NASCAR Q&A: Ken Schrader discusses his 1988 Talladega win, the state of racing, and why he won’t quit driving

October 11, 2018

Thirty years ago, Ken Schrader won his first NASCAR Cup-level race, in Talladega’s second race of the 1988 season. Though he hasn’t competed full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series since 2006, the affable 63-year-old Schrader continues to race nearly every week on short tracks all over the country. Anniston Star special contributor Mark McCarter recently caught up with Schrader between races.

Q: What do you remember about the win at Talladega?

Schrader: Obviously, it was a big day for us. I felt a little bit of pressure driving for Mr. (Rick) Hendrick.

With about 10 to go, I did a little something dumb and worked myself way back at the end of the line. (Crew chief) Harry Hyde wasn’t impressed with that move. So we got back up there and I knew we had a shot at the last lap, and going into Turn One, (Dale Earnhardt) Senior went to chop somebody like he did, and all of a sudden he was wiggling and everybody checked up for a second. And we were leading. Rick Wilson was behind me, and I signaled, “Come on, let’s go.” And we won the damn thing.

Q: From what I remember, it was one of those typically miserable July days, right?

Schrader: It was extremely hot. We had a cool vest, but it might have been a deal where I forgot to turn it on. Pretty sure it was operator error.

After we won, they poured the cooler on me, and wow, was it cold and was I hot. I got sicker than hell that week.

Q: What about the celebration after Victory Lane?

Schrader: Times were different. It was a Sunday and there were no planes and we were all driving home. Damn if we didn’t decide we were going to the Holiday Inn pool first. But you couldn’t buy any beer on Sunday. We called (the late Anniston auto dealer) Sunny King. I had a relationship with Mr. King through Mr. (Junie) Donleavy (Schrader’s former car owner). We called Sunny and said we’re at the Holiday Inn and we don’t have anything to drink. And I mean, not long after that, the cavalry shows up. He took care of us. We had a heck of a time.

Q: Those days, there were a lot of first-time winners at Talladega. Any reason for that?

Schrader: It’s good because you won a big one, but then it terrifies you that you might not win another. We’ve still got guys who only won at Daytona or Talladega. There’s nothing wrong with that. At Talladega, the driver still does his job. What Talladega does, it’s one of the few places that equalizes the equipment as much as can be.

Q: Do you still watch NASCAR races?

Schrader: If I’m anywhere around a TV I watch it. I think the racing is better than it’s ever been. The stages have made those guys race harder than they’ve ever raced.

The part that gets me aggravated, I’m struggling like everybody to figure what we have to do to make the fans happy, because the on-track product is better than it’s ever been. Say whatever they want about the good ol’ days, I was 11th in my first Daytona 500 (in 1985) and I was five laps down. That ain’t a good ol’ race. If you’re five seconds back now, you’re not even in the top 11.

I think NASCAR is in a situation where they can’t make everybody happy, and a lot of it is situations they didn’t cause.

Q: You ran 763 Cup races, and you’re still racing. Any idea how many races and wins overall?

Schrader: I’ve got a book from every year I’ve ever driven. But I’ve never totaled up the races. Last year I was down pretty bad and only ran 65 but I was in a car like 115 days. This year, we’ve won five races so far. I said, so far.

Q: I know you must get this all the time: Why do you keep racing, and any thoughts of retiring?

Schrader: OK, so, say I’m a kid and all I want to do is play golf. I play golf and I play golf and all of a sudden I’m on the Tour for how many years. And then I’m not on it. I still want to play golf. I’m just going racing. It’s what I still want to do.

Q: So, is this one of those cases where you’ll quit once you stop having fun?

Schrader: I can’t imagine that’s ever going to happen.

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