Auto Racing

Former championship racer comes from Ireland to buy car back from Cedar Rapids man

Michael Nugent drives car from 1980 Irish National Championship at Hawkeye Downs

Michael Nugent drives his car around the track at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, June 13, 2019. It has been 40 years since Nugent and his brother saw the car after winning the 1980 Irish National Championship with it. Nugent's son surprised his father with the purchase of the old car.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Michael Nugent drives his car around the track at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, June 13, 2019. It has been 40 years since Nugent and his brother saw the car after winning the 1980 Irish National Championship with it. Nugent's son surprised his father with the purchase of the old car. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Doug Schumacher never planned on selling his blue vintage racecar. He describes it as “a dream to drive” and the nicest car he’s ever had.

But as he watched someone else speed around Hawkeye Downs Speedway on a sunny Thursday afternoon, one day before the car leaves his shop in Swisher, he had a smile the size of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I’m excited for him,” Schumacher said. “I’m really excited.”

After flying across the Atlantic from northern Ireland and driving from Chicago, the true owner in Schumacher’s mind — former Irish professional racer Michael Nugent — was scrunched behind the wheel again.

Nugent, 73, is getting the car as a surprise from his sons Ryan and Marc. Last week, his sons were showing various family pictures on their TV. Then came the pictures of Nugent’s former car.

“The car is sold,” Marc said to his dad.

“Is it sold?” Michael said. “Who’s it sold to?”

“Sold to you,” Marc said.

The three had a week to pack their bags before the flight to the U.S.

“He didn’t know if we were serious or not serious,” Ryan said.

The nostalgia took a bit to set in. Michael’s first concern was the cost.

“Where the hell did this money come out of to buy this car?” Michael asked his sons.

They surprised Michael again when his brother, the original mechanic for the car, was at the airport waiting to get on the flight with them. Michael thought his brother was in England.

“A lot of surprises,” Ryan said.

Michael raced in the 1980 Irish national championship with the car and sold it shortly after to a man in Seattle. Nugent didn’t drive it — or any racecar, for that matter — in almost four decades until Thursday.

Schumacher bought the car five years ago from the man in Seattle and raced it several times.

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“I’ll never be in my 30s (again), but at least it was great to be in (the car again),” Nugent said. “It was lovely. It was amazing.”

He said any differences between 1980 and 2019 were with him and not the car.

“When you see me getting out of the car, it’s not a good scene,” Nugent said with a laugh.

Schumacher credits Nugent with the condition of the car. He took it back to the factory three times while he still owned it for major revisions.

“It’s not easy to transform a car that doesn’t handle into a car that does handle,” Schumacher said.

It took the Nugent sons about 12 to 18 months to find the car. Once they got in touch with Schumacher, he said he immediately thought it was a great idea.

Schumacher, 70, said he has several other cars, so he’ll still be behind the wheel for a few more years.

Nugent said he doesn’t know what’s next with the car, but he’s happy to have it.

“One step at a time and savor, and we’ll go from here,” Nugent said.

Schumacher has taken the car to Florida, Texas and other far-flung places.

But now it’s going somewhere more important.

“It’s going home,” Schumacher said.

l Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

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