Schlafer family has long racing tradition
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
The Schlafer family has been involved in automobile racing going back 40-50 years.
It started with Neil Schlafer who never raced a car. His involvement was as a car owner. His son Al Schlafer carried on the tradition, this time as a driver. He still races in the Sprint Car division.
Al Schlafer says he prides himself in “being one of the pioneers that brought Sprint Car racing to the to the forefront in Wisconsin.”
“Nothing against the Modified guys, my dad’s cars were all Milwaukee Stock Cars, Modifieds back in the 1960s. I had an older brother who lived in Houston, Texas and I went to a Sprint Car race there when I was 18 years old and I said, ‘This is what I’m doing,’” he says.
That’s exactly what he did.
“For me the Sprint Car was probably the most exciting thing I’ve come across,” Al says. “And that’s still the way I feel about it today.”
He says he’s heard the comments about Sprint Car drivers being a little crazy because of the speeds and dangers involved with Sprint Car racing.
“I’ve heard that for 30-some years. That’s OK. There’s something wrong with me,” he says with laugh. “My wife has been telling me that for 38 years now.”
That passion for Sprint Car racing was instilled in Al’s son, Danny, who also currently races a Sprint Car.
Danny, 35, agrees with his dad about the mentality needed to drive a Sprint Car.
“You do have to be a little crazy to get into one of these but probably the biggest thing is how close we can race to each other and not get in trouble,” Danny says. “I love doing the “slide jobs.” That’s probably the biggest thing I love about Sprint Car racing, is you do the slide job and run right against the wall wide open, too.”
Danny says it was only natural that he would race a Sprint Car someday, after starting racing go-karts when he was around seven years old. Around that time he also began helping work on his dad’s Sprint Car. Danny says he was 17 or 18 when he made the jump to Sprint Cars.
“The last five or six years that I was helping them I was keeping an eye more on how to drive the car than actually working on it,” Danny says.
The jump from go-karts to Sprint Cars was a big one.
“It was a pretty major step going from a 5-horse Briggs (motor) to a full blown Sprint Car,” he recalls. “It was quite a jump but fortunately my uncle at the time owned Beaver Dam Raceway so he was able to help me out. I got a couple of test sessions up there before I even started racing which helped a bunch.”
Danny also remembers his first race in a Sprint Car.
“[I was] a little nervous,” he recalls. “I actually had a pretty decent night. I passed a couple of cars. It was pretty entertaining also.”
When Danny started racing a Sprint Car Al thought he could hang up his helmet.
“The first three years I actually tried [to retire as a driver], and I said, “I can’t, I’m not ready to give up the steering wheel myself,” Al says. “I still enjoy it. We’ve had some great races together between the two of us over probably the last 15 years.”
Also during that time, Danny won three championships. He has won a Sprint Car championship at Wilmot Raceway as well as Plymouth Dirt Track. He also won a Midwest Sprint Car Association (MSA) championship.
Danny has big goals for 2013, as he is gunning for the track championships at Manitowoc County Expo and Plymouth Dirt Track. He is also racing for both the MSA Masters and MSA Challenge championships.
“My sons are actually the ones who want me to run for it,” Schlafer says. “The biggest thing, the oldest one, he was old enough to kind of remember the first one but my youngest one, he was just a baby at that point. All he sees is the trophies. He wants the experience, so we’re going to try and make it happen.
“It would be pretty big because they do help me quite a bit. Even during the week they are hanging out helping me. That’d be pretty big to know they were part of it.”
Both his sons also have their own racing careers. Cody, 10, the oldest, currently races Junior Sprints. His son Kasey races a Kid Kart.
“Probably the biggest challenge is trying to make enough family time, to keep everybody happy in the family and also to have enough time to do the proper maintenance for what it takes to run up front,” Danny says.
Danny also has a daughter, Delaney, with his wife Kristi.
As of now, both Danny and Al say Cody is poised to eventually race a Sprint Car. In fact, Al hopes to race long enough to have three generations of Schlafers on the track at the same time.
“I’ve raced since 1978. I hope to make it three generations at one time that are still capable of winning,” Al says. “I still consider myself capable of winning. We’ll see if I can hang long enough for Cody to get old enough so he can run one of these cars.”
Danny figures Cody will be ready for a Sprint Car in about six years. If Al isn’t racing full time at that time, he says he’ll come back for at least one race to make it three generations on the track at the same time.
“I would say it’s going to be another highlight of my life to be able to share all at once,” Al says. “There are plenty of second generations and there are plenty of third generation drivers but for them all to be out on the race track at the same time, that doesn’t happen very often.”
Al does admit his wife, Debbie, isn’t as excited as he is.
“She wishes that I’d get out of this seat,” he says. “That’s probably going to be the toughest thing. She struggles with it right now with both of us being in cars.”
Racing against family is a highlight for Danny. He says he has had many memorable moments during his racing career but the times he has run first and second with his dad rank at the top of the list.
“It doesn’t matter who I’m racing, I race him the same as I race anybody else,” Danny says. “I think that’s how he’d want me to race him.”
Al, 56, agrees, and he hopes all the drivers treat him like any other driver.
“A lot of times my young gun rivals, they’ll tease me about the age thing,” Al says. “I’m all good with that because believe it or not it actually probably gives me more energy or more fired up. To be truthfully honest, you’re only as old as you feel. I’ve worked hard all my life. I still work hard in the shop every day. That’s just how I am and I think that helps me in the race car — trying to act like a kid yet.”
(This article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)