Schrader never a body at rest

Perpetual motion

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

When Ann and Ken Schrader got married 17 years ago, the honeymoon -- if you can call it that -- was over in less than a day.

They got married on a Tuesday in St. Louis, and the next day he drove his rig to a race in California, said Ann, a registered nurse at the time. It was just the start of her own odyssey as a racing wife.

''I went back to work for three days, then flew out to join him,'' she said. ''I don't know if I even had a honeymoon, but that's OK, really.''

Welcome to the Kenny's world, where there just doesn't seem to be enough time to race -- even now, at age 46. Schrader even told his sister not to get married on a weekend because he wouldn't be there. His sister didn't believe him -- and on the big day, she found out he wasn't kidding.

''Kenny has such a passion for the sport, and not only Winston Cup,'' Kyle Petty said. ''We're talking local dirt tracks, open-wheel cars, asphalt, short tracks, motorcycles. It doesn't make any difference. I marvel that he's got that much energy. I don't know if anybody in the garage area has that much energy.''

He included top Winston Cup rookie Kevin Harvick, thrust into Dale Earnhardt's ride after The Intimidator was killed in the season-opening Daytona 500. Harvick also has continued racing in the Busch series, and is leading in the points race.

''Kevin Harvick doesn't hold a candle to Kenny Schrader, I can tell you that, even though he's doing two races a weekend,'' Petty said. ''I've seen Kenny do four or five on a weekend.''

Now, that's passion. Back in 1984, however, it didn't pay all the bills.

''I always say that he married me because I had a full-time job with health benefits,'' Ann said. ''My mom was not real pleased with his resume at the time.''

She is now.

Schrader was Rookie of the Year in 1985, won the Daytona 500 pole from 1988-90 and has 23 poles overall. He has won four races and more than $16 million in his Winston Cup career.

And to think it all began when his father, Bill, figured out how to make a tiny track in the back yard of the family home in Fenton, Mo. He took an old truck axle, imbedded it in some concrete and used a cable to tie little Kenny's go-kart to it. Schrader, only 3 at the time, would drive around in circles until he ran out of gas, get refueled, and go some more.

''Circle, circle, circle,'' Schrader said. ''I don't remember why, but I loved it.''

There was never a doubt where he was headed after that.

''I graduated from high school in 1973, and it was either go away to college and not race, keep running my old race car and go up the road to junior college, or build a new race car,'' Schrader said. ''Well, duh! So we built a new race car. I started racing the day after I was 16 and raced every weekend from then on.''

In 1994, his best season in Winston Cup -- he won twice and finished fourth in points -- Schrader ran 103 races. The schedule hasn't changed much, and he's still managed to start 514 straight Winston Cup races, behind only Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace among active drivers entering Sunday's Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

''This is all self-inflicted. I'd be bored if I only did Winston Cup,'' Schrader said.

He figures to run more than 80 races in 2001, including events in Busch, Craftsman Truck, Winston West, ARCA, and on small dirt tracks in the Midwest, where he sometimes rubs fenders with Tony Stewart.

Schrader is surprised that so many NASCAR drivers don't share his passion for racing.

''There's a lot of guys in the garage that talk about Winston Cup and that it isn't fun no more,'' he said. ''Well, they need to think about what they're doing because if they're not having fun doing this, then they just need to look somewhere else.''

The only downside for Schrader is a 10-year losing streak.

''It bothers the hell out of me,'' said Schrader, his infectious smile gone for the moment. ''There's been races we had good shots and didn't win. But there's a lot of guys in here that have never won a race. What am I going to do, quit?''

No, he just goes back and tries again the next week. But he certainly is tired of losing.

''I want to win again, and not just once.'' he said. ''But if I knew tomorrow that I was not going to win another Winston Cup race, then I wouldn't be at Daytona next year. I'd do something else.''

Not yet, though. There's still time.

''Harry Gant won four races in a row when he was 51, and Bobby Allison was having the best year he ever had when he got hurt, and he was 50,'' Schrader said. ''As long as I as I'm having fun, I'll keep racing.''

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