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Autos

Schrader finds seat with fledgling team

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

Ken Schrader loves to race.

The 47-year-old frequently bugs out of Winston Cup tracks to go dirt-track racing. With permission from his wife, Ann, he even raced this year on Mother's Day -- a NASCAR holy day. The last thing Schrader wanted to do in 2003 was retire.

But he came close.

Facing unemployment after parting ways with owners of the No. 36 Pontiac, Schrader landed a job last week driving the No. 49 Dodge for fledgling BAM Racing. The 1985 rookie of the Year isn't done.

BAM, a second-year team owned by South Florida investors Beth Ann and Tony Morgenthau, ran a partial schedule last season with limited success. It used six drivers -- including Shawna Robinson, Ron Hornaday and Derrike Cope -- in 17 races. It will run a full schedule in 2003.

"Like a lot of drivers, I have been paying a lot of attention to what Beth Ann and Tony have been doing with BAM Racing and the strides they have made," Schrader said. "And like most drivers, I've been able to cut the truth out of what has been a lot of talk.

"Frankly, I like what I see at BAM and I like the direction they are headed. There is a tremendous amount of potential. They have good people in place and good leadership. I'm excited."

Schrader, the oldest regular driver in NASCAR's top series, has 564 career starts to tie for seventh among active drivers and tie for 17th all-time. He has four wins, the most recent in 1991.

"We're very excited that a driver of Ken Schrader's abilities and experience will join us in 2003," Beth Ann Morgenthau said. "His expertise as a driver and his faith in us as a race team will combine to make our first full season as a team a memorable one."

BAM, which gets its name from Beth Ann's initials, made waves in its debut at the 2002 Daytona 500, making Robinson the second woman to start NASCAR's most prestigious event. Solid in qualifying, the team struggled in races.

"When you take into account that eight weeks before the Daytona 500 we decided we were going to enter it, we came a long way in a short period of time," Beth Ann said. "Everything we did and everything we went through in 2002 was to put us in a good position for 2003. We made tremendous strides last year."

GRAND PRIX SUPPORT RACES: The Barber Dodge Pro Series opens its season during the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race weekend Feb. 21-23. The series, in its 18th year, is the official entry-level series for CART. "We're going to have a strong field in 2003 and look forward to putting on a good race," said George Tamayo, series director of marketing and communication. "The St. Petersburg track should suit our cars very well."

The race is expected to be the afternoon of Feb. 22, with qualifying on the 21st.

The Barber Dodge Pro Series uses Reynard-built, open-wheel chassis powered by 265-horsepower Dodge V-6 engines. The 1,400-pound cars max out at about 155 mph. Among the series' graduates are 1999 CART champion and current Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack.

Fran-Am, an open-wheel feeder series, and Trans-Am also will race in St. Petersburg that weekend.

CART LINEUP: With the season-opening St. Petersburg race nine weeks away, CART continues to fill out its lineup. Former CART and F1 driver Stefan Johansson announced the formation of American Spirit Team Johansson, which will field two entries.

Sponsorship and drivers will be announced in early January, but 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser is expected to be one of the drivers. "We're in the final stages of securing two American drivers," Johansson said.

FIFTH TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports will field a fifth Winston Cup team next season in at least four races, team owner Rick Hendrick said.

David Green, who drove several races for one of Hendrick's Grand National teams, will drive the No. 60 Chevrolet in at least the four superspeedway races, including the opener at Daytona.

Gary DeHart, who heads Hendrick's research and development program, will lead the new team. Hendrick fields full-time teams for drivers Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Joe Nemechek.

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