Nov 14, 2013, 10:00 AM EDT
We touched on Mark Martin’s possible last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start yesterday. There’s a good chance Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will also be Ken Schrader’s last. The Fenton, Mo. native will make his tenth start of 2013 in Frank Stoddard’s No. 32 Fas Lane Racing Ford, and the 763rd of his 30-plus year Cup career.
Like Martin, Schrader has also reduced his Cup slate to a part-time schedule over the last decade or so. Schrader’s four years older – 58 – but no less motivated to stop racing anything else, almost anywhere around the country.
Schrader might be the closest thing to a modern day Dick Trickle, who the NASCAR community mourned earlier this year. Schrader has made a living with his own team racing on dirt, with sporadic Camping World Truck Series starts along the way. It’s hard to count the number of dirt and short track victories Schrader has achieved, and it’s very likely he’ll continue in this capacity for years to come.
In NASCAR’s top level, Schrader won four times, and had eight top-10 finishes in the championship (best of fourth in 1994). It’s easy to forget now in the age of corporate-influenced superstars, but Schrader was one of the founding members of Hendrick Motorsports’ driving lineup, known as much for his quick wit and sense of humor that made him a fan favorite.
Case in point: when he and a then-24-year-old Jeff Gordon collided at Talladega in 1995, and Schrader flipped, Gordon was near inconsolable. But Schrader laughed it off after emerging unscathed.
Still, Schrader could be serious, sensitive and introspective when the situation required. It still has to haunt him – as it does much of NASCAR nation – that Schrader’s car was the one Dale Earnhardt collided with at the 2001 Daytona 500. Schrader went over to check on Earnhardt’s condition but immediately called for further medical assistance when he saw the window net didn’t come down on its own.
Schrader took a hard line look at the safety of NASCAR as it was and where it needed to go to improve; the awful nature of that day has propelled the sanctioning body to make the safety enhancements it has over the last dozen years.
On track, even this year, Schrader’s still remained competitive. He captured the pole position for the inaugural NASCAR Truck race on dirt at Eldora in July and has occasionally punched above his car’s weight with Stoddard’s operation. Schrader has a best finish of 27th at Bristol in the fall, which is decent enough given the machinery, if far from a great result overall.
Personally, I’ll always have the memory of a flight to Charlotte in 2001, and seeing Schrader riding in coach only a few rows ahead of me. He was all too happy to chat about racing for a few minutes and sign an autograph. It made an indelible impact on a kid, especially as most of today’s NASCAR stars take private jets to tracks and stay in their motorhomes once they arrive at the track.
Perhaps his Cup career never reached the stratospheric heights of some of his Hendrick teammates, but that doesn’t mean Schrader will leave with any regrets. He’s won races, cracked jokes, delivered insightful TV analysis, and made fans based on his friendly, good-natured disposition all along the way.
And I’m pretty damn sure this is not going to be the last time Schrader puts on his helmet and tightens the belts. Just head to your nearest dirt or short track, and there’s a good chance he’ll be there.
As nature intended.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Kvyat and Magnussen both go without water for much of the race, leaving them dehydrated following the race.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
German driver lost the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in four months.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
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Sep 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Australian driver enjoys a great deal of home support in Singapore, but feels that Red Bull should have been closer to Mercedes.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Singapore GP winner admits that he had worries about the reliability of his car following Nico Rosberg’s retirement.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
J.R. Fitzpatrick won last night’s season finale, but Dumoulin’s ninth-place finish enables him to claim the championship in Canada’s top stock car series.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
14th to sixth in the final stages of the race caps off a great race for Jean-Eric Vergne.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
German driver misses out on fourth straight win at Marina Bay, but pulls a great result out of the bag to move back up to fifth in the drivers’ championship.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
The British driver has completed a great turnaround – a swing of 32 points in three races – to re-take the lead of the championship today.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:08 AM EDT
An electrical glitch sidelines Rosberg, but Hamilton is made to fight for his second victory in Singapore after a lengthy safety car period.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:35 AM EDT
Rosberg’s championship hopes take a huge hit before a lap has even been run in Singapore.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:15 AM EDT
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Sep 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Red Bull gives you a unique insight into what goes on at a race team’s factory in the aftermath of a grand prix weekend.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT
A wild final restart opened the door for Gaughan to out-hustle Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon late on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
More than a dozen former and current IndyCar drivers take part in the special event that honors the late two-time Indy 500 champ and raises money for Alzheimer’s research.
Sep 20, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
With seven races left in the Nationwide schedule, can Smith start making up ground on teammate Chase Elliott in the championship?
Sep 20, 2014, 7:11 PM EDT
Ganassi Riley-Ford, 8Star Motorsports, Vipers win in COTA.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
When Wendy Venturini walks into the press box at New Hampshire Motor Speedway prior to Sunday’s Sylvania 300 Sprint Cup race, she will become part of NASCAR history.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:03 PM EDT
The Red Bull GRC championship tightens dramatically after the first race of the weekend in L.A.
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