Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz and the Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance team continued their remarkable 2015 campaign with Saturday’s flag-to-flag victory in Sprint-car-racing’s marquee event: the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals. Schatz was flawless in Saturday’s pressure-packed main event on the sport’s biggest stage, racing to his fifth consecutive Knoxville Nationals triumph and ninth in the previous 10 Nationals. And the victory brought with it plenty of emotion.
“The minute I took that checkered flag, I was teary-eyed,” Schatz said. “To see the race team, to see the excitement in their eyes, the manufacturers, all the people we get to work with, that makes this so much more special than me just getting the biggest check and the biggest trophy in the most prestigious race of the year. It was awesome having (car owner) Tony (Stewart) here with us. It’s the people who get to go along with you – when you can get them all in one spot and enjoy something like that, it makes it worth living.”
Schatz, who turned 38 last Monday, was the driver to beat to start the week and underscored the point by earning his sixth career pole position for Saturday’s A-Main by qualifying first, running third in his heat and finishing second in Wednesday night’s qualifying-night feature. After the traditional four-abreast salute, Schatz surged the TSR No. 15 Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance J&J into the lead at the start and proceeded to set a torrid pace. The six-time and reigning World of Outlaws champion made all the right decisions on the track, and his crew – Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Eric Prutzman – made the right ones in the pits before sending Schatz out for the first half of the feature and during the midway stoppage.
“What else can I say about this race team?” Schatz said. “This is like nothing we have run in the past, and these guys adapted to the track and the changes. Knoxville Raceway did a phenomenal job with the racetrack all week and I’m just glad to come out on top.”
The early laps of Saturday’s A-Main saw Schatz work the bottom grooves in both corners as he searched for maximum speed around the half-mile, dirt oval. Kerry Madsen started outside of Schatz and was pounding the cushion in both ends trying to keep pace. Five laps into the contest, Schatz moved to the top in turns three and four and began to distance himself. While Schatz pulled away, Madsen dealt with challenges from Brad Sweet and Danny Lasoski. When the race was stopped at lap 25 for a competition red, Schatz led Lasoski and Madsen.
The second half of the race was chopped up by several cautions. Schatz led the field to green each time and would resume his quest for a ninth Nationals, riding the cushion all the way around the famed dirt oval. Five laps at a time, Schatz kept his focus. Madsen worked his way back to second but wasn’t able to close in and make a move on Schatz. The final caution came on lap 40 and Schatz was perfect during the final 10 laps en route to his 195th career World of Outlaws victory and 23rd of the season.
“I was ready to race at six o’clock tonight and we didn’t get to get on the racetrack until nine-something,” Schatz said. “I was ready to go and, when I was able to get in the car, we were able to get solid laps in right away. The racecar was underneath me from the word go, it was fast, and that gives you a lot of confidence going through that 50-lap race.”
After coming up short in the Kings Royal, Silver Cup, Summer Nationals and Ironman, Schatz was determined to complete the mission Saturday at Knoxville and take home the $150,000 prize.
“We came in here with a lot of seconds, thirds and just haven’t won a lot of races in the last month,” Schatz said. “It’s been my mistakes. Tonight, I didn’t make any, thank goodness, and we were able to get a Nationals win.”
With the dust settling on another Nationals, the trek for a seventh World of Outlaws championship for Schatz continues. Action resumes this week for the TSR teams beginning with Tuesday’s stop Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Nebraska. Following Tuesday’s race, Schatz leads the Outlaws back to his home state of North Dakota for races Friday at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks and Sunday at Nodak Speedway in Minot. Schatz holds a 365-point advantage over Shane Stewart and tops the series in wins with 23, top-fives with 43, top-10s with 51 and laps led with 510.