By CODY LEIST
PDT Sports Writer
When someone has a passion for a hobby or a career, letting it go may be the hardest part.
That is the case for NASCAR regular Ken Schrader, who will be driving in tonight’s NASCAR Night at Southern Ohio Speedway. Just 11 days shy of his 57th birthday, Schrader will be competing in the Jordan Heating and Cooling UMP Modified event before his ARCA race Sunday at Toledo Speedway.
“I’m going to do that until I can’t get in the car or my buddies can’t help me get into the car,” Schrader said. “Then I’ll get some younger buddies that can start helping me get in the car because it’s just too much fun.”
The Fenton, Mo. native has been racing for over 40 years on small-town dirt tracks to the Sprint Cup circuit. Yet no matter where it is, Schrader believes that he will race anything that has an engine and will go fast.
“I don’t remember wanting to do anything else,” Schrader said.
The itch to drive
When Schrader was growing up, his father, Bill, would compete at various dirt tracks throughout the St. Louis area during the weekends and operate a general automotive repair shop during the week. It was during those early years when the junior Schrader felt this was what he wanted to do, despite his father’s wishes.
“He would’ve loved it if I didn’t want to do this,” Schrader said. “I was ate up with it, I wanted to do it.”
From that point forward, Schrader has lived out of his suitcase, finding that next place to quench his thirst for speed and adrenaline. Although his first year was on pavement, it was his second year of racing—the first on a different surface—that helped kick start his love for auto racing and make a name for himself.
“When I started running on the dirt, I fell in love with the dirt,” Schrader said. “That was just unbelievable for me.”
Schrader believes dirt tracks are the back bone of the sport and is excited to return to his roots whenever possible. Two years ago, he took his late model and modified cars to 29 states and a Canadian province.
While he ignored his father’s advice about going into the business, Schrader’s 16-year-old son Sheldon has made his father happy as he took his driver’s test this week.
“He doesn’t like racing,” Schrader said.
Right now, Schrader has been giving advice to younger generations who are starting to find success in the sport.
“Quit now and take up golf,” Schrader said. “It’s tough, which all businesses are tough. But it’s extremely tough because the cars will not maintain themselves off what you win. You have to have the sponsorship dollars.”
Racing against others
According to Schrader, there have not been any rivalries he has built against other drivers during his career. With that being said, there were some drivers who gave Schrader motivation.
“If and when you beat them, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something,” Schrader said.
From beating Steve Kinser in a World of Outlaws event, outlasting Joey Kramer in a Modified Feature or the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in a Sprint Cup race, each victory put a feather in Schrader’s cap.
Some may remember the fateful final turn Schrader shared with Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500. The car he was driving collided along the wall with Earnhardt’s and came to rest inside the apron.
It was Schrader who first went to check on the man known as The Intimidator and signal for EMTs to rush to the black No. 3 car.
No stranger to Scioto County
Tonight’s event won’t be the first time Schrader has raced in the Portsmouth area. In 2005, Schrader won a Late Model Feature event at Portsmouth Raceway Park.
The event itself is what Schrader thrives on. He likes going up against local racers and has one little piece of motivation added to his driving.
“We’re going into their backyard, trying to play with them,” Schrader said. “They’ve got stuff figured out at their place.”
This will be his 17th Modified event this year. Add in a Late Model and four Sprint Cup races and it will be his 22nd race of the year.
Competing in NASCAR
For 27 years, Schrader has been a fixture among the top levels of auto racing. A winner of 34 races among the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck, K&N Pro Series East and West and ARCA series, Schrader feels he has been blessed to be given the opportunity to be paid for his hobby.
Schrader’s family has been among those who have supported him the most, including his wife of over a quarter century, Ann. He also mentioned how is daughter, Dorothy grew up with a racing father.
“My daughter thought it was normal to get off school Friday, hop in a plane, fly to the race, stay in the bus and in the camper,” Schrader said, “Daddy would get all hot and sweaty, fly home and go to school on Monday. She just didn’t know, that was the way she grew up.”
Currently, Schrader has ownership in an ARCA car with Tom Hessert behind the wheel for his second season. Schrader is also involved with ownership of tracks in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky.
“I love the competitive nature of it and a lot of the people involved in it,” Schrader said. “We’ve just met some good people.”
Schrader’s first Sprint Cup victory came in 1988 at Talladega. While the thought of winning on the highest level of stock car racing would be the highlight of any driver’s career, Schrader felt it was just as important as his first USAC race.
“I don’t believe there is a biggest (moment professionally),” Schrader said. “Because all along the way, there were some days that seemed huge at the time. They’re just steps. That’s one thing that I like about our sport is so much is you can run in the cup car one week and go to Southern Ohio Speedway the next.”
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or email@example.com.