As we walked into Sunoco's trailer, racer Dave Schultz was air-gunning the dust and moisture out of his lap top computer. He was focused, quiet, but after the task was done, he focused the same attention on us.
Facing Dave Schultz, I (Dwight) knew we had climbed a mountain. He's a champion, and he is not talking to everyone. We have covered a few races, but Dave Schultz didn't know us. Why do I compare climbing a mountain to talking to Dave Schultz? Let's start with topography. Mount Mitchell is a mountain in North Carolina. Mount McKinley is a mountain peak in Alaska. Both are high mountains, but one you can drive to; the other you can only fly over…unless you are an adventurer. Interviewing Dave Schultz felt a little like that to me, challenging, because so much was so good.
When we ask Prostock Motorcycle riders who are their heroes, we often get Dave Schultz as a candidate. When we told Dave Schultz that he is often chosen as a racing hero, but we would very much like to know his heroes, Dave hesitated before he spoke. It was about the only hesitation that we got out of Dave as he answered our questions in depth. Dave realized early on that our brand of interview isn't video, and that he was free to speak, and we were free to write and listen. I don't mind admitting that my fingers and brain were tested, but his ample response is what makes for interesting interviews. Come along with us as we follow Dave Schultz down his path to speed. We were honored to speak with this six-time National Champion, we hope join us in that spirit. Dave invited us into the kitchen of the polished Sunoco trailer. Dave's wife Meredith was gracious to arrange this meeting. Their Yorkshire Terrier, Annie, was happy to allow our entry with a warm and furry greeting.
Do you have a nickname?
"No. Not really."
Who are your Heroes?
"My older brother who got me interested in drag racing in 1958 when I was a kid was killed in Vietnam. He was a timekeeper and he let me carry the slips for each run."
What are your scariest moments?
" I've always said you have to do something stupid to crash. Well, I did something stupid. And crashed. We had just gotten our new sponsor, Sunoco. We picked up the trailer and drove to the race late. I still had time to make a run, but I rushed to get to the line… and I went down, tripped the clock at 167 mph. My body continued in a very fast slide for another 880 feet. At first I tried to get out of that slide by reaching my hands out, but that caused me to tumble fives times. And hurt more too. So I pulled my arms in over my chest, skid on my back and hoped to stop soon. I didn't. The skidding caused the Kevlar racing suit to melt into my skin in spots, so I tried to move to keep the heat and pain off my skin. I moved about trying to wear out a different piece of the cow. (leathers). The seconds stretched and dragged till I skipped to a stop.
Ten days later I qualified number one, but I got more press coverage for the fall, than I did for the win. Sunoco got more coverage with the fall too.
Every time I change sponsors, I've had major problems. Not with the sponsors, with myself and racing. My first sponsor, Eagle One, provided me with a trailer, and it had a leak in a roof vent. I got up on the roof with a ladder, and got off the fastest way, by falling and breaking both hands. At first I said, God, why did you do this to me, but as time passed I said, God, why did you do this for me. Because I had limited movement in my hands with my wrists in casts, I improved my reaction time. Also, racing in casts focused all my energies and I won the next three out of five races."
Do you have a special diet?
" I eat apples, bananas, carrots, lots of veggies, but I love junk food. I never eat much. I'm a prolific snacker."
Do you work out?
"When working at my shop in Indy, I work out, when in Florida I ride a bike."
What mental routine prepares you for each run?
"When I first started racing I had to calm myself. I was too excited to drive. So I concentrated on mental conditioning, and became an iceberg on the starting line. Before I get on the track, I start mental imaging. I think about riding well, winning the race before any pass. I have a disciplined mental conditioning. I don't want to be too calm or too excitable. I know my mind. I know where the best performance is. I get on the tips of my toes in the staging lanes, standing as tall as I can without falling, which would cause embarrassment before the crowd. It brings my adrenaline up to where it's going to be ready for the starting line. Sometimes I run behind a trailer and do twenty pushups. I mentally approach racing with every brain cell I can activate."
Do you have time for a hobby?
"Drag racing began as my hobby, now it consumes my hobbies. I ended up screwing up a good hobby. Nothing does it for me like motorcycles. But I like water skiing with my Master Craft boat, bicycling and venting on a dirt bike."
Many motorcyclists ride to unravel, what do you do to unwind?
"I work, play tennis, ride a dirt bike. I tired to do the regular stuff, fishing, scuba, and the like but nothing does it for me like motorcycles. I had to be in competition."
What personal quality (one trait) would you want your fans to admire most?
What's most important?
1.Fame 2.Money 3.Thrill/fun 4.Winning
"None of the above. The Challenge!"
Are you happy?
"Never!" (With a big smile)
What could make you happier?
"If God would extend the days to 32 hours."
If you could change one thing about motorcycle drag racing, what would it be?
"More factory involvement. We have to go away from the industry to make a living."
When driving a car, do you always wear a seatbelt?
1. Yes. 2. No. 3. If yes, really?
Do you have a full-time occupation?
"I sold my car business. I have a mail order parts and catalog sales business. I also run race team development."
You're a skilled racer…What one factor, what one reason separates you from the fast traffic on smooth public highways?
" My knowledge that the street is no place to show what I'm capable of."
WHERE do you find the most peace in your life?
"When I spend a Sunday in church."
WHEN do you find the most peace in your life?
"When I'm petting my Yorkshire Terrier Annie."
How did you get started in Motorcycle drag racing?
"My brother started me with his time-keeping job, but when I got on a motorcycle, I got hooked. I started on a 400cc. I had to test the widgets."
Dave added this about getting started…
It all started with providing stoplights on streets. That allowed drivers to race from stoplight to stoplight. That's where the first drag racing started. That's why drag racing is popular.
What kind of car do you drive?
"I had a Ferrari, but I sold it to George Bryce. Now I drive an SS."
What do you think of the rule changes in the NHRA next year (motor size)?
"Maybe not next year. Not anything, but it will cost everybody a lot of money."
"I'm not promoting an agenda, so I tend to be quiet. I don't inflict my opinions on any one unless asked. I don't really have any further comments…"
...But Dave had this to share with us before we left…
"I like to restore antiques. My home in Indianapolis was built in 1899. I saved it. I have my first car that I bought when I was fourteen. I also have a 1946 Ford, a 1934 Ford pickup (blown flat head), a 1965 Dodge Dart that I bought with my Grandma. I have the Ford tractor that I learned to drive on."
In the course of the interview, Dave acknowledged "I tend to make everything I do more complicated, and I'm nicer than I was twenty years ago."
Dave's answers leave little doubt why so many other racers look up to him as a mentor. The many words he shared, pushed my editing abilities. I'm not complaining, I just hope I wrote down the best. His words and demeanor caused me to search deep into the English language for a word that best describes Dave Schultz. I found one, and Gary agreed. Champions deserve the best. Dave Schultz is…