Schrader’s Take On His Sport: Just Race, Baby
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Nevada Speedway in central Missouri is less than 100 miles from Kansas City’s tall buildings, hip nightspots, five-star restaurants and magnificent NASCAR facility. But Neveda’s dirt track is also several decades away from Kansas City.
Nevada is the kind of race track which is more about race than track. The Modifieds and street stocks that compete there are built in lean-to garages and farm out-buildings. The drivers that drive them have real day jobs and spend more time trying to wash the grease out from under their finger nails than they do working with styling gels.
The track itself is, well, rustic. At least it was a dozen or so years ago. A slow panorama at that time revealed severely weathered/warped wooden-slat “grandstands”, salvaged-from-somewhere lights which dangled wearily from old less-than-plumb telephone poles and a racing surface that was tough to distinguish from the ruddy infield.
An old Missouri short-tracker who knew those places and their people very intimately came up and said excitedly, “I haven’t been here in a couple years…can you believe how much they’ve improved this place?”
The stare back at the old short-tracker must have betrayed the thought behind it: Improved from what?
In short, it was just the kind of place one would find Ken Schrader on a Friday night. And that was the purpose of the trip: find and hang with Schrader in his natural habitat.
It wasn’t hard to find the native of Fenton, a small town located on the eastern side of the state. In the competitor lot, Schrader – at that time a major Cup star who had raced and
beaten the best of the day – had the best rig. The trailer in which he hauled his Modified car had a roof on it.
But sitting on the stoop at the side door of the hauler before the show, Schrader looked like one of the boys. He swapped stories stories with the boys. He laughed himself red in the face with the boys.
And that was the whole point. Ken Schrader, who started 763 Cup races during his career, and who was a multiple winner in the series in the 1980s and ’90s and 2000s, was always one of the boys.
He was Tony Stewart before Tony Stewart when it came to not being able to take the short track out of the Cup driver.
Schrader seemed so much more at ease that early evening at Nevada than at Kansas Speedway a couple days after that. Or at Daytona. Or Texas Motor Speedway: places where, during visits to his hauler, he seemed annoyed by all but the racing part of it. (Pretty dang sure he didn’t like the sight of me knocking on his hauler door, but once inside, Schrader was as gracious as he was interesting.)
And brother, was he interesting. This is a guy who was there then in racing. He was a USAC guy who gave the Indy 500 a brief whirl.
In NASCAR he drove for Elmo Langley, Junie Dunlavey and Rick Hendrick.
He drove against Richard Petty, David Pearson and, memorably, Dale Earnhardt Sr. (In the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet was sent sideways and up to the wall on the final turn of the final lap. It collected Schrader’s yellow M&Ms car. Schrader and Earnhardt’s cars slide down into the field after the wreck. Schrader got out, walk to Earnhardt’s window and …)
Schrader, 58, took what presumably is his last NASCAR ride Sunday at Homestead-Miami.
His retirement didn’t attract the attention last week that was given Mark Martin’s decision to step away from Cup; that was given to Kurt Busch’s and Kevin Harvick’s ship jumpings; that, even, was given to Sam Hornish Jr.’s unknown future.
The guess here is that that was not only OK with Schrader, but that he wouldn’t have it any other way. The guess here is that he was only driving NASCAR events to keep his short track team and cars rolling.
But Schrader’s retirement from NASCAR, you can bet, will be duly noted and quietly honored by those who remember and cherish the days when the grandstands were wooden and the drivers were steel.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment