It’s back to business this weekend for eight-time and reigning World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz and his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team following the only weekend off the series has over the next eight months. And business is good for the driver of the TSR No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J following a sizzling start that included five wins in eight starts – three Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions victories and a pair of WoO triumphs – on Florida soil during Speedweeks.
Like one of the NASCAR Cup Series teams co-owned by Tony Stewart that is coming off a hugely successful Speedweeks, the TSR No. 15 crew must put a remarkable Florida start behind it and turn its focus this weekend toward the grind of the season-long championship journey ahead. Schatz, who culminated the Outlaws’ opening weekend by scoring two wins on the same day, leads the Outlaws back into action this weekend for a pair of stops in eastern Texas beginning with Friday’s East Texas Lone Star Shootout at LoneStar Speedway in Kilgore. The following night, he’ll look to come out on top at the inaugural Gator Bash as the Outlaws make their debut at Gator Motorplex, a quarter-mile, dirt oval located in Willis, roughly an hour north of Houston.
It’s only appropriate the TSR team will continue its season with another “Gator” opportunity in its scope. After winning three Gator trophies at the DIRTcar Nationals, Schatz is already off to one of his best starts in this, his 21st season of competing with the Outlaws. Only the results of the opening week of 2009, which included a run through Florida that included a pair of ASCoC triumphs and two WoO A-Features at Volusia, come close. To go along with his three victories aboard the Arctic Cat/Ford Performance-backed machine, Schatz also came home second twice in two other ASCoC main events and finished 14th in the Outlaws’ season opener. Now, the challenge is continuing the winning streak in Texas as the Outlaws’ begin a 15-race slate being tabbed the Outlaws’ “Kick Off Tour” with stops in Texas, Nevada, California, Arizona, and back in Texas.
Leaving Florida behind is the mindset Schatz and his veteran crew of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti has zeroed in on as they attempt to win races in Texas this weekend. The Fargo, North Dakota driver for years has believed the most difficult victory is that first one, and he’s heading to a pair of tracks where he’s yet to capture a WoO win. Last season, he added five tracks to the number of tracks where he’s won a WoO A-Feature, giving him 80 for his career. And two of those – Rockford Speedway and Angel Park Speedway – came during his first-ever appearance at the track.
Friday’s stop at LoneStar will be the sixth race at the 3/8-mile semi-banked, dirt oval for Schatz. He has twice finished second at the track – 2003 and 2009 – and posted four top-10 finishes. He was 14th in the series’ most recent event at the track in March 2010. Schatz has six career WoO A-Feature wins in the state of Texas, scoring career win number two at Battleground Speedway near Houston in March 1999. He also has two career wins at Houston Raceway Park and is a two-time winner at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite.
Schatz is also the first driver to leave Florida in more than a decade leading both the ASCoC and WoO championship standings. He’ll leave the All-Star championship up to one of the other drivers while he keeps his focus on adding to his career victory total of 231 WoO A-Feature triumphs as he chases a ninth WoO championship.
For Friday’s East Texas Lone Star Shootout at Lone Star Speedway, the pit gates will open at 1 p.m. CSTand the grandstands open at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. More details are available by calling at (903) 986-9731, or by visiting lonestarspeedway.com.
Saturday at the Gator Motorplex, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. CST and the grandstands open at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. More details are available by calling at (936) 588-6127, or by visiting gatormotorplex.net.
Race fans unable to attend the DIRTcar Nationals can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Live video coverage is available, on a pay-per-view basis or fans can listen free as Johnny Gibson, “Voice of the Outlaws,” calls the action as he does at all WoO Craftsman Sprint Car Series events on the DIRTVision.com. Visit to DIRTVision.com for more information.
Fans are encouraged to follow the progress of Schatz, TSR and the No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J throughout the campaign on the web and social media. More information can be found at www.TonyStewartRacing.com,
Tony Stewart Racing: Facebook at www.Facebook.com/
Arctic Cat: Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArcticCat
Curb: Facebook at www.facebook.com/
Ford Performance: Facebook at www.facebook.com/
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!
|Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J:|
What an incredible start to your 2017 season. Five wins in eight starts. Is there any way you could have predicted such a strong beginning?
“With the group of people Tony Stewart has assembled around me, anything is possible. He’s got such a great team here and I’m just lucky to be the guy driving the car. We worked hard last fall to continue getting better and felt good at the season finale in Charlotte, but you never know how things are going to change starting a new year. I have to give credit to my crew – Rick, Scuba and Brad. They worked really hard to have us ready to hit the ground running. We came down and spent a couple nights testing and it paid off with Arctic Cat All-Star wins right away at Ocala, and then we went to Volusia and had four really good nights. There was one night we weren’t happy with how things went, but that just motivated my guys. They came back and we were able to win two races in the same day. I’m so happy for everyone involved. This year, we have the privilege of partnering with Arctic Cat and Ford Performance, and to go to down to Florida and get them wins right away was a big deal. We are really excited about the way things started.”
You have said for years that the results of Florida aren’t necessarily an indicator for the season. Can you still take something positive from the team’s incredible start?
“Absolutely. I’ve said it for years that you have to leave a lot of the stuff you learn in Florida for a while. The tracks and places we race for the next couple of months won’t be anything like it. The thing you can do it bank the knowledge and information you gathered racing both on a gritty, slick surface and an ultra-fast track. And I’m sure we are going to benefit from the way we started in some capacity. This group of guys is so motivated. We were talking in the shop Monday about the ones that got away and how to make sure get better and better. We had a list of goals heading down there. We were able to cross a number of things off the list, but still have some things to improve on. Florida is behind us now and it’s off to Texas and trying to get that next win.”
The pattern recently has been to head to Texas following Florida on your way to a long run through the West. How do you approach this weekend and, ultimately, the next couple of races in order to maintain the level of success you’ve reached over the past few seasons?
“The biggest thing is the desire to continue to get better. We have a lot of races coming up. We want to continue fine tuning things every night. We know to win championships you have to win races. We’ve learned that to win races you have to continue finding ways to stay ahead of the competition. Getting to the top and staying on top are two different animals. Early in the season, things can go a certain way and then all of a sudden change. We had some struggles early in the season last year and simply had to keep working and get us headed in the right direction. We’re going to show up like all of the rest of the teams in Texas looking to be fast right out of the trailer. That takes preparation. I spent last week racing my Dirt Late Model, working on ways to get better as a driver and my crew went over everything we learned in Florida and got us ready to head west. The goal this weekend is to come out swinging and see if we can get that next win.”