Schexnayder winning a different kind of race

BATON ROUGE — Speaker Clay Schexnayder went from winning races in cars to winning races against career politicians, and the leading Republican legislator in the House was the last person who predicted that sharp curve in his road.

“When I first got elected in 2012, I was the first mechanic and first race car driver to be elected to the House of Representatives,” said Schexnayder, R-Gonzales. “The speaker position didn’t come overnight. It took eight years to get here. It wasn’t something that we set out to do.”

In stark contrast to the many lawyers in the Legislature, Schexnayder trained as a mechanic and has owned and operated Car Craft and Rubber Company Automotive in Sorrento in Ascension Parish since 1998.

The 51-year-old representative graduated from French Settlement High School in 1989 and moved on to study automotive training and computerization at the Allen Institute in Atlanta, where he was certified in Automotive Service Excellence.

Schexnayder got into car racing in 1997, and his last race was in 2013, a year after he was elected to the House.

“I still have the racing bug,” he said in an interview. “Anytime I can go and sit down and watch a race or go to a race I’m there. I’m not a very good race fan because I like to participate, but yeah, I still love it.”

He reminisced on those days, even describing the first accident he was involved in during a race in Pike County, Mississippi.

“I was racing in a big race with a lot of people from all over the country that came to race,” he said. It was only the third or fourth race he had started in a type of car designed for dirt oval tracks. He participated in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas competition circuit, and in this race, “I was actually doing really well,” he said.

“We were running fifth and moving up with only a few laps to go, and we got into the front stretch, and I was passing a car, and the car that I was passing came up on me and his front tire went in front of my back tire. When it did, my back tire went on top of his, and it sent me airborne,” Schexnayder said. “I landed about 10 rows into the grandstands.”

Luckily, the fans were able to scatter in time.

“It was all good. No one got hurt,” he said. But it delayed the rest of the racing for the night until they got the fence fixed.

“It was a ride, let’s put it that way,” he said of his racing career.

He surprised even himself with his shift into politics, which started when a friend asked for his help.

Schexnayder described himself as “that guy in school that hated to talk in front of the class.”

“I was really quiet. I made straight A’s in conduct because I was so quiet,” he said. “I didn’t even read out loud in school. That’s just who I was. I couldn’t see me being a legislator.”

“I had my own shop, and I was just minding my business when one of my friends who was a sheriff came to me one day.”

“He said, ‘Look there’s a new house district. We have someone we want to get elected to that spot, but we need your help.’ So I said, ‘Great, I’m all in. Whatever you need, I’ll do.’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s you,’ and laughed, and I said, ‘Me?’” Schexnayder said.

In a race against four competitors who had already been elected to local offices, Schexnayder made it into a runoff against one of them as the underdog and won with roughly 70 percent of the vote. When he was reelected for his second term, he carried about 70 percent of the vote again.

Schexnayder described his most recent race in which he was elected Speaker of the House lst year as “an ugly battle.”

“But that’s just part of it,” Schexnayder said. “You just have to deal with it and move on.”

Schexnayder gained traction by winning votes from across the aisle as the Republican with bipartisan support. His more conservative opponent, Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, on the other hand, aimed to win with the majority of Republican votes.

“It was me and one other guy, Representative Mack, and the rest is history,” Schexnayder said of his last opponent left standing after the other potential speaker candidates were whittled down.

“We just started meeting with people and talking to people, and the day came when it was time to vote, and the vote went our way,” he said

Schexnayder won in a 60 to 45 vote, and he went from being number 69 on the racetrack to number one in the House.