By Jay Hardin
Springfield, IL (August 18, 2021)………The excitement of the return of the Illinois State Fairgrounds and the annual weekend of auto racing was enhanced when it was announced that 1982 USAC Silver Crown champion, NASCAR star and fan favorite Ken Schrader would return to pilot one of the big cars in the annual Bettenhausen 100 championship race this Saturday, August 21, on the Springfield Mile.
Schrader returns to Springfield on Saturday aboard the Mark Swanson Encore Team/Rosewood Machine & Tool – Jet Star/Maxim/Moyle Toyota No. 21. The car was most recently driven at Springfield last October by David Gravel, who charged from 26th to 2nd in his series debut. Kody Swanson drove the car to a 3rd place finish at Eldora Speedway this past June.
Jeff Swindell piloted the Swanson ride to a 3rd at Springfield in 2017 and also recorded a 2nd, 3rd and 4th at Du Quoin.
Schrader has won events on the Springfield Mile in virtually every type of race car imaginable, save one, the 96-inch wheelbase beasts whose lineage goes back to the very first days of auto racing.
One of the most well-known and versatile drivers in American auto racing, Schrader has raced for well over 40 years. He continues to travel to short tracks across the United States competing against local and national heroes while still taking time to sign autographs or pose for pictures with his legions of fans. Winning, versatility, and an engaging personality have made him one of the most popular racing drivers in the country.
His foray into big-time auto racing began with his USAC Stock Car debut in 1979. A year later, Ken secured a ride in the last event of the 1980 USAC Silver Crown Series as a teammate to Gary Bettenhausen on the powerful Delrose-Holt team. He immediately set the car on the pole for the 1980 MAB Paints 100 at Terre Haute, his first start in one of the big cars. Ken got a big break in 1981 when Southern Indiana car owner Damon G. “Blackie” Fortune hired Schrader to drive his Silver Crown machine.
Schrader’s Rose Brothers sponsored Beck chassis didn’t win a race in 1982 though he came close to winning the 100-mile dream event at Springfield in May of 1982. Top finishes made him a contender for the 1982 title, but the car had a problem at the season finale at Nazareth. Fellow driver Sheldon Kinser surrendered his Ben Leyba ride to Schrader, allowing Ken to make the race and win the crown. It was that gesture that caused Ken and his wife to name their son Sheldon.
Schrader has six starts in Silver Crown cars at Springfield with three top-10 finishes. His last start came for owner George Middleton in 1985. While he made an attempt for Dennis McQuinn in 2018, should Ken make the field Saturday it will be a record 36 years between championship starts at Springfield. What else has Ken Schrader done on the Springfield Mile? Well, he won the 1998 Allen Crowe 100 ARCA race, won the 1983 Rex Easton Memorial USAC Midget race and won the June 1998 Modified event.
August 21 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Silver Crown Series race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and the 87th anniversary of the first national championship race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Practice for the big cars begins at 10 a.m. Central with Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying at 11:30. The Bettenhausen 100 is scheduled to push off at approximately 2 p.m. Tickets are available by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200 or at the Illinois State Fair Box Office.