Charlie Schaffer is hoping to pull off a dirt-track championship as an underdog.
Schaffer, 30, owns and drives his own car. He races with his own money against better-financed teams.
Other drivers have new equipment and motors each year, but Schaffer stays with his chassis and motors as long as he can. He does most of the work on the car with the help of a large and loyal crew that's been with him since he started. There is nothing fancy about this team.
Being an underdog doesn't keep Schaffer from racing against the big boys. He races at what might be the toughest weekly late-model tracks in the country -- the Hagerstown and Potomac speedways in Maryland and Virginia's Winchester Speedway -- and he has become a threat to win every race he enters.
Schaffer has won at every track he has raced in the area. Now he wants a track title.
In 1991, the year he considers his best, he was a close second in points at the end of the year at both Hagerstown and Winchester speedways when he struck the wall at Hagerstown with a month to go in the season. The accident, which was not his fault, wiped out all chances he had of winning either title.
"My goal this year is to win the Winchester championship," said the Hampstead resident. "I also would like to win 10 or more races."
Schaffer's racing career began when he was 22. In 1983, he and his cousin brought a used street stock
and raced at Trail-Way Speedway in Hanover, Pa. The following year he had his first win.
In 1985, Schaffer moved up to the special late-model class in central Pennsylvania. He was track champion at Susquehanna Speedway in Newberrytown, Pa., and second in points at Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa. He finished the season with four feature wins.
At the end of that season, he brought a super late model and took it to a season-ending race at Delaware International Speedway in Delmar, where he faced the best drivers of the Mid-Atlantic area.
He beat the competition and took his first late-model win. Next to his first win at Hagerstown, he calls that Delaware score the most memorable moment of his career.
Like many other top drivers, racing is a family tradition for Schaffer. His father, Larry, was a top driver at the old Dorsey Speedway in Howard County. His brother, Paul Crowl of Upperco, also drives late models.
Schaffer's team is a family operation. Cousin Bruce Sickles, uncles Pat and John Sickles plus brother Eddie Crowl help build Schaffer's car and develop the motor. Other family crew members include Bruce and Jay Sickles, Robbin Schaffer, Patti McDade and Charlie's wife Diane.
The team's major support comes from Schaffer's Bus Service, Schaffer Mulch, Hampstead Liquors, Morris Machine Shop in Manchester, Signs Design of McConnelsburg, Pa., Quality Trim and Finish of Westminster, Big A Auto Parts of Hampstead, Beards Fabrication of Hanover, Pa., R. J. Home Improvements and Jay Dee Supply of Dorsey.
"They all help me as much as they can," said Schaffer. "They help me get started in the beginning of the season. I pretty much race out of my pocket through the rest of the year.
"That's why some weeks we do a little better than others. When we do well we can freshen up some parts and it keeps us from breaking."
Schaffer hopes to pick up that elusive major sponsor that would enable him to travel on the road.
"There are definitely some sponsors out there," said Schaffer. "I have confidence that one day a deal will work out, that one day we'll get one the way we race."
Schaffer's underdog status and his consistency has won him a lot of fans. A favorite at local tracks, he is fast becoming a favorite wherever he travels.
He might not have the finances of most of the drivers he races, but you wouldn't know it from the results.