INDIANAPOLIS (March 9, 2016) – If there is one stop on the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series 11-event tour through California that epitomizes West Coast Sprint car racing, it’s the first one. This weekend’s doubleheader at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare begins the Outlaws’ annual spring tour of the Golden State that traditionally tests a driver and team’s arsenal as they navigate the small California bullrings where contact and big cushions are the norm.
Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz and his No. 15 Bad Boy/Chevrolet Performance J&J team return to action Friday in Tulare hoping to have success similar to what they enjoyed last spring. Their exceptional 2015 run through California launched their championship campaign with four wins in 11 races, but it wasn’t without its share of drama.
Things happen fast and furiously at Thunderbowl and, last spring, Schatz nearly didn’t make it through the first lap in the opening 35-lap A-Feature. The Fargo, North Dakota racer lined up for the feature on the outside of row five and had nowhere to go when No. 3 starter Carson Macedo jumped the cushion, hit the wall, got upside-down and landed on the TSR 15. Despite severe damage, Schatz continued at the back of the field and methodically worked his way up from 24th to finish eighth. He came back the following night and finished fourth to close the weekend before ending what had become a 22-race winless streak in California in his next race the following week in Stockton.
That victory in Stockton was his second of 2015 and began a run of four wins in nine races included wins at Chico, Placerville and Calistoga. Schatz won again at Chico in the fall to increase his total of career wins in California to 11. Those five California wins were part of a personal-best 31 triumphs Schatz earned last season, making it the third consecutive season he posted a career high in wins after winning 23 in 2014 and 26 in 2015.
The weekend doubleheader at the high-banked, 1/3-mile dirt oval located in Central California has been an annual stop since the spring of 2007. Schatz won a preliminary feature at the track in October 2005 and dominated the 35-lap A-Feature in October 2007 en route to earning his second WoO crown. In March 2013, Schatz looked to be on his way to career victory number three at Thunderbowl when he led the opening 14 laps of the main event. Disaster struck when he broke a front axle during a restart and was forced to relinquish his lead to replace the broken components. In March 2014, he battled Daryn Pittman for the lead midway through the opening race but couldn’t get a clean opportunity in the late going to make a bid for the win. In his previous 20 WoO A-Feature starts at the track, Schatz has finished inside the top-five eight times and earned 12 top-10s.
Schatz is one of five winners during the first eight nights of action in the 2016 WoO campaign. He won the season’s second main event Feb. 13 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida. Last Friday night, he earned his second win of the season in Las Vegas before charging from seventh to fourth Sunday in the Outlaws’ first-ever race at Arizona Speedway just outside of Phoenix..
With eight of 92 events complete, Schatz’s two victories are among his five top-five finishes and seven top-10s. He ranks third in the championship standings with 1,056 points and trails leader Brad Sweet by 59 markers.
For both events this weekend at Thunderbowl Raceway, the pit gates will be open throughout the day while the grandstands open at 4 p.m. PST. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit thunderbowlraceway.com or call 559-688-0909.
Race fans unable to attend this weekend’s races can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Fans can listen live as Johnny Gibson, “Voice of the Outlaws,” calls the action as he does at all WoO Sprint Series events on the DIRTVision.com cybercast, as well as on the DIRT Radio Network. Go to www.DIRTVision.com for more information on all the site features, including updated results from each night of racing, as well as a chat room to interact with other race fans.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Bad Boy/Chevrolet Performance J&J:
Last season, you and the team defined several goals and one was having a better run through California. The results were most likely better than you had hoped for, winning four of the 11 races. Do you come back this year with the same goal of having a lot of success in California?
“I’ve said it plenty of times, but we always put goals out there so we can aim high. For a number of years, we struggled our way through California. The Bad Boy/Chevrolet Performance guys spent a lot of time in the offseason getting us ready for California and it paid off. Our expectations are to come back this year and try to have at least the same amount of success and maybe even a little more. We are adapting to a new format that has made qualifying more important. Now, if you qualify well, you start on the front row in the heats, where passing can be difficult. The run through California will likely continue that trend. The tracks, other than Calistoga, are small and usually pretty wet early in the night. We’re heading to California with the mentality that everyone on this team is going to have to continue working harder than any other team out here. We are out here to win races and that starts this weekend at Tulare.”
Racing in California is different than other regions that you compete in during the World of Outlaws season. How do you have to change your approach when you are competing on the bullrings of California?
“The mindset to be there at the end is still the same, but you have to understand how to be there. It always starts in your own race trailer. I’ve got a crew of guys – Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti – who are incredible at what they do. They all have a ton of experience with these tracks in California and work hard to put a car underneath me that can go anywhere on the track and drive forward.
The basic philosophy is to be the best you can every time you hit the track, but you can’t always control variables like track conditions and who you are racing with. These tight tracks mean everything happens at warp speed. That’s where experience plays a big part of it. You have to understand time and place. When to make a move and who you can make particular moves around. They call it racing for a reason and at the end of the day most of the races come down to the driver with the best car. And that’s the same no matter where we race. It’s just getting through the heat races and finding your way to the front in the feature, where you have to use all your experience and skills if you want to have a chance at winning.”
It’s been a long time since you won at Thunderbowl Raceway. Is that something you pay attention to?
“I’ve always said you are only as good as your last finish and, at Tulare, we haven’t had a lot of good finishes there. Last year, we got caught up in a wreck on the opening lap but managed our way back through the field to finish eighth. The next night, we started sixth and finished fourth, which really isn’t to the standards that we have set. You have to be really good to win at Thunderbowl. The track is normally pretty narrow early in the night and then you are racing on a big cushion during the feature. You have to push it to the limit and be able to manipulate traffic high, low and through the middle. It seems like it’s 35 laps of constant action from one corner to the next. We’ve had a couple of chances the past couple of seasons but have come up short. Hopefully, we’ll be in position to break that winless draught this weekend.”
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