By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Kenny Schrader was back in Beckley Friday night, doing what he truly loves —racing on a dirt track and entertaining fans.
The biggest crowd of the season turned out at Beckley Motorsports Park in Prosperity to see the famed NASCAR driver compete in the Fast & Furious 40 Open-Wheel Modifieds race.
“We ran in 18 states last year, 22 the year before that. We go all around,” Schrader said. “I love it as much as I ever did.”
Like most NASCAR drivers, Schrader got his start at small dirt tracks. He went on to run 759 Sprint Cup races and captured three poles for the series’ most important race, the Daytona 500.
Now 58, he’s gone back to the dirt tracks he’s always loved.
“I haven’t run Nationwide (Series) in a long time, and I’m about done with Sprint Cup,” he said. “But I still mess with (Camping World) trucks some and run the ARCA.”
Last month at Eldora, Ill., NASCAR made its first dirt track appearance since the early 1970s with a truck race. Schrader had the fastest qualifying time and earned the pole position.
“Eldora was a lot of fun — a very historic couple of days for NASCAR,” Schrader said. “The TV audience supported the race, and the fans came out and supported it big time.
“The drivers loved it. So hopefully it will be on the schedule for years to come.”
He doesn’t see NASCAR making a major return to dirt tracks, however.
“There are only a couple of dirt tracks in the country that can put in enough people to support the race — Eldora, Knoxville and Iowa,” Schrader said. “Even the fair grounds in Syracuse, Springfield, Ill., and Indianapolis can’t put in enough people to support it. It’s not a trend that will start.”
This year, NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed at a dirt track running winged Sprint cars, and well-known driver Tony Stewart saw his season ended by a leg injury in a Sprint car accident.
Schrader said that injuries at dirt tracks are nothing new.
“We get hurt all the time. You just don’t know about it,” he said. “It’s not always somebody (famous). If Tony gets hurt, everybody knows about it.
“People get hurt every week at these places — just like paved tracks, just like high school football or anything else. You just don’t always hear about it.”
Some sponsors and owners don’t want their drivers racing anything other than the NASCAR races.
That’s not the case with Schrader, who is sponsored by Federated Auto Parts.
“They’re a big supporter of our dirt activities,” he said.
Federated also sponsored Ride and Drive days Monday through Wednesday at tracks in Pennsylvania, and Thursday at BMP. He drove contest winners around the tracks in his special two-seater car.
This was Schrader’s second appearance at the 3/8th-mile banked oval. Two years ago he finished second in a Modifieds race to local driver Rick Williams.
“I don’t remember much about it,” he said. “We just didn’t run well enough.”
Schrader won his heat race Friday night, but results of the Fast & Furious 40 were unavailable at press time.
While his days on asphalt are mostly over, look for him to continue indefinitely at dirt tracks.
“I’m going to play with my dirt car as long as I’m having fun and am competitive,” he said.
“I go from Iowa to Nebraska, from Pennsylvania to Delaware, and it hasn’t got tiring yet.
“Not that I’m not tired, but I’m not tired of racing.”
— E-mail: dstillwell @register-herald.com