NASCAR Winston Cup star Ken Schrader is known as a racer’s racer, the kind of guy that will race anything, anywhere, anytime, and when he does show up, is one of the guys to beat. Over the course of a career that began in the 1970’s,...
NASCAR Winston Cup star Ken Schrader is known as a racer’s racer, the kind of guy that will race anything, anywhere, anytime, and when he does show up, is one of the guys to beat. Over the course of a career that began in the 1970’s, the 46 year old has won in stock cars, midgets, winged and non-winged sprint cars, dirt champ cars, late models and modifieds. He has scored victories in events sanctioned by USAC, NASCAR, UMP, MARA, MRA, and ARCA. He has victories at speedways from coast to coast.
But one track has eluded the Fenton, Missouri native, one right in his own backyard. It’s the one-mile clay oval carved on the site of a reclaimed strip mine northwest of the intersection of Illinois Routes 14 and 51, on the south side of DuQuoin, Illinois.
Annually, the "Magic Mile" at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds hosts two races, the Southern Illinois 100 for the ARCA Stock Cars, and the Ted Horn Memorial 100 for the USAC Championship dirt cars. Great names such as Norm Nelson, Fred Lorenzen, Butch Hartman, Marshall Teague, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Tony and Gary Bettenhausen, Mario Andretti and Jack Hewitt dot the win lists. But one name remains remarkably absent, that of Ken Schrader.
The DuQuoin track, one of only four operating mile dirt tracks in the country, is about 100 miles from Schrader’s hometown of Fenton, Missouri and heavily attended by the large membership of the St. Louis Auto Racing fan club.
Many of those members are among the most loyal Schrader fans in the country, and are expected to turn out in great numbers when Schrader makes an appearance at DuQuoin for a new event at DuQuoin, the UMP Summernationals for Late Models and Modifieds, Sunday, July 1.
If the tradition of the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds and the area fans that follow Ken Schrader closely weren’t enough incentive for Schrader to return "home", then perhaps the factor that made his decision easy was that DuQuoin is the only mile dirt track in the Midwest on which he hasn’t tasted victory!
Ken has records on the Worlds’ Fastest Mile at Springfield (the only man to win there in 3 different types of race cars, USAC Midgets, modifieds, ARCA Stock Cars) and the Indiana State Fair Mile (where he has won in 4 different race cars, USAC Sprints, Midgets, ARCA Stock Cars, modifieds). Schrader won the Rex Easton Memorial for midgets at Springfield in 1984 driving for Nick Gojmeric, and took the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 for ARCA Stock Cars in 1998 driving for Ed Rensi. Schrader also won a UMP Modified event on the same track in June of 1998.
Schrader has four victories at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, the first coming in 1983 in Damon Fortune’s sprint car enroute to the 1983 USAC Sprint Car title. He followed that with a win in a USAC Midget in 1984, took first place in a 1992 UMP Modified event, and won the Hoosier Lottery Fast Cash 100 for ARCA Stock Cars in his own Oldsmobile in 1994.
In addition, Ken led in the late going in the 1982 Dream Event 100 for USAC dirt cars at Springfield, won the pole for the 1997 Allen Crowe 100 at Springfield, and the pole for the prestigious Hoosier Hundred in 1983, an event he was leading when the engine blew.
Ironically, the only Midwest dirt mile which Kenny hasn’t posted a victory on is the same one where he made his USAC Stock Car debut in 1979, driving a Ford Granada for the Sieveking family out of St. Louis. Competing against A.J. Foyt, Joe Ruttman, Rusty Wallace and Dean Roper, Ken qualified 3rd and ended the day 21st with a blown engine. He came back the next year in the same USAC division to win Rookie of the Year honors, posting a 5th place finish (his best DuQuoin finish to date) in the Southern Illinois 100. In 1981 he finished 16th in the stock car event, and 11th in the dirt car event, while in 1982 he passed up the stock car race and finished 12th in the dirt car race, on his way to the 1982 USAC Silver Crown title. Ken qualified 5th for the 1984 Ted Horn 100, but an accident relegated him to a 29th place finish. In 1985, he put George Middleton’s Pizza Hut dirt car in the 14th slot for the Horn Memorial, but finished last after the car overheated. In his last DuQuoin appearance, Kenny qualified the late Glen Neibel’s V-6 dirt car 12th for the Horn Memorial, but a blown engine on the second qualifying lap put him out for the day.
When Ken enters the grounds on July 1 before a partisan crowd, he will have the added incentive of trying to conquer a track that has denied him victory, as well as adding his name to the short list of drivers that have won races on the "Big 3" Midwestern dirt miles of Springfield, DuQuoin, and the Indiana State Fairgrounds. That list includes racing greats with names such as Foyt, Hartman, White, Bettenhausen, Hewitt, Andretti, Gurney, and Unser.
What drives the man who won 2 USAC titles, two Rookie of the Year titles, several NASCAR poles and NASCAR victories to spend an off weekend at the race track? Perhaps it’s the opportunity to compete, or to tame a track he has yet to conquer. Perhaps it’s a chance to add have his name mentioned with the legends of racing. Or perhaps it’s explained by the following statement from Schrader himself.
"I race, that’s what I do, for my hobby," is a quote from Schrader in a recent news article. "Some people golf, some hunt, I like to race."
Perhaps that says it all.