Thursday, April 26, 2012

Q & A: Schumacher Taxi Service, Part 2

[Editor's Note: This is the continuation of The Rusty Hub's interview with Rob Leone of Schumacher Taxi Service. Click here to read Part 1.]

So as far as I know, you’re the only team to have won Index of Effluency and another race [overall]. Were you part of the team that won [the ChumpCar World Series race] at Sebring?

I wasn’t. That was Jer’s team. They ended up down of the guys has a house down in Florida. So they combined that race with a little vacation down there. It was real nice for them. They ran a perfect race. Like this one up in Jersey except they had a bunch of things go right for them. A couple of the teams...they had a second-place team coming up on them with a couple laps to go and they lost a wheel. So they were within sight of each other and the second-place team lost a wheel.

They said their pit stops, their pit strategy, went on clockwork. They pulled in, they did what they needed to do. In Chump, there is a five-minute lead time if you fuel. They were in and out in that five-minute window. Twice, they said they came in and the car had already stalled or was running out of gas. And they would fill it up to the top; they’d have gas pouring out the tank. And they’d run it until it died.
(l. to r.) Justin Hughes, Dave Hughes, Jer Enger, and John Robertson bask in the sweet glow of victory (and the sun) at Sebring. (Courtesy of Schumacher Taxi Service)

Until it starts coughing and such...

Yeah, they said it was a brilliantly run race. They had a couple of the other leading teams go in for a couple minutes of pit stops or they needed to make quick repairs. And you know, sometimes it’s skill. Well, this time it was all skill and they had a little bit of luck with them.

Sure. It seems like that’s what you need to win any of the Chump or LeMons races: a little bit of luck going your way. Did Chump have the two-hour driver limit at the time?

Yeah. And that’s one of the differences between LeMons and Chump. In Chump, they want you to race for it. They’re making everybody the same: two hours out, five minutes in, two hours out, five minutes in. They want it to be won on the track: Who has the fastest car for $500?

With LeMons, they’ll let you be out there for as long as you can. Your pit stops can be really quick, so they’re out there saying, “Who can have a good strategy? Who’s gonna be the cleanest out there?” LeMons throws a lot of black flags, because they don’t want people being stupid out on track. So you have to avoid the black flags. You still have to pass people; you still have to have a good strategy. So it’s win on the track or win in the pits. Or win in your mind. However you want to phrase it.

Mostly, my team just lost. What’s your favorite track that you’ve run in LeMons and in Chump? I know you’ve been to tons of them...

It depends on what you mean by that. [Carolina Motorsports Park] had some of the absolute best parties. You know, once the track is race we were up until after 3 a.m. up there partying with those guys. Down there, they don’t mess around. Out came the hooch, the uh...oh God, I’m drawing a blank...


Moonshine! [Laughs ] Everybody joked about getting jake leg. I mean, it was...some of the personalities down there...We were partying with the Tunachuckers. So, as far as the off-track stuff, CMP.

Moonshine has been known to create blanks in the memory. (Courtesy of

As far as the on-track, I absolutely love Nelson Ledges as a track. It’s off in the middle of nowhere. You’re going to be paddocked in the mud, but when you’re on track, it’s all driving. It’s all who can take the kink fastest, who can get it shut down and make your turns, knowing that if you put wheels off, you’re into the tires. So it’s a drivers’ track.

New Jersey, the one we just ran, I love the track and I absolutely love the facilities. Practically no matter where you are, you’re going to be paddocked on pavement. So you’re not going to track dirt into the trailer. If it rains, so what? I’m up on pavement. The facilities there are really good.

I love Gingerman for the corner workers. That’s where we took the Crown Vic and we had a corner worker party in our paddock spot. We partied there until 1 or 2. And we had one of the best guys--and I forget his name now--old, you-could-just-see-the-grease-in-his-face kind of corner worker. You know, he’d been doing this for 30, 40 years. He said, “You guys are cool!” [Laughs] We said, “Alright, have a beer!” and he sat there and camped with us for the night. And that was some of the best flagging I’ve seen. They were on top of things.

I’m trying to think of another track we’ve been too. Stafford had really good spectators. They were all up there spectating. It’s an oval track anyway that we run the infield of. So they were getting into it: “You did WHAT to a WHAT?”

[Laughs] That’s awesome. I’ve seen some of the video from Stafford and the infield track looks like kind of nightmarish. Is that an accurate depiction of it? 

It’s, um...the first time we were up there, it was rough. They went and they fixed a bunch of the potholes and the track itself--obviously the oval is awesome--the infield, I don’t think they were expecting what happened the first time. So it was maintained, but we ripped it up. There was a tire-eating pothole going back out onto the main loop. And if you didn’t tell your next driver about it, it was right on line and they would hit it and lose an exhaust, lose a tire. Then, as--they love us up there--so they started maintaining that better. They expanded the track a little bit from where guys were going off. You get two wheels off, you’re in for a black flag. So the track is actually helping the drivers by expanding those sections where they needed it.

Gotcha. It just seems like a real claustrophobic track to throw 60 cars.

It is. Thirty second laps. So you’re gonna do the track 120 times in your stint. 120 times in an hour...240 times a stint.

Part of LeMons--and to a lesser extent Chump--is doing stupid and embarrassing things. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you on track? 

Well, the stupid embarrassing stuff happens in the paddock when you’ve gotten a black flag. You come in for your penalty and you have the option of sitting for a half-hour or doing something like that. Some of the things we’ve seen or that we’ve done is...God...Lou got tarred and feathered. We’ve had to get lunch for all the crew, including the corner workers and, at Stafford, the guys in the infield. So they had to red-flag the race real quick as we ran out, gave them their food, and ran back across the track. So, yeah, we were doing that across a live track.

At New Jersey just now, we taped the driver to the roof and had to drive him around the paddock apologizing to everybody for being a bad driver: “I’m a bad driver. I put your lives at risk, and I’m sorry.” We had to drive around the paddock for five, 10 minutes doing that. I thought that was amusing. We were plagued with black flags this weekend. The corner working...wasn’t the best I’ve seen, I should say. They were throwing flags quick and not letting the drivers see it before they called people in for passing and stuff. One of the other penalties we got this weekend was sardines on the exhaust manifold. So, yeah, that smelled.

STS guest driver Rahul Nair (l.) and Mark Labbantz enjoy a comfortable break from racing, care of the LeMons Supreme Court, at CMP in 2009. (Courtesy of

That is not pleasant. [Laughs] 

None of our team got phased by it. [Judge Phil] said another team earlier had a guy who was retching because he couldn’t stand the smell. I’m trying to prevent my was the last stint of the day, he gets called in mid-stint. I’m trying to save him and was like, “Can I just eat the sardines raw like that?” “No, it has to be a penalty on the driver.”

I’ve seen where they poured Bud Light with Clamato in the cockpit of the car also. 

Yep. That didn’t happen with us. When you try to bribe the judges with bad beer, bad things happen. Jonny [Lieberman]--an older judge, I’m not sure how much he judges anymore--he was actually a beer judge for something. So you don’t bribe him with bad stuff.

Speaking of beer, what’s the drink of choice for Schumacher Taxi Service? 

Of all things, for racing, it’s Yuengling cans. They’re easy to sack, the cans are easy to get rid of. Most of the team are beer drinkers, so this weekend we actually got a few cases of Stone Ruination.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

It’s an [India Pale Ale]; it’s really hoppy, really good.

Good and strong. 

It’s on the stronger side. It was a lot fun; we had a couple cases of that.

Have you guys ever...some teams have guest appearances, I guess you’d say, where Randy Pobst or somebody drives their car. Have you guys ever had anybody show up and drive like that? 

Not yet. We have a standing offer with a Grand-Am Rolex driver. So he may or may not ever show up. But those guys of the problems with him--and he’s a friend of mine--we are, as a team, I think we all go 250-plus. He might be a 130 pounds soaking wet. So there’s no way he’s going to fit in the car.

The seat mounting and what have you... 

Oh, yeah. It’s all welded in and that seat doesn’t move. I mean, our whole team--and this is one of the things team-to-team--not only is there a location where they work on the car, it’s also body style. They’re generally a smaller team, we’re a larger team.

Is there an outstanding offer to Michael Schumacher to drive with you guys? 

Always. He just needs to contact me.

Alright. I’ll see if I can work some magic. 


Because I have connections [Editor's Note: The interviewer does not have connections. Or synapses.]...You guys did a Mr. T Party theme for NJMP. How’d that go over? I saw some pictures and it looked pretty entertaining. 

I thought it was pretty funny.

That’s what matters. 

Everybody in the crowd liked us. Unbeknownst to us, apparently a whole bunch of teams on the West Coast had done a Mr. T theme, so the judges were absolutely tired of seeing it. [Laughs] He looks at me and says, "Alright, you shaved your heads. I’ll give you a couple points for that, but we’ve seen like 10 Mr. T themes."

(l. to r.) Kurt Krumm, Rob Leone, Dave Heinig, and Mike Burg pose with the fool-pityin' livery on their latest crapcan, an E30-platform  BMW. (Courtesy of

That’s a bummer. I thought it was clever.

I did, too! I mean, we had signs and we put a big mohawk on the car. Yeah, the judges were not impressed.

You mentioned on the forum possibly doing a Juggalo theme at the next race. Can I advise against that? 


No? You’re going to do that. 

No, it’s already being done.

Oh my god. 

[Laughs] It’s gonna be absolutely horrible. I think I was gonna find those, like gym short or whatever the hell the polyester shorts these guys wear... [Laughs] Um, go around topless or with a wife beater on.

You gotta get the face paint. 

Full makeup. I think that’s gonna happen.

Find some Faygo?

Oh, yeah. I already found that. It’s at the dollar store down the street.

That’s the place where it would most make sense. [Laughs] Well, good luck with that. 

You know, the guys with the boat this past weekend, that was a theme. They did it right. They had the captain’s hats, they had a girl dressed up as a mermaid, they all knew the words to “I’m on a Boat.” And they did it right. We’ve done stuff like that before and it doesn’t get old. But you drop a whole lot of money on something like that once and it’s appreciated for an hour and then you’re off to the next one. So we’re looking for low-budget themes at this point.

I can appreciate that. 

So, you know, a couple pairs of shorts, some face paint, some cheap soda and I think I’m signed up for that. Even worse music.

Is the car going to be powered by magnets? 

I don’t know the music; I have no idea what that means.

One of the lyrics to one of their songs is “F------ Magnets, How do they work?” 


It’s willful ignorance by complete idiots, basically. It’s an Internet meme... 

Yeah, I know the meme now.

That originated with [Insane Clown Posse]...

How’d it get to the Mormons, though?

Oh, I don’t...I have no idea. How does anything happen on the Internet? [Laughs] 

This is true.

So are you gonna paint the car? 

We don’t know what we’re doing with the car yet. It might be a bunch of clown faces on the side and the hood. Or it could be to put a big bong and mushrooms up on the roof...

That may go over better. I don’t really know. I grew up in the rural Midwest, so I’m familiar with...those kinds of people, I guess. And it’s such a bizarre...thing. I don’t even know how to describe it... [trails off] 

Yeah, we’ll see. One of the things about LeMons is it’s very photogenic. We will do our best to do Jay proud there.

That’s Jay Lamm, not the J. from ICP, I assume. 

Yes, Jay Lamm.

Lori Leone pilots the STS Toyota MR2, which, along with the CoROLLa, made the Taxi Service an all-Toyota. (

Do you have any advice for new teams for Chump and/or LeMons? Somebody who’s getting into it, what would you tell them? 

Never skimp on safety. A lot of that’ wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I’ve seen: skimping on the cage, skimping on the safety equipment, people going out racing in sneakers instead of racing shoes. Just because you never know.

Try and have fun. Don’t beat each other up for when things go wrong. You’ve got a group of five guys--we’ve got a group of 10 people--and we’re all Type A personalities. We know somebody’s gonna say something and somebody’s gonna get upset. You've gotta have fun with it. Do the mud wrestling in someone’s backyard or hug it out or something.

Work on car reliability. There are things that are free for budgeting: wheel bearings, brakes, brake calipers, practically your whole fuel system. Make sure that’s top-notch; don’t skimp on it. At this point, you’re talking thousands of bucks and expect to spend that. Our budgets for races for four guys is $5,000. That’s what it costs to make a car. We were hoping that with this car--the E30--we tried to press the easy button and we still end up spending that much. It still needs a bunch of work. We didn’t do the wheel bearings and we might not have finished this race; I think I hear one going down.

Are wheel bearings exempt from LeMons budget, too? 

Yes. And the thing is, we had them in the trailer. We had them in case they started going down on Saturday, we could do them. But they started going down on Sunday. We dodged a bullet is what happened. What other advice for newbie teams...

A lot of teams, what I see is, they go out there and don’t hang out after racing. And for LeMons primarily, that’s where a lot of the fun takes place. I mean, we were trying to waterski behind the boat. I’ve got bruises and scrapes to prove it. It’s the afterparties that makes it. We’re a drinking team with a racing problem. [Laughs]

I like it. 

And that’s about it. I’ve seen a lot of decent teams break up just because...oh, make sure everything is spelled out in the beginning. A lot of people take that for granted, but on my team, I own the car. It’s my car, it’s gonna stay in my garage, and that’s what’s gonna happen. When I leave, the car goes with me unless it gets sold to one of my teammates. That wasn’t spelled out for another team and...they’re not friends anymore. Over $500. Over crap. It’s gotta be at least $1000 before I disown a friend. [Laughs]

That’s a good rule to go by in life. 

Yeah. Those are...I’m sure I’ll think of something else, but those are the main pearls of wisdom. [Editor’s Note: Rob later added that new teams should get in the habit of making checklists, which may keep teammates from ever saying, “I didn’t bleed the brakes. I thought YOU did it."]

That’s good stuff. Since this is the first thing I’m doing for this website, I thought I’d try something with this interview. So we’re going to move on to what I’m going to call The Lightning Round, which is exactly what it sounds like. I’m going to give you five questions, just give me the first thing that comes to your mind. 

Oh, this is gonna hurt...

No, no. It’s not nothing personal; it’s supposed to be fun. 

That’s what you think. [Laugh]

Fair enough. Alright, first one is: If you could run LeMons or Chump at any international track, which would it be? 

Nurburgring. Hands down.

You guys are Schumacher Taxi Service; do you know what Ralf Schumacher is up to these days?

Not specifically, no. I know he used to drive F1. [Editor's Note: He actually drives a Mercedes in DTM.]

On a kind of related note, what is Rowlf the Dog from the Muppets up to? 

[Long Pause] Well, s---. I have no idea. They just came out with the Muppet movie; I saw him on there when I took my son. I’d imagine he’s living off the millions he made on his return trip. [Laughs] His reunion tour.

Seems like everybody’s doing reunion tours these days. 

Everybody ran out of money.

Next question: In five words or fewer, what is it like to drive a Chevy Citation on track? 

My God, make it stop.


All of the different connotations of that. [Defeated voice] “My god, make it stop...” [Panicked voice] “My god, make it stop!” [Laughs]

Wow. That’s pretty much the best answer ever. And last one. Finish this sentence: A car that is on fire is ___________.

...ahead of me.


Happened twice now, cars ahead of me have been on fire.

Like on fire on fire? Or just threw a rod and puked out burning oil? Or yes? 

Go back to CMP, because this is what spawned the exhaust rule. One of the E30s, their muffler fell off and they’ve got a saddle tank--their exhaust goes through the gas tank--so they were heating their fuel tank for an hour. Finally--and I’m like two cars behind them--I’m watching them and I’m loopy, already an hour-and-a-half into my stint. And I look at the car and there’s flames streaming out of their filler tank. I look at that and go, “That’s a really nice paint job.That’s like holographics and s---.” And those were the exact words going through my head. All of a sudden, the radio crackles: “There’s a fire in 4! Fire in 4!” I think, “I’m in 4. Where’s the fire?” At that point, it finally clicked: “Oh! That Bimmer’s on fire.”

He pulls off, goes right up to a flag station, and, the way it all happened, the wind was blowing from the flag station toward the car. No, coming from the car toward the flag station. All the flames were going toward that, so the corner worker didn’t get to the car. She runs out with the fire extinguisher, hits it from 50 feet away, and it was blowing back at her. Now, understand we got red flagged, so I’m sitting there watching this whole thing from less than a turn away. They roll the fire [trucks], they try spraying it down, they roll back and just let it burn. Because the fire just started...eventually, the tank just erupted and there was a nice, big fireball.

I think I’ve seen pictures of that. [Editor's Note: Go to the Kudzu Kommandos' blog for another point of view and a couple pictures.]

Yep. If you don’t have them, I can send you a couple. And then another time, maybe once or twice, I’ve seen cars throw the rods-through-the-block kinds of explosions in front of me.

That’s got a high entertainment factor. 

It is. Although the worst time that ever happened, we were refueling and I watched the CoROLLa go by [on track]. And I’m like, “Oh, I’ll watch them.” In the hot pits, so the guys are refueling and everything. The CoROLLa throws a rod on track. I yell, “Fire.” Our refueler, all he hears is “Fire!” so he ducks and hits the ground. Our fire extinguisher guy is looking around ready to hit it, “Where is it?! Where is it?!” and I’m like “Out there!” So, in two seconds, there was about a minute of chaos in our pit stall. [Laughs] [Editor's note: You can see this incident at the end of this video, though the whole clip is worth watching.]

Well, that concludes the lightning round, I think. I’ve got one last question: What’s next for Schumacher Taxi Service for this year and, if you have any, long-term plans? 

Well, we just picked up that E30. It’s not fast, but it’s reliable. I think we were counting, in that last 12 races that I’ve done, we’ve only seen the checkers like twice. So we’re trying to press the “easy” button right now. And if we can get a whole bunch of laps in for as little money as we can, that’s what we’re doing right now. Because we’ll build and it’ll blow up. Like we did the Crown Vic; we got one race out of it. We did the MR2; we put three engines in it in three races. Just...we need an easy button at this point for a little while. I’ll still be around, I’ll still be at the track, but we’re not doing anything insane for a while.

1 comment:

  1. Eric, this is Jer. Thanks for the interview with Rob, outstanding. I would only add that having great teammates makes this all work. We show up on workdays, we pay our bills on time and share in the bounty (seat time and fun). getting good teammates makes it all work, and we are blessed.

    That being said, we also have two somewhat different approaches to the races. Rob's team has a blast with the themes and such, which are outrageous and funny! My team (and they aren't mine, but our group) is more focused on the track experience. We put a lot of time into reliability and have the finishes to show for it. But together, both groups are friends, work well, and play hard.