DAYTONA BEACH FL (1-3-10) - Whether you're a high school senior looking for opportunity and experience, or a crafty, well-aged veteran who's not quite ready to hang up his goggles, there's a title for you in the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards.
While rookies aim for things like Rookie of the Year titles, veterans, as in 1999 ARCA Racing Series champion Bill Baird, have their sights set on altogether different goals.
Baird, at 60 years young, could become the oldest superspeedway winner in stock car history if he could just find a way to steer his Ken Schrader Racing Chevrolet to victory lane at Daytona Int'l Speedway on February 6th when the 47th annual Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 comes to life.
Currently, the distinction of being the industry's oldest superspeedway winner belongs to six-time ARCA champion Iggy Katona, who won at Daytona in 1974 at age 57.
To give the honor even more luster, if Baird could pull off the win at Daytona, he would also become the oldest winner in ARCA Racing Series history.
"Out of my career, Daytona and Talladega are two places I haven't won ...... yet," said Baird, who was one of 80-plus drivers who participated in the late-December open test at Daytona. "To be the oldest winner at either place would be pretty cool; I wouldn't mind having that. But, really, just winning here at Daytona would be unbelievable enough without the oldest-guy-in-the-world thing."
Including Baird among the possibilities of Daytona winners is, in no way, a stretch. Keep in mind that Baird finished third at Daytona in 2008 and second at Talladega in 2009. Unless you're living under a rock, you would understand that Baird's goals are attainable, even in the series' most competitive era.
"Still feel like I'm 40. Still feel like I'm as good of a driver as I was in my 40s. And the day I feel like I can't run fast will be the day I won't show up. I'm not there yet."
In 68 career ARCA Racing Series starts, Baird has won six times in a wide variety of places - at the Springfield mile dirt '04, Atlanta Motor Speedway ‘99, Salem Speedway ‘99, Flat Rock Speedway ‘99, Shady Bowl Speedway '99 and Springfield ‘99. Baird also earned the pole at Daytona in 1998.
But like a lot of drivers who aren't ready to walk away - 75-year-old James Hylton comes to mind - Baird has been in and out of retirement over the last decade. After retiring in 2002, Baird stepped out of retirement in 2004 for what he thought would be one final hurrah at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, He hadn't been in the driver's seat for more than two years. It didn't matter; when Baird climbed out of the cockpit that day at Springfield, it was in victory lane (left). Three weeks later, he finished second at DuQuoin.
"Walking away from racing was the toughest thing I ever did. But I had no choice. My business was struggling, and I had to pay closer attention to what was going on with my business. Right now, the business is going great.
"I feel absolutely great. I've been working with a personal trainer. Other than an ole back nag, I'd say I'm in better shape now than I was 10 years ago."
Baird made his ARCA Racing Series debut at Daytona in 1997 driving the 52 car for Ken Schrader Racing. Baird qualified third and finished fourth.
Baird's relationship with Schrader goes way back.
"Kenny and I go way, way back. Back to my ASA days. I bought my first asphalt car from Kenny in '93. Since then, we've gotten to know each other and our friendship has just grown from there."
Schrader was Baird's car owner when Baird won the 1999 ARCA Racing Series driving championship.
"If the car wants to go forward, I'm gunna go. I'm not gunna mess around with it. I know the car will do it. The closer we are to the front, the less likely we're going to get caught up.
"I still have that competitive spirit in me. It's still there. And I know we're good enough to win this thing."
BILL BAIRD BIO
Hometown: Sturgis, Kentucky
Current Residence: Sarasota, Florida
Wife Jan, 2 children
In cars owned by Ken Schrader, 1999 ARCA Racing Series driving champion. In 68 career series starts, has 6 wins at Springfield mile dirt '04, Atlanta Motor Speedway ‘99, Salem Speedway ‘99, Flat Rock Speedway ‘99, Shady Bowl Speedway '99 and Springfield ‘99. Also won 7 poles at Salem twice ‘99, Anderson ‘99, Toledo '99, Flat Rock '99, Daytona '98 and DuQuoin '98. Also won '99 Superspeedway Challenge championship and Bill France Triple Crown. Has 28 top-5 finishes and 36 top-10s. Also finished 2nd at Talladega Superspeedway '09, 2nd at DuQuoin mile-dirt '04, 2nd at Pikes Peak Int'l ‘98, 2nd at DuQuoin ‘98, 2nd at Salem '98 and 2nd at Texas Motor Speedway '98. 1998 ARCA Rookie of the Year and 4th in points in first full season. Has led 989 laps in 24 races. Veteran of ASA late model series, where he was 1995 Most Improved Driver. Also veteran of dirt modifieds and UMP late models. Best ASA finish 3rd Buffalo New York ‘96. Owner of Saturn Machine. Owns 22 US and foreign patents. Air Force veteran and pilot.