When I became interested in NASCAR---- back before cable TV---- David Pearson was my favorite driver. Primarily because it seemed like everyone else was a Richard Petty fan.
I wasn't interested in being another sheep on the bandwagon, so I chose Pearson. All the wins he had, with Petty finishing second, were sweet. Pearson was getting out of the Cup series in the early 1980s, so I began looking for a new favorite driver.
In the mid-80s NASCAR's popularity was exploding with ESPN televising most of the races. Dale Earnhardt was the larger than life hero. Once again I chose the other guy. Tim Richmond was also exploding across the NASCAR skyscape. Like a brilliant supernova, he burned out much too soon.
Richmond's replacement driver in the #25 Folgers Chevy in 1988 was Ken Schrader. I'd been impressed with Schrader ever since he won Rookie of the Year in 1985 driving for an underfunded Junie Donlavey team.
Schrader won his first Cup race in 1988 at the Die Hard 500 in Talladega. Running fourth on the last lap, he made some bold moves to get by the other three drivers, including some cat named Earnhardt.
He went on to finish 5th in points in 1988 with 17 top-10s in 29 starts. He also won the Daytona 500 pole position for what would be the first of three straight years.
In 1989 Schrader again was 5th in points, and collected another win. In 1990 Kodiak came on as Schrader's new sponsor. The 1991 season saw Schrader earn his final two victories in the Cup series.
1994 was Schrader's highest points finish, as he ended up in 4th place with 18 top-10s. Budwieser became the primary sponsor in 1995, and 1996 would be Schrader's last season in the iconic, red, #25 Bud Chevy.
He raced for Andy Petree in the Skoal Bandit #33 for the next three years before moving on to the #36, MB2, M&Ms Pontiac for three years. His last full season in Cup was 2006.
He earned over 35 million in the Cup series, in 732 starts. He also had two wins in the NNS, and one win in the truck series. Schrader has 10 ARCA wins in his 37 starts in that series, and 3 top-5s in his five IROC races.
Schrader hit the ground running on May 29, 1955 when he was born in Fenton, MO. Everyone's heard the story about how his dad tied a go-kart to a post in the back yard so a little, three year old, Kenny could ride around in circles until he ran out of gas.
"I guess you could say that I have been dizzy ever since,” Schrader said. “I really don’t think it is an exaggeration when I say that racing is all I’ve ever known. I’ve been racing since I could walk, and it is really all I have ever wanted to do. To be honest, I would race everyday if I had the opportunity.”
He started racing go-karts for real in the 1960s before moving up to sprint cars in the early 70s. He became the USAC stock car ROY in 1980. He was the USAC Silver Crown champ in 1982, and the USAC Sprint Car champ in 1983.
In 1983 he also went to Indy. He practiced fast enough to make the field, but, with no back up car, a wreck kept him from qualifying for the Indy 500 in what turned out to be his only chance.
Schrader now races over 80 times a year across North America. He's won races in every state except one. Rhode Island, your next! He also owns I-55 Raceway in Pevely, MO, and co-owns Macon Speedway in Illinois.
“I want to spend my time racing,” Schrader said. “It’s not only my job, but it’s also my hobby. I love the time that I get to spend behind the wheel, and as long as I can, I’m going to race whenever I get the chance.”
Schrader and his wife Ann have two children, Dorothy and Sheldon, and they reside in Concord, NC where he operates Ken Schrader Racing.
Kenny Schrader never won the NASCAR Cup championship, but he's still a hero, and I'm sure a lot of you will agree that he's always been a champion to the fans.
Ken Schrader quotes are courtesy of Ken Schrader Racing.