INDIANAPOLIS – Ken Schrader’s USAC Silver Crown Series championship season in 1982 was one of smooth, calm performances.
At least, that was the case until the year’s final event at Nazareth National Motor Speedway on Dec. 4, when nail-biting was the rule rather than the exception for the Fenton, Mo., driver.
When Schrader’s own mount suffered engine problems, he borrowed Sheldon Kinser’s regular ride, then came from the last row to finish fourth and sew up his first ever USAC championship.
Although Schrader didn’t win any of the 10 series events, his consistency in the form of eight top-10 finishes helped push his final point total to 630.
That was good enough to give the 27-year-old pilot the crown over Mark Alderson, who also had eight top-10 finishes en route to his runner-up placing.
Alderson’s car owner, Steve Enslow, won the owner’s championship with 556 points, edging out Lloyd K. Stephens’ OFIXCO team – the owner of Ron Shuman’s car – which had 539.
Shuman led the drivers’ points going into the Nazareth show, but a broken shock ended his title hopes. He ended up with 539 points, good for third in the final rundown.
The 10-race series had nine different winners, with the only repeater being Doug Wolfgang, who scored a pair of triumphs.
The Silver Crown season opened at Eldora Speedway on April 25 with Danny Smith, driving the Kenny Rogers Gambler No. 82, taking the victory in a 60-lap feature on the high-banked half-mile dirt oval.
Rich Vogler was second and Shuman took third. Schrader had an oil cooler problem and didn’t complete a lap, placing 17th in his poorest showing of the season.
Larry Dickson took over the point lead briefly with a victory in the Jo-Oil Racing No. 18 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield on May 2.
Schrader was the runner-up and Shuman again placed third.
Then, Schrader gained the point lead for the first time with a third-place finish in the 60-mile Hulman Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds mile on May 8. Rick Hood took the victory in the No. 75 King’s Brake-O car, with Gary Bettenhausen taking second.
The Silver Crown series made its first appearance ever at New Jersey’s Flemington Speedway square five-eighths mile track on July 4. Wolfgang took over the No. 75 Bill King Baker Racing Engines Special, garnering the victory in the 100-lap event.
Dickson finished second at Flemington and moved into a tie for the point lead with Schrader, who placed fifth. Vogler was third.
Bobby Olivero, in the Hodgdon-Curb No. 16, was the winner of another 100-miler at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on August 14, with Joe Saldana finishing second and Sheldon Kinser taking third.
Schrader finished eighth and Shuman took over the point lead by a single marker with a fifth-place finish.
Wolfgang chalked up his second victory in the No. 75 Baker Engines car at Raceland in Denver, Colo., in the 100-lap feature at the half-mile on Aug. 21.
Vogler was second and Schrader regained the lead in his see-saw battle with Shuman by finishing third. Shuman was sixth.
Bettenhausen, in the Terre Haute First National Bank No. 7, was the victor in the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds 100-miler on Sept. 6, with Steve Chassey finishing second and Olivero third.
Schrader ended up 12th in the event, while Shuman was 24th.
Chuck Gurney, driving the Plastic Express No. 30, was the winner of the Hoosier Hundred on September 11 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Olivero claimed the runner-up spot with Billy Engelhart third.
Shuman was sixth at the checkered and Schrader took ninth. That put Olivero in the lead by 21 points over Shuman and 25 over Schrader.
Shuman won the 50-lap feature at Eldora Speedway during the 4-Crown Nationals to take over the point lead. Steve Kinser finished second in the 25-miler and Schrader was third.
Going into the finale at the revitalized Nazareth National Motor Speedway in Pennsylvania, originally scheduled for Oct. 9, Shuman held a 19-point lead over Schrader and any one of seven drivers had a shot at the championship.
In addition to Shuman and Schrader, the eligible combatants were Olivero, Alderson, Saldana, Bettenhausen and Engelhart.
Officials of the RSCA, Nazareth’s promoters, had difficulty in obtaining the necessary certificates of occupancy from local officials, forcing two postponements of the closer.
The promoters finally had to undergo court proceedings before the permits were issued.
When race day finally came on Dec. 4, the track was extremely muddy because of two days of rain. Most of the day was spent ironing out the track.
Because of the delay, officials did away with qualifications and the feature start was based on a draw.
Schrader drew the pole starting spot for his No. 39 Rose Brothers Trucking mount owned by Damon “Blackie” Fortune, but the car fell victim to mechanical ills in practice.
So, USAC sprint car champion Sheldon Kinser magnanimously turned over his Ben’s Tire Clinic No. 6 to Schrader for the race.
As a result, Schrader had to start in the last row in 29th, while Shuman started 21st.
Keith Kauffman moved from his third starting spot on the initial lap to take over the lead in his Radio Hospital No. 58.
However, Schrader passed three cars on the first lap. With frequent caution periods delaying his advance, Schrader finally moved up to pass Shuman on lap 31 for eighth position.
Schrader moved on up in the standings before race’s end to finish in fourth place, while Shuman – hampered by a broken shock absorber – fell to 12th place at the finish.
The race was cut short at the 54-mile mark following a serious accident, which resulted in overnight hospitalization for driver Joe McCarthy. The race was red flagged for that mishap and darkness had fallen to the extent that it was too dark to resume the race.
With that, a calm, cool and collected Schrader had the title.
“After the way the day went, I couldn’t believe we came out of it so good,” Schrader said. “It was awful big of Sheldon to give me the chance that day.”