Want to really know the level of skills of a particular Dirt Late Model driver? Check with the builders of the cars that he has driven.

With hotshot driver Steve Shaver of Indiana, those would be the Rayburn cars built by C.J. Rayburn, as well as the Rocket cars of Mark Richards. And when these noted builders speak well of this particular driver, you know he's got what it takes.

"I think a lot of Steve's skills and we worked together when he first started driving," says Rayburn. "Heck, I'd like to have him driving one of my factory cars today. He is really good on any type of dirt surface."

Richards adds, "Steve is a determined racer, and I really think that he's one of the best drivers in the nation. One reason for his success is that he completely understands the technology of the car. We still discuss things about the cars on occasion."

Usually, outstanding Dirt Late Model careers have a long learning period, but for Shaver the career didn't start until he was in his early 20s. Before that, nothing!

"I was more interested in high school sports, mostly playing football. Even got a little interest from small colleges," says Shaver. "I did go to college for a short time, but I decided that I was going to devote my time to racing."

It started in Semi-Late Models on dirt at tracks in Ohio. "I was driving an old Huff car and did pretty well, winning a couple races," Shaver says.

A fortunate thing occurred during this time period when he worked for Butch Evans of Speedway Airflow.

"He taught me a lot about welding, sheet metal fabrication, and aerodynamics," recalls Shaver. "It has really paid big dividends in my racing career ever since."

Then, later in the '80s, he moved to the Dirt Late Models, which were a huge step up from the Semis, and drove a Howe car which he says had an excellent suspension system and a Billy Lloyd powerplant. Still later, he got his first Rocket Chassis from Richards. There was a championship at I-79 Speedway during the period.

In 1988, he started traveling with the PROS series and was the group's Rookie of the Year. Next, he moved up to the prestigious STARS series which sported top drivers such as Donny Moran, Mike Balzano, Chub Frank, and Billy Moyer.

"I learned a lot driving against those guys and had a best points finish of third," Shaver says.

Starting in 1997, Shaver started running with the Renegade Series. "At the time, I was working for Eddie Burl Smith who ran a pipeline operation," he recalls. "Eddie was also a racecar owner, and it wasn't long before I was working in his race shop."

That developed into another great situation for his career."It was also the time that I met my future wife, Ami, who has been very supportive of my racing," he says. "I assured her, though, that I wouldn't be quitting racing for quite a while."

During the '90s, until today, there have been a number of impressive wins, including a $10,000-to-win race and a number of $15,000-to-win races. But the high point of his career so far took place in 1998 when he won the Hillbilly 100 at Tyler County in West Virginia and pocketed a cool $25,000.

"That was a great win as I started 18th but got to the lead on the 50th lap," he says. "Then, it was back and forth with Donnie Moran and Rick Aukland before taking the lead for good with a lap and one-half to go."

This was also about the time period that Casey Marshall joined the team and he's been the crew chief ever since.

"We have a great working relationship and he's been a big part of the success we've had," Shaver says.

The 1999 season marked another fine campaign for Shaver as he won a $10,000 Hav-A-Tampa race at Tampa's East Bay Speedway, $7,000 at Ohio's KC Speedway, and $5,000 at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania. Then, in 2000, he pocketed eight grand at Midway Speedway in Ohio.

That same East Bay Speedway was the site of another $25,000 payday in a UDTRA race in 2001. Drop in two more wins totaling $18,000 and you can see it was a lucrative season.

After another $10,000 win at Allegheny Mountain Raceway in Pennsylvania in 2002, the 2003 season soured with equipment problems. Then came 2004 and his second-best season.

The most memorable race that season was the legendary North-South 100 at Florence (Kentucky) Speedway, and the winner's share for the race was $50,000.

"I just love that place, but I can't really tell you why," says Shaver. "The place gets pretty slick later in the race and that's the kind of conditions where I seem to do well. I can remember an earlier North-South race when I followed Jack Boggs. He passed me three times, so I got a lot of chances to see how he drove the track."

Shaver was looking forward to the 2005 North-South, but he failed to qualify for the feature. Even still, there were two big wins providing him with $17,000 that season.

Then the North-South race in 2006 brought more high hopes, and rightly so, as Shaver took another $50,000 with his second win in the classic race. In addition, he garnered a pair of $5000-to-win races in 2006.

The old "all-or-nothing" situation hit again in the 2007 North-South. If the win-miss-win trend followed through, he would not make the field last season, and that's exactly what happened. "Got bumped around in the heat races, but still missed making the feature by just one position," Shaver recalls. "I am really looking forward to the race this year because it's my turn to win again."

He thinks the entire 2008 season could be very good to him.

"This will be my second year driving for owner Sean Cosgrove," he says. "He really provides me with great equipment. His heart and soul is really into this type of racing, that's for sure."

Shaver adds that he doesn't plan to run with any particular series this season, but hit some of the Lucas and World of Outlaw races, and all the big-money races.

As far as the future is concerned, Shaver says, "I will keep driving as long as I stay competitive and enjoy doing it. I can see it lasting quite a bit longer, at least I hope so. I think the sport is going to continue to grow and it certainly will get more exposure if the NASCAR guys continue to be involved. Just look at how much interest there was in the Prelude at Eldora (in recent years) with all those Cup guys there."

Steve Shaver's Dirt Late Model TipsDriving If you are just starting in these cars, I think the Crate Late Model is a great place to begin. Even though you are running slower, there is a chance to learn to steer and not being forced to drive over your head with the power of a real Dirt Late Model. Try to align with somebody who has had success. If I had done that, I might have been five years ahead when I was starting. Watch the good drivers-it's something that I've done for my entire career.

Technology It's so important to understand the technology of these cars. I mean every part, how it works, and how to fix it. If you do it, you will outperform the driver who doesn't have that capability every time. There are so many variables in the setup of these cars, to the point that it's almost insane. So I can't repeat this too many times: Learn everything you can!

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