The 1995 Engineered Components 200
In the 80 plus years of racing at the Owosso Speedway, several prestigious series have visited the track, as well as many noteworthy drivers. One of those series was the then ARCA Bondo/Marhyde Series (now ARCA Menard’s Series). The one off visit in 1995 was one of 12 races that season on tracks less than one mile in length. It was also one of four races in the state of Michigan that year, and day one of a double header with the Flat Rock Speedway in Detroit-adjacent Flat Rock, Michigan.
But for one driver it was his second race of the day. Ken Schrader at the time was a 40 year old veteran of major stock car racing. Driving the Budweiser Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick, Schrader would also pilot his own fleet of cars on the side. At the time the NASCAR Winston Cup Series raced their summer event at the Daytona International Speedway. In this era, the Daytona race was still held at 11am on Saturday. In that race Schrader would finish a solid 6th place, coming from 26th on the starting grid. Jeff Gordon would win the race that day en route to his first of four Cup Series Championships. For the other 42 starters, the rest of the day would see rest and relaxation on Daytona Beach. For Ken Schrader, the day was far from over.
“We finished up at the Firecracker (Pepsi 400) and I hopped on the plane for Michigan,” Schrader recalled in a November 2022 conversation.
After finishing the race at Daytona around 1:30pm, he would head north to Michigan to run his number 52 AC Delco Oldsmobile in his first appearance of the year in the ARCA Series.
“I liked running the short track races, because we could show up and compete” Schrader said. “It didn’t cost as much as the Speedway events.”
Schrader would show up in time to qualify, having never even seen the historic track before.
“That was my one and only time at Owosso. I know we were fast, but I don’t even remember where we ended up (in qualifying),” Schrader said matter of factly. “When you get down to it, all these cars have a couple pedals and a steering wheel. The rest works itself out.”
The Missouri native would time in fourth. Bobby Bowsher in the midst of a seven year streak of top three finishes in the points (including two Championships in 1992 and 1994) would set fast time in qualifying with an average speed of 84.799mph around the 3/8s mile oval.
28 cars took the green flag with Jeff McClure not able to start with a mechanical failure and Rick Hauck not making the cut. Bowsher would lead the opening pair of laps with Eric Smith of Illinois taking the next 27 laps. But the real stars of the main portion of the race were Scharder and Canadian driver Randy Churchill who would exchange the lead several times.
“Churchill and I had a great battle for what felt like forever,” Schrader recalled, his most vivid memory of the event.
Churchill, a second generation driver, was coming off his first ever ARCA Series victory the year before at the I-70 Speedway and was running a limited schedule in the inaugural season of what is now the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Churchill has also competed in several high profile sports car events, competing with his father at Daytona, Sebring, and Watkins Glen the season before.
Other noteworthy names in the event would drop out early with mechanical issues. Frank Kimmel, who Schrader described as “The gauge we all measured ourselves against” in the ARCA battles, dropped out on lap 148 with a broken driveshaft . Kimmel would eventually go on to set just about every record for wins and Championships in ARCA (80 wins and 10 titles respectively). Tim Steele, a Michigan native who would go on to have a “what could’ve been” injury plagued NASCAR run after dominating ARCA for several seasons, dropped out lap 144 with transmission issues.
Churchill and Schrader would continue to dominate the front of the 200 lap affair, until seven laps remained in the scheduled distance. It would be a relative unknown driver snatching the victory. Bloomington, Illinois Eric Smith would fight his way back to the front as Churchill and Schrader faded late in the race, the consequence of their epic battle.
Smith would continue on as an infrequent visitor in the ARCA Series, picking up his final victory in the series 20 days later at the Kil Kare Speedway in Xenia, Ohio. Smith would make 123 career starts, his final entry in 2003 on the dirt at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, where he unfortunately would miss the show.
Ken Schrader continues to race as much as he can still at 67 years old.
“We were down a little [in 2022] we only raced 54 times, we should be back up to around 65 [in 2023]” Schrader said “We did all the testing for the SRX Series the last couple years and that took up a bit of time.”
As of the 2023 season, the ARCA Menards Series has not returned to the Owosso Speedway since that one race in 1995. The ARCA Series was purchased by NASCAR in 2018, and now oversees the main ARCA Series as well as the regional East and West tours.
“We can’t promise anything yet but dialogue has begun with ARCA officials about ARCA coming back to Owosso,” said General Manager Jeff Parish. “It’s the kind of facility we are building. We want to be a destination point for the biggest, highest profile shows. We’re well on our way to a bright future for Owosso.”
Article Credit: Chris Fobbe
Submitted By: Chris Fobbe