By Phil Whipple
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In the grand scheme of dirt track racing in Texas, the role support classes play in keeping the sport alive and thriving is critical. Popular divisions like the Tuners, for example, are where young drivers learn the ropes and begin a climb up through the ranks.
Among that healthy and always-entertaining Tuner class is a fine mix of veterans who not only win a majority of the races, they often provide valued guidance to newcomers to help them along. For 38-year-old Brian Schoenbaum Jr., this division is a place to teach, and a place to show off his skills.
In 16 starts this season (as of June 30), Schoenbaum has an impressive seven wins and has finished inside the top five every time out. He currently leads the USRA national point standings, a deal where they count your best 20 finishes and drop off the rest. His program is a model of consistency in 2020.
“I feel that maintenance to the car during the week is key to our success,” he said. “I pride myself in having things in order as much as I can. The beauty of this class is if a part is broken, I can go down to the local auto parts store or log on to RockAuto.com and quickly replace it for a reasonable price.
“I think the affordability of building and racing a car in this division is where is gets curb appeal. You can buy a car for $500 dollars, put about $2,000 into it, and have a competitive, safe race car. The key from there is to keep up with things. If you bend a ball joint in qualifying, replace it before the feature.”
Schoenbaum is in his 14th year of racing and has driven a variety of race cars in his career.
“I am a U.S. Army veteran and just retired last August,” Schoenbaum said. “I originally got into dirt track racing as a kid. My Dad did some Street Stock racing out west, so it's always been in my blood. When I enlisted in the Army, my first duty station was at Fort Hood, just outside of Killeen, Texas.
“There was a dirt track there, and I used to go all the time. I've been racing since I was young. First we did the IMCA Stock Car thing for a while, then my Dad moved me into the Modifieds. He always told me to race to have fun, but I was outclassed in those Mods. It wasn't a whole lot of fun out there.”
Schoenbaum's career took a turn after that stint, but it was far from over. It was just on little hiatus.
“I moved up Georgia and played the role of crew chief for a couple of different guys, but I never really got back into it heavily until I got back here to Texas in 2016. I've raced on and off forever, but really got serious about the Tuner class in just the last couple of years.”
Schoenbaum competes on a variety of tracks around central and south Texas, a testament to his driving skills and overall versatility. On Friday nights, he's racing at RPM Speedway in Crandall or at Monarch Motor Speedway in Wichita Falls.
On Saturday nights, you'll find him at I-37 Speedway in Pleasanton or at Stevie Whiteaker's South Texas Speedway down in Corpus Christi. There isn't much idle time.
“I stay pretty busy every weekend, but I love to compete at those great tracks,” he said. “This year, the level of competition has risen immensely. Most of these guys don't treat this like and entry-level class, they go at it pretty seriously. Last year, I had like 12 or 13 wins, it will be tough to repeat that in 2020.
“For example, when I go to I-37 Speedway, a podium finish isn't going to be a cakewalk. There are some old asphalt guys there, like Jamie Garner, Brandon McCall and Johnny Ervin, who I know for sure are going to give me a run for my money. I'd say the competition there is the best in the state.”
You've seen his impressive numbers and read about how he feels weekly maintenance is key to his success. Now comes the best part – he's dedicating his 2020 season to raising awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Since San Antonio is a huge military town, many can relate.
“I am donating 100% of the money I earn during the season to the Preston S. Hartley Foundation. They work with a group that is certified to train service dogs and teach veterans who want to participate in training their current pet, as well as a foundation that specializes in equine therapy. There are a lot of Veterans out there who can benefit from this service. We should contribute well over $2,000 this year.”
The Sgt. Preston S. Hartley PTSD Memorial is a 501(c) nonprofit organization that works with various organizations and groups to provide aid to our veterans in Central Texas. To learn more, fans can go to https://www.pshartleyptsd.org/.
While his numbers are impressive and his cause inspiring, Schoenbaum is quick to tell you there are several key people behind the scenes who make his successful program a reality.
“I have to thank Angelina Rodriguez, Adolph Tracy, Johnny Ervin and PJ Egbert, who is my car fabricator and race mentor. I appreciate all they do for my program and would be lost without them.”
Along with those good folks working on his behalf, Schoenbaum is also blessed to have a great group of marketing partners who proudly support him in this endeavor.
“I'm very fortunate to have the support of great folks like Taylor Michel, owner of IFHP Clothing Co.; Jeff Moore, owner of Five1Seven Designs; Terry Tabor, owner of Superior Steering Wheels; Tyler Honeywell, owner of Central Cedar Products, Inc.; David and Jennifer Bonham, owners of Bonham Recovery; Aaron Burchett, owner of Big A’s BBQ; Rick Saupp with Rabid Motorsports; and Kylar Smith, owner of Twisted iPhone. Without all these wonderful people, this effort would not be possible.”
With the National points lead and over a half-dozen wins already in the books, there is only one true goal left to check off for this lovable military veteran and reigning “King of the Tuners” in Texas.
“My ultimate goal for the balance of this year is to lock up that National points crown,” Schoenbaum concluded. “We'll race all the way into to the beginning of November, with roughly 30 to 35 starts total.With this whole COVID-19 pandemic going on, everybody is racing as often as they can.
“We don't know if we're going to get shut down again, so it's wide open now. Once everybody gets their 20 races in, things will start slowing down. I just want to keep this momemtum going as best I can. I think if we can stay focused on the big picture and keep winning, we'll have a legitimate shot.”