George, Schaeffer are unlikely Lernerville contenders
There are just three nights of points racing remaining this season, and the Sprint Car race is between — if you ask them — two unlikely candidates.
It's not that Rod George and Kevin Schaeffer aren't qualified. It's just that neither were sure what this season would bring or what comes after this year.
“Yup, if you want to buy it, she's for sale,” Schaeffer said of his car. “Everything is going to be for sale at the end of the season. Maybe I will go play golf or something. The two boys keep me occupied, but it is a lot of things.
“Racing is not getting any cheaper, and the tracks are paying less than they did before. They keep making these rules that are supposed to save us money, but in the end, they end up costing us money. I'm just sick of being told what I have to use and what I'm not allowed to use. Now they can decide on their own.”
Schaeffer announced in the offseason that he wasn't sure what his plans were for this season, so the results have been a pleasant surprise
“It is kind of a surprise,” Schaeffer said. “We really didn't think we were going to come every week, but now that we are out in front and have been there pretty much all year. Plus, my parents keep bringing me here every Friday. We have been running well all year. We haven't had any spectacular runs. We came out and got a win on the first night, and I think every other night, we have been in the top-five, so it's been good.”
Heading into Friday night, Schaeffer has a 19-point lead over George. That advantage is hardly secure, considering it could be gone in one feature.
George and Schaeffer have each won one Lernerville feature this season. Brian Ellenberger leads the division with four victories. Schaeffer's points lead comes from his 11 top-five finishes, compared to six for George.
“We really were not even sure we would be racing this year,” George said. “We sold all of our equipment after last year, and this deal came together very late. We were not sure what was going to happen, and we were just going to go out and have some fun.
“There is nothing like hero to zero in racing. You can't get too excited about when you run well, and you can't get too upset when things go bad. You just have to take what happens as part of racing and try to have as much fun as possible.”
Both drivers have had plenty of excitement in their careers.
George won the first of his three Lernerville championships in 1986. The others came in 2002 and '09. In between, he did a lot of traveling with the All Stars. George is fifth in Lernerville history with 42 Sprint Car wins. Schaeffer also has won three Lernerville titles (2006-08), and he has 15 wins. Each has won a feature this season.
“We've had our ups and downs, but for the most part, it's been a good time,” George said of this season.
“There have been some nights where we were bummed out because we tore up some stuff, and some nights we ran well. It's been a lot of fun because there hasn't been too much stress this season.
“It would be awesome to be there at the end and win a championship because of the way this whole deal came together and how people came together to make this happen. Really this is my daughter's car from a few years ago, and she brought everybody back. Then, a couple weeks ago, we trashed the car, and the way everyone came together to get us back out is really special.”
The car George is running recently was built as a 305 Sprint but hadn't run, so the team dropped in its 410 motor and will go from there. That is part of what has made this season special for George — different people coming together to make things work.
Schaeffer has been racing for nearly 25 years. He started as a boy in a kart, and from there, he progressed through Micro Sprints to the 410 Sprint.
“I started when I was about my boy's age,” Schaeffer said. “It's definitely going to be different if we are not here next year. I am going to have to find some things to keep my time occupied. I bet it really won't sink in until spring, when everyone else is getting cars ready to race and I am not and I will have a lot of spare time.”
Schaeffer said he would be open to driving for another team, if the situation was right.
“We have done this for so long with our own team, though, and that would be very different,” Schaeffer said. “I wouldn't want to drive something that would be a step backwards because we have been doing this for a long time, and we have done pretty well, we've been solid. Fortunately enough, we have had good enough equipment that I have been in the top-10 most of my career. If something came along and I felt that I could win with it, I would look at it.”
If this is just a pause in Schaeffer's career, he doesn't have regrets, nor does he look at any missed opportunities.
“So far, my career has been good, and if it does end now, I am happy with what we have accomplished as a small team,” Schaeffer said. “A one-car team with one engine, and we have won quite a few races and have won five championships at different tracks.
“The fun has started going out of it, so it may be time to look at something else. When it becomes a second job, and you don't look forward to going home and working on your car, then maybe it is time to look at something else.
“I could even look in a different direction and race something else.
“I've been in a Sprint Car for a long time but maybe look at something else. I have a couple friends who own Late Models, and I keep throwing it out there that I may be available to drive that thing too. So we will see what happens.”
Thomas Zuck is a freelance writer