NASCAR WCUP: Ken Schrader: 'It was the best wreck of my career'
27 July 2000Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Hackettstown, N.J.-- Take away one particular wreck in his long racing history and Ken Schrader would be a much different man.
Instead of wrestling around oval tracks in his brightly painted "M&M's" Pontiac, he would be finessing his way around road courses worldwide. Rather than living with his family in Concord, N.C., he most likely would have never left the Midwest. He would have never been the 1985 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year who went on to win four races and 23 pole positions.
He would have been Ken Schrader, Indy Car driver.
Lucky for the stock car world -- and most recently the "M&M's" Racing Team -- Schrader had a less than spectacular showing at the 1983 Indianapolis 500. It happened while enjoying one of his most successful seasons in open-wheel racing, thundering through the USAC ranks en route to the 1983 Sprint Car Championship and destined for a career in open-wheel racing.
In 1983 he got the chance of a lifetime from car owner Usona Purcell...the opportunity to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Things were going fine until one fateful day during practice.
"It was without a doubt the best wreck I ever had," Schrader said. "We were practicing for the 500 when I wrecked the only car we had. If I would have made that race, ran around all day and probably finished 15th or so, from that day on my career would be much different. I would have been hooked in the middle of Cart and IRL with all of their teams and sponsorships and owners. The people I deal with day to day would have been the key people in Cart instead of "M&M's", MB2 and all the people I now work with in Winston Cup."
"When I didn't make the Indy 500 that year it forced me to look elsewhere for a job, and that is when I got started in Winston Cup," Schrader said. "I got hooked up with Elmo Langley the very next year and ran a handful of races, then Junie gave me my big break in Winston Cup in 1985. I've been full throttle into stock cars ever since."
It quickly became evident that Schrader was going to be a star in the NASCAR Winston Cup series. After only five Winston Cup races in cars leased from Langley in 1984, Schrader's racing ability caught the eye of Richmond team owner Junie Donlavey and together they claimed 1985 rookie of the year honors.
Despite his almost instant success in Winston Cup, stock cars didn't become Schrader's focus until after his attempt at the 1983 Indy 500. His racing hero was A.J. Foyt, open wheel's most decorated veteran, and Schrader was hot on the trail to follow in his hero's footsteps. His 1983 wreck changed all of that and he broke away from Foyt's career path to pursue his own interests.
"When I started looking for other options I knew there was going to be longevity in stock cars," Schrader said. "Now here I am 15 years later with a great team and great sponsor and I wouldn't change a thing." Schrader's career path may have led him away from Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a decade, but he has made a triumphant return to the D-shaped oval that was once the sight of a career-changing experience. Since the Winston Cup series' debut at IMS, Schrader has qualified in the top 10 on five of the six occasions. He also has two top-10 finishes including a career best of seventh.
This season he will tackle Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the "M&M's" Racing Team, which won the 1998 pole position for the Brickyard 400. From their testing speeds, the "M&M's" Racing Team feels confident they can contend for both the pole position and the win.
"It is hard to say that wrecking is ever a good thing, but in the case of the 1983 Indianapolis 500 everything worked out for the best."
Text provided by Laura Ehret