Some great news came out of the first day of the second round of Cup testing in Daytona — and no, it wasn’t about Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., or even Toyota.
In the background of a busy garage as Session Two got underway, it was formally announced on Monday that Ken Schrader will be piloting the No. 49 Dodge for BAM Racing during all Speedweeks activities this year. Replacing John Andretti in the car, Schrader will also be behind the wheel for the upcoming tests at California and Las Vegas, with the possibility of additional work with the team down the road. The move is like coming home for the Missouri native, who drove for the team during the 2003-05 seasons and collected six Top 10 finishes in 104 starts.
The partnership will exist for more than just the Daytona 500 itself during Speedweeks. Schrader won the Bud Shootout in 1989 and 1990, and because of those victories, he’s eligible to run in the event the weekend before the Great American Race. Thanks to his ongoing relationship with BAM, that means the seasoned veteran will now get at least one more shot at the star studded non-points race to start off the season. Some success there could easily encourage the team to let Schrader have a few more rides as the year continues — it will also give them crucial track time to prepare for the Gatorade Duels the following Thursday, as the No. 49 Dodge must race its way into the 500 field.
Overall, this announcement is great news for a man who’s a true throwback to the good old days of racing. An old warrior that can still get it done behind the wheel on the dirt tracks and small ovals around the country in various racing divisions, at 52 Schrader can still make races in less than stellar equipment on Sundays.
Built in the mold of A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, and Gordon Johncock, this Missouri native truly is “old school” at its — he runs whenever and wherever he can race. A flashback to a different era, Schrader’s passion for driving anything with wheels harkens of the days back before racing was so tied to corporate America. Before cars cost millions of dollars, racers would run anywhere they could to compete and pay the bills, passion outlasting publicity on a Wednesday night in the middle of nowhere. Dirt tracks were the breeding grounds for the stars of the big leagues back then, and you could still see the drivers from the Indianapolis 500 the Friday night before racing in the Hoosier Hundred at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. That’s how Schrader is, too; whether he's running a late model on a dirt track in the Southwest or running an ARCA car on an asphalt track in the Midwest, the man intends on running every weekend during the calendar year — and a multitude of weeknights, as well.
Now that Schrader's career is closer to the end than the beginning, it is great to see that he's still getting an opportunity to have a shot with a team in BAM that appreciates his talent. Additionally, it is fitting that one of the men who has piloted a car with Bud signage on the side during his career — Schrader drove for Bud with Hendrick from 1995-96 — is going to get to compete in the final stock car event sponsored by the best selling beer in America. Schrader’s entry represents one of the best features of the Shootout, that all past winners are eligible to race if they competed in any Cup race the year before. It gives the fans a chance to remember their heroes and see them compete in a true dash for cash — as well as giving the drivers themselves one final shot at glory.
While the prospects with BAM are good, Schrader still does not have a confirmed ride for 2008. There are rumors of a limited schedule for the Wood Brothers, but as of now, he is not going to be attempting every race this season; last year, he only made 13 of 36 events after struggling with the No. 21 Ford. It would be a great thing to see Schrader have a full-time ride for as long as he wanted to compete; unfortunately, in the modern era of NASCAR, stats and age preclude that from being a possibility.
So, Schrader's fans will have to be happy seeing him whenever they can. Whether it is in spotty Cup rides, on the dirt at Paducah, Kentucky or another little bullring scattered throughout the country, here's hoping that Ken Schrader can continue to thrill us for as long as Red Farmer has thrilled us behind the wheel of a race car.
And every once in awhile, maybe he’ll still be able to do it on the biggest stage of all — the Great American Race.
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