Baranek: Like father, like son? It’s a smooth Shafer
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org May 23, 2013 6:16PM
Cheryl Hryn (right) and Renee Farren celebrate their 1-2 finish in a street stock heat race Friday night at Grundy County Speedway. | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 25, 2013 6:28AM
Kids these days.
It used to be they drove go-karts until they were 18, then worked their way up the division ladder at the local speedway.
Now, we’re seeing more and more of them jumping behind the wheel of a late-model by the time they’re barely out of eighth grade.
Some are doing better than others. Paul Shafer Jr. might be at the head of the class.
Shafer, who finished third in 2012 in his late-model rookie campaign at Illiana Speedway behind Eddie Hoffman and D.J. Weltmeyer, is in a tight three-way battle for first this season with John Nutley and Jeff Cannon. At Grundy County Speedway, he’s a close third in points behind Ricky Baker and Chris Cooling.
Ray Wroblewski, who owns the No. 14 late-model Mike White wheels these days around Illiana, put it bluntly, but honestly Saturday after White held off Shafer in a racelong chase to the feature winner’s circle.
“He doesn’t do anything stupid,” Wroblewski said of Shafer. “The kid doesn’t try to force anything. He does a nice job out there.”
It was quite a weekend for the 16-year-old Portage, Ind., native, who won Friday night’s late-model feature at Grundy.
In that one, Shafer had to pass Tracy Schuler to get to the top spot. When he’s in front, Schuler is like the marching band that refused to yield. But Shafer managed to do it without causing a ruckus.
Making it more amazing was that it was just the fourth feature Shafer ever had driven at Grundy.
“I’m not sure what happened at Grundy,” Shafer modestly said Wednesday with a laugh. “I got lucky and won. To be able to win on only my fourth week out there was really special.”
Shafer is the son of former area dirt legend Paul Shafer Sr., who was the track champion at Kankakee Speedway in 1984 and won gobs of features at tracks throughout the Midwest before turning his attention to Monster Truck competitions.
These days, Shafer Sr. drives the No. 20 Legend car that Junior made his Illiana Speedway debut with in 2011. He also gets to watch a kid who actually listens to what Dad has to say.
“Right from when I started racing, Dad would always tell me, ‘Just finish the race,’ ” Shafer Jr. said. “He always said that you can’t win if you don’t finish, and if you’re out there crashing, you won’t learn anything.’
“For me, I just try to keep off everybody. I don’t look to bump and make them wreck. That’s definitely what you don’t want to do.”
The respect definitely is being returned.
Stand back, fellas
A few weeks ago we wrote about the success of women racers at both Illiana and Grundy. Friday at Grundy, street stock competitors Cheryl Hryn and Renee Farren had the crowd buzzing with a 1-2 finish in the heat race, then taking turns leading during the early stages of the feature.
“I honestly didn’t know Renee was behind me,” Hryn said of the heat race. “After going to the start-finish line to take my picture I just happened to see it on the scoreboard. I was so excited for her.
“Renee has really made a huge jump from last year. I think you will see more great finishes coming from her. It will be really cool once Christy Penrod gets more comfy in her car. Then maybe we can have a 1-2-3 punch.”
Farren, who at age 15 finished 11th in the street stock points at Grundy in 2012, is showing much more this season in the way of speed and finesse. She’s eighth in the points standings, with Hryn sixth.
“Finishing 1-2 with Cheryl was so cool, and leading the start of the feature was also a great feeling,” Farren said. “The car was great.
“I am definitely feeling more comfortable and knowing what myself and the car are capable of.”
Penrod, a veteran of go-kart racing but in her rookie season in the street stocks, is finding success as well, ranking in 10th place.