One sign of a champion is the ability to transform a perceived weakness into a tangible strength. For most of his 20-plus seasons of competing in the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series, Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz has been classified as a slow starter because he didn’t typically begin piling up victories until late May. That changed two seasons ago when he and his TSR team flipped the script and turned the Outlaws’ annual California Spring Tour from simply being about survival to domination.
Since 2009, Schatz has competed regularly in California early each Outlaw campaign and, the first six of those seasons, he captured two wins in 30 starts. In 2015 and 2016, Schatz has won seven times in 19 starts and already has picked up one victory on California soil this season in three starts. This week, he’ll look to add to those numbers beginning with Wednesday’s Placerville Short Track Outlaw Showdown presented by NAPA Auto Parts. The Kings Outlaw Shootout at Keller Auto Speedway in Hanford Friday and the SoCal Showdown at Perris Auto Speedway Saturday evening caps this year’s six-race run through the Golden State.
Prior to the 2015 WoO campaign, one of the goals for TSR’s No. 15 team was to get better at the places it struggled. Getting through California each March seemed to be one of the tougher tasks of the season. The team went to work after winning the 2014 WoO championship and the results followed.
Wins at the Stockton Dirt Track and the following week at the Mini Gold Cup at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico gave the team multiple wins during a California Spring swing for the first time ever. It wasn’t done with two wins as Schatz picked up win number three when the Outlaws made their debut at Placerville Speedway. He chased down early leader Kyle Hirst and put on a clinic, manipulating rough track conditions late in the race to capture the victory. He would follow that win with a fourth triumph four nights later at Calistoga Speedway to cap the best early season run through California of his career. Last season, Schatz swept a pair of A-Features at Stockton and charged from 14th to victory in the Mini Gold Cup to give him seven combined wins in two early season California tours. Two weeks ago, he resumed his winning ways with a dramatic late-race pass that led to victory March 18 at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare.
The Thunderbowl victory was the sixth win in the first nine WoO races of 2017 for Schatz and the Arctic Cat/Ford Performance-backed team. Their start is of one the best starts ever recorded in the 40-year history of the WoO series. Despite posting statistics reminiscent of those previously accumulated by Outlaw icons Steve Kinser and Doug Wolfgang, Schatz and his team of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti are determined to continue finding ways to improve.
Schatz is coming off Saturday night’s thrilling FVP Western Spring Shootout race at Stockton, where he challenged Brad Sweet for the victory. The two waged a terrific battle during the second half of the race, exchanging the top spot twice before Schatz passed Sweet again for the lead, but a yellow nullified the move and he finished second.
The Fargo, North Dakota resident is looking to continue his early season prowess in his third trip to Placerville. After his 2015 victory at the quarter-mile, high-banked dirt oval, Schatz made the fastest laps in hot laps during last year’s race. A broken component during his qualifying lap put the team behind the rest of the night. He charged his way into a transfer spot in his heat race and earned the KSE Hard Charger Award in the 40-lap A-Feature by advancing from 20th to eighth.
A return to Keller Speedway Friday provides Schatz with a chance to score a second career win at the 3/8-mile dirt oval. He made his debut at the track during his rookie campaign with the Outlaws in 1997 and the series competed at the facility in each of his first seven seasons on the road. Following a 10-year absence by the series at the track, Schatz made its return a memorable one, outdueling Chad Kememah to capture his first win at the track. In 2014, he charged from 18th to fifth and, in April 2015, Schatz stormed from 16th to finish fourth.
The California kick-off tour concludes Saturday at Perris, where Schatz is still seeking his first win. He made his first start at the half-mile, dirt oval in Southern California late in the 1996 season and competed regularly at the facility during the first eight seasons of his WoO career. He has twice finished third – in 2013 and 2015 – and last season he earned the fast qualifier award before finishing fifth in the A-Feature.
With nine of 92 scheduled nights of racing complete, Schatz continues to lead the championship standings, holding a 68-point advantage over Sweet. He tops several other categories, including wins and top-fives with seven each, top-10s with eight, and laps led with 85.
Wednesday night at the Placerville Short Track Outlaw Showdown, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. PDTand the grandstands open at 3 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. More details are available by calling at (916) 783-DIRT, or by visiting placervillespeedway.com.
Friday at Keller Auto Speedway, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. PDT and the grandstands open at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. More details are available by calling at (559) 333-3234, or by visiting racekingsspeedway.com.
Saturday at Perris Auto Speedway, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. PDT and the grandstands open at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. More details are available by calling at (951) 940-0134, or by visiting perrisautospeedway.com.
Race fans unable to attend the races can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Live audio is available so 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, www.arcticcat.com, and www.donnyschatzmotorsports.com
Tony Stewart Racing: Facebook at www.Facebook.com/
Arctic Cat: Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArcticCat or on Twitter and Instagram @ArcticCat_atv @ArcticCat_Snow
Curb: Facebook at www.facebook.com/CurbRecords or on Twitter and Instagram @CurbRecords.
Ford Performance: Facebook at www.facebook.com/
|Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Arctic Cat/Ford Performance J&J:|
The start of the 2017 season is the best of your career and one of the best in Outlaws history. How do you keep it going?
“Hard work, being prepared and taking advantage of every situation that comes our way. I’ve learned racing in this series the last 20 years that you have to continue pushing forward. We are only as good as our last race, so this week we need to figure out a way to get better. We can’t get caught up in the historical perspective of how things have started this season. We know the next race is the most important one. Tony (Stewart) has surrounded me with a group of people who have an incredible passion for winning. You just look at how hard everyone in this organization works. Having marketing partners like Arctic Cat and Ford Performance pushes all of us to continue trying to be the best in what we do. That’s the mentality we show up with each night when we unload this car. One team leaves the track as the winner and we’re striving to be that team each night. If we stay focused and continue working as hard as we can, we’ll be in a good position every night.”
With three races in four nights on three distinctly different tracks, how do you build a game plan for this week?
“This is what we do and is what this team thrives on. You work hard between races to have yourself prepared for these types of weeks. Actually, we spent time working on some things at Kings Speedway right after we raced in Las Vegas. We are always trying to find ways to improve and add notes to our book of knowledge. I think (crew chief) Ricky (Warner) was on a radio show a couple weeks back and was asked about how we prepare. He talked about a having a playbook that is about seven inches thick. And that’s just one of them. We’ve got years of data and all that helps you come up with your plan. We’ve been good at Placerville the past couple of years, so we’ve got a starting point, but you always have to remember things change and you have to be willing to change the things you do, as well. We’ve been racing at both Hanford and Perris since I started racing with the Outlaws, so we’ve got a lot of laps at both of those places. We’re ready to finish off California on a good note and head to Arizona and Texas.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!