ESCANABA - Before he became the first driver to win in each of NASCAR's major divisions - Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck - Ken Schrader made a name for himself during the 70's on the dirt tracks across the Midwest.
Therefore, despite being hundreds of miles away from the tracks he grew up on, Schrader looked right at home on Saturday night at the Upper Peninsula International Raceway, as he worked his way through the field and eventually won the 25-lap modified feature.
"It was a good race; we had fun," Schrader said. "First thing you think about is running the race and not get tore up, and if you can do okay, then do okay."
Bryce Derouin | Daily Press
Ken Schrader (9) passes Dale Peterson (middle blue), on the high side in turn two, to take the lead on Saturday, in the UPIR modified feature.
Schrader was more than okay on this night.
After he flew over on his jet while the preliminary races were underway, Schrader eventually made his way to the track and hopped in his car soon after, and won his heat with ease.
UPIR officials then re-drew the starting order, and Schrader was forced to start 11th out of 17 cars, meaning Schrader would have to earn the win if he was going to leave the Upper Peninsula with the checkered flag.
"It was 25 laps, so we didn't have to get it done real quick," Schrader said. "We had enough time to take a little bit extra time and that helped."
Once the green flag dropped, Schrader's savvy driving skills were on full display. His No. 9 Federation Auto Parts modified weaved through traffic, utilizing the high and low lanes, before settling in third place, as the first of many cautions came out.
"A lot of time as you get farther up, it gets harder because the cars are getting faster," Schrader said. "I just knew I had to go wherever they weren't, wherever that was."
Just a few laps later, Schrader made his move for the lead, passing Dale Peterson on the high side in turn two. Once he had the lead, Schrader had a simple strategy.
"Just don't screw up," he said.
Schrader didn't screw up, and was able to hold off the field on multiple restarts after a plethora of cautions came out. Second-place finisher Chris Pepin had a clear view of Schrader on the track and came away impressed with what he saw.
"He ran crystal (clear) perfect laps," Pepin said. "He's smooth. The car got up on the bars, it would bite on the straightway, he didn't burn the tires off it. He ran a good clean race."
While Saturday night's win for Schrader probably doesn't have the same impact as any of his four Sprint Cup Series victories, the NASCAR veteran still has a soft spot for racing on the dirt.
"I love the dirt," he said. "I love my years in Cup, too. But I love the dirt and going to different places. Cup, you go there, learn the track on Friday, Saturday, and don't get to race until Sunday, most times. Here, you come in and make two laps, and then start racing. It's a lot simpler."
After more than four decades of racing, the 58-year old still has the same love for the sport that motivated him to pursue it profesionally.
"They're still fun and I'm still having fun," Schrader said. "I don't want to do anything else."
Just this year, Schrader is taking part in ten ARCA races, one Camping Truck World Series race, and numerous other dirt events throughout the year, with UPIR being one of those dirt races.
The abnormally cold temperatures couldn't even damper Schrader's mood.
"It's a nice little place," Schrader said about UPIR. "It's fun, just cold."
Welcome to the U.P., Ken.