Auto Racing: Paul Shafer Jr., 16, stands as champion at Illiana Speedway
By Tony Baranek email@example.com September 12, 2013 9:42PM
Paul Shafer Jr. | Kim Kemperman/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:11AM
Paul Shafer Jr. isn’t really old enough to use the words, “Back when he was kid ... ” So let’s phrase it this way.
When Paul Shafer Jr. was younger, he and his father, Paul Sr., had a lot of fun talking about what kind of a race car driver the younger Shafer would grow up to be.
“I was always told that talent skips a generation,” Shafer said. “My dad told me that, actually, and joked around that it was me. I always told him that it was him.
“I think we both got lucky.”
There was a heck of a lot more than luck behind Paul Jr. becoming, at age 16, the youngest track champion in Illiana Speedway history.
The kid from Portage, Ind., was fast. He was consistent. And although he had a scrape or two here and there, for the most part drove with a savvy that any of the veteran drivers out there could feel comfortable with.
Shafer won three features this season, all coming in a row in July. He beat John Nutley in the points standings by a 1,787-1,703 margin.
Saturday, he made being a champion official by finishing fourth in the 30-lap late-model main, ending the race with a flair by going side by side with Jack Kalwasinski out of Turn 4 before Kalwasinski nosed him out for third by a fraction.
Afterward, Shafer was matter-of-fact about an accomplishment that’s made many a grizzled veteran jump around, well, like a kid.
“I’m a champion now. It’s a little bit different, I guess,” he said. “Last year we had rookie of the year, but this year we didn’t know what to expect.
“The strategy was ... I’m a racer just like everyone else. I want to come out here and win every week. That was the goal (Saturday), to come out, qualify good, win, get the bugs out and get ready for the Bettenhausen.”
At 16, Shafer broke the mark for youngest driving champion at Illiana set by Blake Brown, who was 19 when he edged Eddie Hoffman in 2011.
Shafer’s dad, who was second in points behind Chris King in the Legends division at Illiana, was a late-model champ on dirt at Kankakee Speedway in 1984 and Brownstown in 1985.
Shafer Jr. said he probably won’t defend. His plans for 2014 include running the ARCA Midwest tour, with only occasional visits to Illiana.
Not that he didn’t have fun at Illiana.
“I love the track,” he said. “For some reason it just all clicked there. I’m really good at getting around that track, where at other tracks like Grundy I couldn’t figure it out as quickly.
“On opening day I just wanted to win races. A championship was the furthest thing from my mind. Halfway through the season I saw that I was leading the points and figured, ‘Well, I might as well go for it now.’ ”
Shot out of a Cannon
Jeff Cannon is now the fastest human to have piloted an Illiana-rules late-model.
On Saturday, the Kouts, Ind., native turned a qualifying lap of 19.248 seconds, breaking the previous mark of 19.254, set in 2010 by Boris Jurkovic.
Cannon has had a lot of quick No. 33 cars. This one might be his best.
“If it’s not it’s really close,” Cannon said. “Back in the old CRA days when they were racing here, we ran a lap that was 19.0 with a four-barrel (carburetor). With a two-barrel, I’d say a 19.2 is pretty good.
“The car was really good, and it’s still getting better. But Boris will be back next week, I’m sure, going after the track record. We’ll be battling hard.”