’s talk moments. Like, the 1971 Funny Car race at OCIR, where Schultz & Glenn cut off Lew Arrington during qualifying. A heated moment involving many individuals gets defused by Don running behind Glenn’s car and dumping the laundry … problem solved! THAT was an early 'that dude’s pretty cool' moment! (And to this day, when you hear someone describe a nitro car as 'lite and thundering', it's a safe bet they stole the phrase from SSDI’s write-up of that incident, IMO.) Or when I saw, for the first time, the re-DONK-ulous Wonder Wagon Vega at Indy in 1973.
A gung-ho Snake fan, outwardly I was all 'that's BULL! You can't do THAT', but inwardly, I was jealous! "Man, why didn't SNAKE think of that!" (ultimately, he got to it, it tanked, he sold it to Hoover, and he got some more of the Buttera 'Cuda). Or, in the classic documentary VROOM! which everybody remembers for Jungle going "Far Out", MY favorite scene was The Don, shades, Prince-Valiant hair and all, saying that he's done it all in a flopper, rolled, burned, crashed, flew, as casually as if he was ordering a box of kalachkis from the local bakery.
But probably my favorite Don “The Shoe” story happened in 2000, at Brainerd International Raceway. For years, Brainerd was a favorite stop on the tour for me, and I always hit it with everything I had. That year, I had brought along one of the first shots I'd ever taken of the Shoe, from 1971. It was the previously mentioned "comet car" (of which there were two others, AGAIN, a guy ahead of his time!) and I was hoping for an autograph. The weekend however, got very busy and even though we were camped next to the nitro pits (the last time we got away with this) either Don was gone or swamped. Tony ends up WINNING, and now his whole pit is overwhelmed, but my buddies, the 'Minnesota Mafia', are now urging me, "C'mon, go get 'em, Chicago," so I sidle up to the ropes, looking like a driver waiting for his fare outside of O'Hare. (Holding the 8x10 in front of me, like a sign) There's just two little problems with this deal. Number two, there are a zillion other fans, with freshly bought merch, ink still wet on the receipts, with the same idea, and Number one, I'm into day five of camping at Brainerd.
Remember how "Country Bunker" had two kinds of music, country AND western? The campgrounds at BIR have two kinds of showers, remote AND broken, so I'm not what you'd call 'fresh as a daisy' at the moment. But some crewmen spot me with my vintage shot, and I suppose my demeanor of 'not my first rodeo' helped separate me from the herd (one guy holding five new diecasts sorta screams "ebay-huckster").
One crewman splinters off, then returns. "Don would like to see you," he beckons me under the rope. Equal measures thrilled and terrified, I move through the throng of assembled media, sponsors, and well-wishers as I'm escorted to Don’s table. "Hi, how're you doing? I hear you have a neat photo," is what I'm greeted with by the man himself, as he gestures for me to sit down.
You know that shtick about T-Rex having tiny little arms? That was me, sheepishly handing the photo to Don, as I have my upper arms FEROCIOUSLY pressed against my sides, desperately trying not to stink. He does a sincere “Wow,” asks my name (I choke and simply say Jon T instead of 'Chicago Jon') and he signs it. I breathlessly and effusively thank him a bazillion times in one colossal word-sentence, then say that I've taken too much of his valuable time, and will let him get back to business. I return to my merry band of thieves at the campsite seemingly much taller. Of course, that's what happens when you’re suddenly two feet off the ground.
For all the moments I've had in this sport before, then and even now, I hope I never lose that big dopey sense of 'Holy BLEEP' that I get when there are brushes with greatness like that. It is big dopey smiles like a you get from a moment like then, that will help you power through the tough times ahead. Which reminds me...
By the time you’re reading this, the good old ‘Bailey Building & Loan’ (my day job) will have finished burning to the ground. Turns out that not only did Old Man Potter outsource our jobs to Mexico, he took the fire department along with him. (I HATE when that happens!) So, for the moment, I am solely and singularly the economic property of the good folks at Drag Racing Online.
No worries here, gang, I had a great run over at "Bailey". With a tip of my hat to Chicago’s own rock & rollers, STYX, cue up track six from Pieces Of Eight, and “Gimme a Job, Give me Security”, because as Judge Elihu Smails once said, “Well, the world needs ditch-diggers too!”
The fall winds may be blowing cold, but I wouldn't know about being chilly, because I find myself quite warm and cozy, what with being wrapped up snug as a bug in a Chicago Cubs World Series Championship blanket of happiness! (remember Linus? What color was that blanket again? Damn right, homey, the blanket be BLUE!)
And so, I AM Chicago Jon, jumping up and down like a delirious ten-year-old, while currently stealing pens and paperclips from the Phlegm Building, and selling oranges and ‘Glory Days Hooch’ out of a shopping cart at an off ramp near you in my spare time! (as my 'Rocky-Mountain-Homie' Ron would say, VATO-LOCO!) Thanks for hanging out, and as usual. C-YAAAA!!