On the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series printed schedule, this weekend’s 55th annual Champion Oil National Open at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania might be listed simply as nights 81, 82 and 83, but chances are good the three nights of action may rank as some of the best all season.
Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz and his Textron Off Road/Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb-backed team have been part of several memorable nights with the Outlaws already this season and are hopeful they can add a few more to their 2017 highlight reel Thursday,Friday and Saturday.
The variables in play this weekend make it more than just another weekend of racing. Only 14 events remain in the Outlaws season and, with the TSR team continuing to pursue a ninth WoO title for Schatz, every race matters. There will be four races in three nights, starting with a doubleheader Thursday that includes the $10,000 A-Feature and the $20,000-to-win Summer Nationals finale, which was washed out by rain July 22. The weekend also marks round three of the annual battle between the World of Outlaws and the Pennsylvania Posse, a rivalry that always seems to live up to the hype.
The National Open is recognized as one of the five premiere Winged Sprint car races annually contested on dirt tracks across the United States and, since its first running in 1963, the race has grown into the biggest Sprint car race in the Northeast. Saturday night’s $50,000-to-win finale will culminate three nights of action during which drivers will receive points for every position in qualifying, heat races and main events. The three-day format is a throwback to the ways of the Outlaws of years ago as the top four drivers in points after Friday night will be locked into the front two rows of Saturday’s Craftsman Club Dash.
Schatz and the TSR team return the Central Pennsylvania seeking their first win at Williams Grove Speedway this season in the TSR No. 15 Textron Off Road/Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J. They have earned two podium finishes in three events – finishing second in the Spring Nationals opener in May and third in the Summer Nationals opener in July. He qualified for the Summer Nationals finale and will start the 30-lap race ninth.
The eight-time and defending WoO champion learned early in his career about the rivalry with the Pennsylvania Posse and just how important the National Open was during a memorable golf-cart ride. It was an educational trip around the paperclip-shaped, half-mile, dirt track, with the late Ted Johnson, World of Outlaws series founder. It was an opportunity to impress on the North Dakota teenager what being an Outlaw meant. Johnson’s words stuck with Schatz and now, in his 21st season of competing with “The Greatest Show on Dirt,” he is still trying to carry the Outlaws’ torch the way Johnson had envisioned.
It didn’t start well for Schatz at Williams Grove, and he even wondered if the track would be better served for boat racing. But, late in his fourth season on the road, everything came together. The scene was wild and the atmosphere was what you would expect when the Outlaws were at Williams Grove late in the season with the National Open on the line. Schatz started 10th and worked his way to the front of the field while local favorite Keith Kauffman was putting on a furious charge from the back. Kauffman couldn’t get to Schatz that night and he scored his first career win at the track and fifth of his WoO career. Schatz joined a select list of winners that night and he hasn’t slowed down at “The Grove” since.
He ranks 19th all-time in wins at Williams Grove, tied with Sprint car legends Jan Opperman and Tommy Hinnershitz. If he can win one this weekend, he’ll tie his childhood idol Doug Wolfgang, a three-time National Open winner, with 20.
Schatz will not only be looking to move up on the all-time win list at Williams Grove, he’s also looking to reach a few more milestones this weekend. He and his TSR crew of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti enter the weekend with 18 WoO A-Feature wins in 2017, and Schatz is trying to win at least 20 WoO A-Features for the fifth straight season. He would also like to duplicate his 2007 run of success in big money races with a victory this weekend in the National Open finale. Schatz became the first driver to win back-to-back Kings Royals in July and followed that with his fifth Don Martin Memorial triumph four nights later. In August, Schatz won his 10th Knoxville Nationals to continue his success on Sprint car racing’s biggest stage.
For all three nights, the pit gates open at 3 p.m. EDT and grandstands will open at 5 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. More details are available by calling Williams Grove Speedway at (717) 697-5000, or by visiting williamsgrove.com.
Race fans unable to attend this weekend’s races can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Live video coverage is available on a pay-per-view basis and audio coverage is available for 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.
Tony Stewart Racing: Facebook at www.Facebook.com/
Textron Off Road: Facebook atwww.facebook.com/
Arctic Cat: Facebook at www.facebook.com/arcticcat.
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 Textron Off Road/Arctic Cat/Ford Performance J&J:
This weekend, you return to Williams Grove for the prestigious National Open. How important of a weekend is this for you and your race team?
“Any time you have the chance to race in events like the National Open, it’s a really big deal. We race close to 90 nights a year and every night we are trying to be our best and put ourselves in a position to win. There is something a little different about races like the National Open. It’s one of those T-shirt races. When I was a kid and got to go to the races, I always wanted the Sprint car T-shirts and the big races had T-shirts each year with the names of previous winners. I never dreamed my name would be included on a T-shirt. Even when I started racing with the Outlaws, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever win a race at Williams Grove, let alone the National Open. It took a while, but we were fortunate to get the job done in 2000 and then again a few more times. It’s exciting to be part of it all. The fans are incredible. They have so much passion, and the way they root for their guys is awesome. I learned that early on and it’s something that has always stuck with me. This week is a great opportunity for this Textron Off Road/Arctic Cat/Ford Performance team. We have four races at the same track all building up to the big one Saturday night. I know Rick (Warner), Scuba (Steve Swenson) and Brad (Mariscotti) have worked hard all season to put us in the position we are heading into Williams Grove and we’re going to try and make the most of it.”
The National Open is not your traditional one-night show. It’s a points-based format where you receive points throughout the night. Does a points format work to your favor?
“Every format is different. I know we’ve been trying to run it this way at Williams Grove for a few years but haven’t been able to avoid the rain. Hopefully this year, it’s a different story. This three-day format is what we ran earlier this year at the Jackson Nationals. You have to be fast in qualifying and finish close to the front in both your heat and the feature each night. It rewards consistency and requires a team to be really good both nights in order to get locked into Saturday night’s dash. We’re looking forward to the challenge. We know there is going to be an incredible field of cars and it’s going to take our best effort. I have to thank (car owner) Tony (Stewart) for surrounding me with a talented team that is motivated to win more than any group I’ve ever been around. We’re going to do everything we can to be in a position at the end of the night Thursday, Friday and Saturday to fight it out for wins. That’s our goal.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!