|From a distance, this weekend’s World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series doubleheader in Arizona looks to be just another stop on the nomad-like 92-race schedule that began with Florida Speedweeks in February and concludes at The Dirt Track @ Charlotte Motor Speedway in November. But, with this being the 40th season of WoO competition, Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz knows each step of the journey is significant.
For the past 39 summers, a band of Sprint car racers have toured the United States competing on dirt tracks from coast to coast and, since 1997, Schatz has been up and down the road competing a numerous dirt ovals, making his contributions to “The Greatest Show on Dirt.” This weekend, Schatz returns to the state of Arizona, where his illustrious WoO career started 21 years ago.
First up for the eight-time and reigning WoO champion is the Outlaws’ debut at Cocopah Speedway in Yuma Friday night aboard the TSR No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J, followed by the series’ second visit to Arizona Speedway in Queen Creek.
Before officially starting his WoO career, Schatz made his first WoO start in the state of Arizona in October of 1996 in the historic Western World at the former Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. He finished 14th that night and returned to the famed half-mile, dirt oval three months later and registered his first start as a WoO regular on the final day of January in 1997. He’s made more than 1,600 WoO starts since that night and continues seeking firsts. Manzanita was the site of his first major Sprint car triumph in 1999. The Western World was recognized as one of Sprint car racing’s crown jewel races when Ted Johnson created the Outlaw series back in 1978 and, for the first-two plus decades of Outlaw competition, it remained a signature race that everyone wanted to win. Schatz was completing his third season on tour when he surprised many by sweeping the Western World weekend. The victory in the finale was his third career WoO A-Feature triumph and first in Arizona.
A decade later, Schatz made his debut at USA Raceway in Tucson days after the passing of Johnson, and it was clear early on he was on a mission that October evening. He wanted to win everything that night for the man who had turned into reality his dream of giving Sprint car fans all across the country the opportunity to see the sport’s biggest starts competing together. Schatz nearly swept the night. He was the fastest qualifier, won his heat, finished second in the dash and led all 35 laps of the feature. The emotional victory resulted in Schatz earning enough points to clinch his first WoO title.
He returned five months later and claimed his first Arizona victory as a WoO champion in March 2007, winning again at Manzanita Speedway. That win was his 54th career WoO triumph and, if he is able to pick up a fourth career WoO A-Feature victory in Arizona this weekend, he will increase his career win total to 236.
That’s the goal heading into Friday night’s Yuma Valley Showdown, when Schatz tackles the 3/8-mile, dirt oval located in southwest Arizona for the first time. In recent years, he’s scored a number of wins when making his first appearance at a facility, including triumphs at Cornwall (Ont.) Speedway, Berlin (Mich.) Raceway, Granite City Speedway in Sauk Valley, Minnesota, Rockford (Ill.) Speedway and Angel Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. If he can accomplish the goal and claim the victory, Cocopah would become the 82nd track where Schatz has scored a WoO A-Feature triumph.
Last March, Schatz made his debut at Arizona Speedway and, after qualifying seventh in the field of 26 cars, he charged from seventh to fourth in the 30-lap A-Feature.
Schatz and his TSR team of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti just completed the Outlaws’ annual California Spring Tour with consecutive top-four finishes. They opened the six-race tour with a seventh-place finish at Thunderbowl Speedway in Tulare on March 17 and came back the following night and scored a thrilling victory. A second-place finish March 25 at the Stockton (Calif.) Dirt Track followed before making runs from 25th to 12th at Placerville (Calif.) Speedway and from 21st to third last Friday night. The team closed the tour with fourth-place finish Saturday night at Perris Auto Speedway in Lake Perris.
Through the first dozen races, Schatz continues to lead the way in the WoO championship standings behind the wheel of the Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb-backed J&J. He has amassed 1,716 points and holds a 70-point advantage over David Gravel.
For Friday’s Yuma Valley Showdown at Cocopah Speedway, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. MDT 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 (928) 344-1563, or by visiting cocopahspeedway.com.
Saturday at Arizona Speedway, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. MDT 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 (480) 926-6688, or by visiting arizonaspeedway.net.
Race fans unable to attend the DIRTcar Nationals can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Live audio coverage is available 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/Curb J&J:|
Does racing in Arizona this weekend put any kind of perspective on your last 20 years of racing with the Outlaws, knowing you made your first WoO start as a full-time member in that state?
“I just really appreciated having the opportunity to race with the World of Outlaws back then and still feel so fortunate to be able to call myself a World of Outlaws driver. That’s all I wanted to do when I was a kid and it’s kind of surreal to think back to that first race back in 1997. I could have never imaged how things would have played out. You’ve heard me say it before, but people can only dream so big. I just wanted to do everything I could to make it through that first season. My parents took a big chance and sent me out on the road. After making it through that first year, we just kept plugging away. Thinking back about the first win at the Western World, that was kind of one of those weekends where you feel like you belong. The Western World had a ton of history and we got to join of a pretty distinguished list of winners. It takes hard work and being surrounded by great people. Through all these years, I certainly haven’t taken it for granted. I can’t thank Tony (Stewart) and everyone involved with this team enough. We’ve gotten off to a pretty good start carrying the Arctic Cat and Ford Performance colors this year. We’re just going to keep working as hard as we can every race. It’s a dream to be out here competing with the Outlaws and being part of their 40th season. We want to make it as memorable as we can.”
This weekend’s races are at a pair of tracks where you have limited experience. How important does experience play in these types of situations?
“I’d say it plays a part in it, but we also know that no two dirt tracks are ever the same. We look forward to the challenge of going to a new track. A lot of guys were out at Cocopah the past couple of winters racing and we’re kind of up to speed with how things went then. But, like I said, change is something that happens all the time in this sport. We’ll have a plan going into the night, but you have to pay close attention as the night goes on. Where we start the night with the car and how it ends up can be any combination, so experience will play a part. A lot of the things that matter will be done this week before we get to the tracks. My guys have a pretty strict regimen and being prepared plays a big part in whether or not you can be successful.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!