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When he worked on his race car between runs at Martinsville Speedway, Ken Schrader saw a familiar face roaming through the garages.
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It was Clay Campbell, the track’s president. The same person he once saw working at the concession stand of the southwestern Virginia track. The same person he saw cutting grass on the facility grounds, sometimes even pouring concrete into the turns on the half-mile oval.
“He’s making the rounds through the shops and through the garages, talking to the different competitors, and a lot of track presidents don’t do that,” said Schrader, a longtime stock-car driver who won the ARCA Menards 200 in May at Toledo Speedway.
Schrader and Campbell formed a friendship through their years of auto racing. And at one point last season, Campbell stopped to talk to Schrader
Schrader asked him a question.
“Are you looking at driving again?”
Campbell answered in the affirmative. Schrader, it turned out, was looking for drivers to sit in the No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet for the 2014 ARCA Racing Series. In November, Schrader and Campbell agreed to partner for two ARCA superspeedway races.
“We shook hands on it,” Campbell said. “We didn’t need paper. He knows I’m good for it, and I know he’s good for it.”
ARCA opens its 51st season next Saturday with the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Campbell will drive for Ken Schrader Racing on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
“Ken knows I’ve been involved in driving and the first time I raced at Talladega two years ago, he was the first one to come in the trailer after the race,” said Campbell, who will also drive for Schrader in the May 3 ARCA race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. “He asked me, ‘have you had enough yet?’ He laughed and I said, ‘you know what? Probably not.’ ”
Schrader, 58, began driving in NASCAR in 1984 and in addition to owning Ken Schrader Racing, he also owns I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo., and is a co-owner of Macon (Ill.) Speedway. He drove in 79 races on several different circuits in 2013, but drove in his last Sprint Cup race in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This season, Schrader will oversee his race team and plans to drive in 10 ARCA races, including May 18 at Toledo Speedway and June 13 at Michigan International Speedway.
He also plans to drive in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race July 23 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, a handful of NASCAR K&N Series races, and in at least 65 dirt-track races this year.
It begs the question: What has kept Schrader going?
“I don’t know,” Schrader said. “It’s just everything about it. I love the sport, it’s like a disease. You almost have to die out of it.”
The business side of owning a race team, he admitted, can be a challenge. Schrader enjoys the travel. He enjoys the camaraderie of being in the garage.
“Getting in the car is one of my favorite things, but to still be around it?” Schrader said. “Well, I’d still be around racing even without driving.”
The same goes for Campbell, 54, whose grandfather founded Martinsville Speedway in 1947. As he worked his way through the family business of owning and maintaining a NASCAR track, Campbell also kept a hand in competitive driving.
“If you’re a true racer, Daytona is the pinnacle,” Campbell said. “But at those two tracks, it doesn’t get any bigger or faster. If you really want to race, those are two good places to do it. It’s totally different from any other races you’ve ever driven in. Everything you’ve learned driving short tracks, throw that out the window.”
Unlike short-track racing, Campbell likens driving on a superspeedway to “a high-speed chess game.” A driver relies less on maneuvering and more on keeping pace with the pack on a track that can go as wide as five cars.
“You just want to do as good as you can,” Schrader said. “We think we’ll give Clay a good car to qualify on, and he’s got to make the right decisions as to who to draft with. If we went down there and ended up in Victory Lane, it wouldn’t be a total shocker to us. Or if we wrecked in Lap 20, but that’s Daytona and Talladega, for any race.”