FARGO, N.D. – It’s almost hard to read the words – rookie, Donny Schatz, and Knoxville Raceway – in the same sentence. For the last decade and a half, the eight-time Knoxville Nationals champion has displayed his incredible talent in a Sprint car at one of the most historic dirt tracks in the world.
When the 11th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals opens Thursday, Schatz, who has competed in roughly 15 career Dirt Late Model races, will be a rookie circling the famous half-mile, dirt oval in competition for the first time in a full-fendered race car with the top Dirt Late Model drivers in the business.
The decorated Sprint car champion is excited to make his first competitive laps in a Dirt Late Model on the Marion County Fairgrounds behind the wheel of his own No. 15 Fastlane/Petro Fargo backed Rocket.
“I’m really looking forward to going and having some fun,” said Schatz, who tested his Dirt Late Model at Knoxville in July just weeks before winning his eighth Sprint car Nationals crown. “This isn’t August and I’m not driving a Sprint car. I am just excited to be able to be part of the event. I’ve made a lot of friends the past few years on the late model side. This is something I’ve wanted to do. Our goal is to come out and do the best we can. Put up a good qualifying lap, get through our heat and make some good laps in the feature. We only get one night to race, unless Mother Nature changes our weekend plans, so we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
Schatz is in the midst of chasing his sixth World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series championship and will be racing his familiar Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) No. 15 STP/Armor All/Crimsafe J&J at Bloomington (Indiana) Speedway Friday and Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan Saturday. With his schedule, he’ll compete in Thursday’s opening night only, unless something happens with the weather and races at either place get canceled or rescheduled.
“We knew that with how everything lined up that Thursday was our only option to race,” continued Schatz. “Last year, I had the chance to come watch and had a great time. Late model racing is quite a bit different than my regular job that’s for sure. We’ve tried to learn more and more and improve every time we race. We’ve raced a handful of times this year and also had the chance to do some testing with guys that really know what they are doing in these cars. The learning curve is steep and we know how tough it’s going to be at Knoxville. We’re going there to have some fun and see what we can do.”
His appetite for Dirt Late Model racing was piqued on a big stage during the 2012 Prelude to the Dream at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Schatz raced his way from 12th to fourth in his first-ever Late Model race motivating he and his family to put a car together for the 2013 season. The Fargo, North Dakota resident went out and earned a pair of WISSOTA Late Model victories in his home state before doubling up in both his WoO Sprint car and the Late Model in August at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks. A venture to Arizona this January for the Winter Freeze event got him seat time with the Super Late Models and in July he made his World of Outlaws Late Model debut at Hibbing (Minnesota) Raceway, racing from 17th to finish eighth. He earned his second NLRA victory at River Cities in August.