To any UK drag racing enthusiast of a certain age, the names Don Schumacher and Paula Murphy conjure a special moment in time: Summer of ’73. Heading a band of American racers attending that year’s July Internationals at Santa Pod Raceway, the pair unleashed the first full-tilt American Fuel Funny Cars seen on these shores and seared the occasion into the minds of all who witnessed it. The spectacular, ground-shaking Funnies – essentially nitro-burning dragsters cloaked by lightweight, saloon-car-replica bodyshells – were all the rage across the Atlantic, drawing huge crowds to America’s dragstrips. Schumacher and Murphy together created a seminal moment in the sport’s British history.
The British Drag Racing Hall of Fame is therefore proud to announce that Don Schumacher and Paula Murphy will be reunited on UK soil for the first time as honoured guests at its 2016 Gala Awards Dinner, to be held on Saturday 19th November at the Sheraton Skyline Hotel at London’s Heathrow Airport.
To a modern drag racing audience, Don Schumacher is proprietor of the most powerful team in America’s NHRA Drag Racing Championship. Since its foundation in 1997, Don Schumacher Racing’s drivers have won no fewer than 14 NHRA Championships in the Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car divisions, including eight Top Fuel titles for Don’s son, Tony, at the wheel of the US Army dragster. Yet Don once had an illustrious driving career of his own.
Having set out as a Sportsman racer in 1963, he switched to the new, professional Funny Car class in 1966 and became one of its greatest stars as the class took drag racing by storm. A year after his Santa Pod visit in 1973, he retired to lead his family’s Schumacher Electric Corporation and develop the company into the world’s foremost manufacturer of battery chargers.
Paula Murphy, now 87, has been retired from professional driving for 40 years. Her time in drag racing was just one element of a career remarkable for its diversity. She began as an amateur sports car circuit racer in the late 1950s and decided to go full-time in 1963. There followed an extraordinary litany of accomplishments. She set new records for US transcontinental driving, both east-west from coast to coast and north-south from border to border.
She set land speed records at Bonneville and became the first woman to drive a jet-engined car on the Salt Flats. She became the first woman to lap the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at speed during a 1963 test session and set subsequent women’s records in NASCAR machinery. She was also the first woman to be granted an NHRA Funny Car licence. She enjoyed a long association with Andy Granatelli’s STP Corporation and it was in the guise of “Miss STP” that she made her trip to England. On her return, she took the tiller of the STP rocket Dragster and survived a near-fatal crash, breaking her neck. Once recovered, she returned to drag racing before driving right around the world on the US Bicentennial Global Record Run. Unable to top that experience, she chose to call an end to her professional driving career.
Following their 1973 appearances in England, both star drivers returned home but their respective Funny Cars – Schumacher’s Stardust Barracuda and Murphy’s Miss STP Plymouth Duster – remained here to form the keystone of a class that would become the most popular attraction in British drag racing for many seasons to come.
Don Schumacher said ‘I remember the warm reception Paula and I received in 1973 and I think we put on a pretty good show. I love drag racing, it is a unique family atmosphere, not just my personal family but all the other competitors in racing.
Paula said ‘I am very happy to be able to return to England after a thrilling time we had over forty years ago in match racing Funny Cars for the first time in front of European fans’.
Stu Bradbury said ‘It is fantastic news that after more than forty years Paula and Don, who were key players in the 1973 International, both plan to join us at our Gala Dinner at the Sheraton Skyline on 19th November’.
2016 Gala Awards Tickets
Ticket prices for the 2016 BDRHoF Gala Awards Dinner remain as last year at £60 per person. Corporate tables of 10 are available at £580. For advance booking of tickets contact BritishDRHOF@aol.com or telephone Stu Bradbury on 01933 279102.
News about the Gala and other events will be published on the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame website, www.britishdragracinghof.co.uk and eurodragster.com, the sport’s premier web site in Europe. The names of 2016’s inductees into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame will be announced on these sites at Santa Pod Raceway’s Dragstalgia meeting, 15th-17th July. 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the Hall of Fame’s founding and the admission of its first members. The Gala Awards Dinner was first presented in 2014.
Photos supplied by Roger Phillips and Acceleration Archive (car shots) and Mark Rebilas (Don Schumacher portrait)