Schuler, Baker head ARCA Series event at Grundy tonight
“It’s hard to look back in history because I’m still trying to make history,” said veteran Larry Schuler, driver of the No. 30 Rod Baker Ford Racing late model. He carries a lot of experience when it comes the Rod Baker Ford Racing team. He and his teammate, Ricky Baker, driver of the No. 52, are leading the way on Friday nights at Grundy County Speedway. The two finished first and second in the point standings in 2013, with Ricky claiming the championship, and find themselves first and second in the current point standings.
When the ARCA Midwest Tour invades their home track – the Grundy County Speedway – tonight for the Calypso Lemonade 100, Schuler and Baker will be ready to apply what they learn from each other week in and week out.
As a 23-year-old rookie in 1976, Schuler, dubbed as “Junkyard Dog,” won 43 races and three championships between Grundy County Speedway, Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Indiana, and Wisconsin International Speedway in Kaukauna. Ricky Baker claimed his first track championship last year and continues to make a name for himself, so one might think that the difference in experience would play into the teammate’s relationship. Yet it is quite the opposite.
When asked what it is like to race with and against such young talent, Schuler’s response was a bit unexpected.
“In a lot of ways, it’s an honor,” he said. “It’s a young sport, and I’m still doing it. I always feel good about that. When I started, I was racing against the guys who kind of started the sport and got these cars going. Pretty soon I’m racing their sons. Now, I’m racing the grandsons. All that time went by, but it seems like yesterday.”
Baker doesn’t see the age and experience gap between him and Schuler as any different than any other competitor.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “A lot of people think he’s got all these years of experience, so he just knows it all. But we learn a lot with all the new set-ups. It’s so different. He’ll say, ‘I remember doing this back in the ’70s and ’80s.’ Some of that stuff is coming back. But honestly, his stories are the best part.”
Being out of the same garage, Baker and Schuler work closely together and, although they don’t cut each other any slack on the track, they spend a lot of time going through things and learning from each other.
“I look at him (Baker) as my equal,” Schuler said. “I don’t feel like I know anything. In fact, my favorite times are when it’s the just two of us, and we sit down and talk about things.”
When the Midwest Tour comes to their home turf, Schuler and Baker have similar, yet different perspectives.
“We are not used to the tire, and we are used to setting the car up for 30 laps instead of 100,” Baker said. “But it will be fun and interesting to see how it all pans out.”
This is one area where Schuler’s experience plays a role in how he responds to racing with a series such as the Midwest Tour. “Those guys pretty much take over, but it wakes you up a little bit. It makes you think; how good are our cars? It really gives us a benchmark on what we could do to make ours be even better.”
Seneca native and series vice president Steve Einhaus agreed with both Schuler and Baker.
“We have both sides of the spectrum here,” Einhaus said. “Both of them are really putting their heads together and producing some pretty successful stats. It’s always tough for us to bring in the traveling hot shots and put them up against the locals, and Grundy is one of the toughest race tracks on the schedule. I’m excited to get back home again, and we hope all of our friends will come out and see the race. They are going to get their money’s worth, thats for sure.”
One thing Schuler and Baker do share in common when it comes to competition is that a competitor is a competitor, no matter the age or experience. They both agreed that they race each other just as hard as they race anyone else. They even have spun each other out, not on purpose, of course, but because they both are hard racers, and that will be no different tonight.
A special early start time of 7:00 p.m. will kick off tonight’s racing.