|The highs and lows in sports can be maddening. And when you have to push your adrenaline levels to the limit more than 90 nights a season, managing that madness can be an even greater challenge. For Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz, years of experience competing in the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman® Sprint Car Series has enabled the seven-time and reigning series champion to better balance the glory of victory and the disappointment of defeat.
In Sprint car racing, there are a handful of races each season where the atmosphere and pressure on the drivers and teams is amped up to extreme heights. The first of those races this season is Saturday’s33rd annual Kings Royal at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The 40-lap A-Feature on the high-speed, high-banked, half-mile dirt oval will conclude three consecutive nights of action for Schatz in the TSR No. 15 Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J as well as the rest of the traveling Outlaw stars and drivers from all corners of the United States and from abroad as well. It’s the first crown jewel of The Month of Money and the winner not only participates in the traditional post-race ceremony that includes a robe, scepter and jeweled crown, but the driver also picks up a $50,000 paycheck.
It seems that Schatz was destined for greatness even before he officially becoming an Outlaw. Schatz splashed onto the Sprint car scene gaining national television spotlight by racing to an eighth-place finish in the then 18-year-old’s first Kings Royal back in 1996. He’s qualified for the 24-car field 20 consecutive years and is a two-time winner. The Fargo, North Dakota resident earned his initial Kings Royal crown in 2007 when he dominated the 40-lap race winning by more than seven seconds. Two years later, he was back on top of the big stage again after out-dueling Dale Blaney for his second win in the event.
Since that 2009 victory, Schatz has been a threat to win five of the past six races. Consecutive fourth-place finishes in 2010 and 2011 were followed by a charge from 21st to eighth in 2012. In 2013, he pulled even with leader Brad Sweet on a couple of occasions, but wasn’t able to grab the lead and ultimately finished third. In 2014, he stalked David Gravel early and then threw everything he had at Kerry Madsen only to finish second. The result of last season’s Royal Rumble still is a bitter pill for Schatz to swallow as he could almost taste victory in the event that was delayed until the early hours ofSunday morning following a pair of lengthy rain delays. Schatz stormed past early leader Tim Shaffer on lap 10 and was in command of the race until his machine began sputtering with five laps remaining. His motor was losing power as it was starving for fuel. Shane Stewart was able to overtake him for the lead and score the victory.
Schatz and the rest of TSR’s Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance team are returning to Eldora with the goal of being in contention to win Saturday’s Kings Royal, but also continuing their recent surge in Outlaw competition. On Tuesday, Schatz put on a clinic racing from 15th to first in the 28th annual Ohio Logistics Brad Doty Classic at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park. The victory was his 14th of the season and second consecutive triumph following his thrilling drive Saturday at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wisconsin. He has won three of the previous four WoO races and will be chasing his eighth career victory at Eldora in the first-ever Joker’s Wild event Thursday night.
Succeeding when the pressure is greatest has become commonplace for Schatz who is in the midst of his 20th season of competing with The Greatest Show on Dirt. From winning prestigious events like the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, to the Williams Grove Speedway National Open, Schatz has flashed signs of greatness when the stakes are the highest. He leans on an experienced crew that was assembled by Stewart. The TSR 15 team, made up of crew chief Rick Warner, car chief Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti, all have played a pivotal role in the historic numbers Schatz has put up recently.
The big picture focus for Schatz is an eighth WoO crown, and he holds a 142-point advantage in the championship standings through 48 races. Schatz leads the series in several categories, including wins with 14, podium finishes with 23, top-fives with 33, top-10s with 45, KSE Hard Charger Awards with nine, and laps led with 226. But the target this weekend is winning Saturday’s Kings Royal. Dating back to 2007 only Schatz has won the race more than once. And if he can come out on top again, he’ll join Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell and Jac Haudenschild as the only drivers with three or more King Royal victories.
|Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J:|
|Coming off three wins in the your last four starts, how much does momentum play when you get into the ‘Month of Money’ races?
“I always say we can enjoy the wins or be mad about the loses until we leave the track that night. After that, its over. You have to start focusing on the next race. If you are having success, then most likely you and your team are onto something so the chances of that continuing are better with the all pressure of doing well in the big races. Nothing is guaranteed. We’ve seen a lot of crazy results especially in the Kings Royal. We just try to stay focused. We’ve been asked all season how things are going and I’ve said it’s been kind of average. Last year, we set the bar so high that anything you do kind of is average compared to that. We had 20 wins last year entering the Kings Royal and this year we have 14. We didn’t win it last year, but had probably the best chance we’ve had in quite a while. I can’t say enough about the guys Tony Stewart has surrounded me with. They just keep working and their will to win is incredible.”
The Kings Royal is truly a unique event. Does it help to have two nights of track time beforeSaturday’s big event?
Experience is important in every World of Outlaws race, but is it even more impactful at events like the Kings Royal?
“There’s no way to completely understand something until you’ve been able to accomplish it. Racing with the World of Outlaws was my dream and I’m some blessed to have been able to follow this dream and compete with the World of Outlaws for the last 20 seasons. I’ve been able to experience some really cool nights and yes, the bigger races do provide just a little more juice. You can come to Eldora and race in May with the Outlaws, but there is nothing like the energy at the Kings Royal. The fans are so into it. The heat races are so tough. And then 40 laps for a chance to wear that crown and robe… it’s breathtaking. Experience helps you contain some of that emotion and try to stay focused on taking each part of the night as it comes. I can say that all of the experience in the world helps, but we’ll all still have butterflies during the four abreast parade lap.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!