CHICAGO — There is plenty of hype around one race’s return to the Windy City in 2023, but there is another that’s on the way back as well.
In fact, it will include a driver that grew up in the area.
Tony Schumacher, who was born in California but spent most of his childhood years in Park Ridge, is among the drivers coming back to Chicago for the Camping World National Hot Rod Association’s event in May at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet.
The Route 66 NHRA Nationals will take place May 19-21 and is the first event at the venue since 2019. It’s one of 21 events for the premiere drag racing series in North America during their 2023 season.
Joliet’s race for the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wasn’t on the schedule in 2021 or 2022. Now that it’s back in 2023, it makes for quite an exciting moment for Schumacher, who spent a lot of his childhood and teen years in Park Ridge.
“My dad, who also grew up in Park Ridge, at the same house, had a race car shop there,” said Schumacher when talking with WGN News Now ahead of the event. “So the friends that we’ve built at this particular race, not only when we were racing, but even before that. With that race car shop, being there in Park Ridge, ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo, and Shirley (Muldowney), and ‘Blue Max,’ and all the people that needed to paint their cars, work on something used that.”
Schumacher has certainly experienced success on his home track as he’s won five events at Route 66 Raceway, with the last coming in 2015. Arguably one of the greatest drag racers in the history of the sport, Schumacher has eight Top Fuel titles and 86 overall wins in the NHRA.
His return to Chicago comes in a new era for the driver, who was without a ride from 2019 through 2021 after the US Army surprisingly dropped their longtime sponsorship of him in 2018. In 2022, Schumacher was back after securing a sponsorship with SCAG Power Equipment through 2025.
That’s given him the chance to compete at Route 66 Raceway again, an opportunity he’d hoped to have again.
“When it went away five years ago, it was terrible for us. Other than the difficulty, as you could probably imagine, getting tickets at your home track for friends, other than that little part of it, the wins were so great, so big,” said Schumacher. “The losses were so devastating at this track because you’ve got so many of your friends and family there.
“It’s a stadium, man. They built a beautiful, beautiful racetrack and we’re glad to have them back.”
You can see more of Tony Schumacher’s interview with Larry Hawley on WGN News Now in the video above.