INDIANAPOLIS (June 22, 2016) – Summer is officially here. It’s music to the ears of so many Americans with the prospects of fun and sun in full view. For the traveling Sprint car teams chasing World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman® Sprint Car Series glory, it’s the portion of the campaign where a season usually comes into focus.
For the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance team and driver Donny Schatz, the hope is that, like in so many years, Glenn Frey’s 1984 hit “The Heat is On” is an accurate description of their run through the summer months in their quest for an eighth WoO championship. As for the rest of the competition, hope is that the lyrics “… the groove is slightly transformed. Just a little bit of a break from the norm…” from Will Smith’s 1991 jam “Summertime” are more representative of the results.
As Schatz continues his 20th season of competition with “The Greatest Show on Dirt,” one of his trademark characteristics has been the ability to deliver victories during the season’s hottest months when some of the season’s most prolific events take place. In less than a month, Sprint car racing’s “Month of Money” takes center stage but, leading up to that the seven-time and reigning WoO champion intends for his team’s performance to rise with the temperature during one of the busiest segments of the 91-race 2016 campaign.
The current WoO leader and season’s top winner with 10 victories will be in action three times this week, beginning with Wednesday night’s NAPA Auto Parts Outlaw Showdown at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska. He’ll then lead the Outlaws back to Jackson (Minn.) Speedway Friday before defending his 2015 victory in the annual Jim “J.B.” Boyd Memorial Saturday at Beaver Dam (Wis.) Raceway.
Schatz became the season’s first double-digit winner last Friday night with his third consecutive victory at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and he continued his stranglehold in his home state, where he’s won five WoO A-Features in a row. But it hasn’t been just North Dakota where Schatz has been dominant, recently. He’s controlled the region, as well. With wins in Iowa and North Dakota the previous two weekends, he’ll look to add Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin this week. Since the start of the 2012 season, Schatz has won 25 WoO A-Features in the five-state region.
First up is a return to I-80 Speedway in eastern Nebraska, where he’s finished second each of the previous two seasons. In 2014, Schatz earned the pole position and challenged Joey Saldana throughout the 30-lap A-Feature. Last June, Schatz started 13th and raced his way past leader Danny Lasoski on the white-flag lap but couldn’t hold off “The Dude” on the final circuit. Schatz first competed at the 4/10-mile dirt oval during his rookie campaign with the Outlaws back in 1997 and is hoping to add I-80 to the list of 78 other facilities where he’s won a WoO A-Feature during his decorated career. He’s already added Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, and Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana, to the list in 2016.
Friday marks the return to the Jackson Motorplex in southwest Minnesota. Schatz raced on the famed half-mile, dirt oval during the formative years of his racing career before making his first Outlaw start at the track in 2004. In September 2005, he battled Daryn Pittman for the win and, the following fall, he scored his initial triumph at the track just months before claiming his first WoO championship. Schatz was victorious again in June 2013 after starting fifth and leading the final 17 laps. The following season, he stalked Saldana for 30 laps in 2014 and finished second.
Saturday’s venture to Beaver Dam will be the first of four 2016 WoO races in Wisconsin, another state where Schatz made many laps competing with the WISSOTA series prior to his WoO career. His first Wisconsin WoO triumph came at Beaver Dam in 2002, when he scored a flag-to-flag victory just four days after he scored his first Outlaw triumph in North Dakota. Last year’s run from 10th to first in the 40-lap A-Feature was one of many impressive drives that led to a career-best 31 wins and his seventh championship.
Schatz has won three of his last six starts and finished on the podium two other times. With 39 nights of action complete, Schatz leads the series in several categories, including wins with 10, top-fives with 26, top-10s with 36, and KSE Hard Charger Awards with seven. He has earned 5,386 points and holds an 18-point advantage over Brad Sweet in the season-long championship standings.
Wednesday at I-80 Speedway, the pit gates open at 2 p.m. CDT and the grandstands at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.i-80speedway.com or call 402-659-3301.
For Friday’s race at Jackson Motorplex, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. CDT and the grandstands at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit jacksonmotorplex.com or call 605-359-4955.
Saturday at Beaver Dam Raceway, the pit gates will open at 2 p.m. CDT and the grandstands at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit wismotorsports.com or call 920-887-1600.
Race fans unable to attend this week’s races can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Fans can listen 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 cybercast, as well as on the DIRT Radio Network. Go to www.DIRTVision.com for more information.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J:
This time of the year, the schedule is as close to your home as it gets. You’ve been extremely successful in the area the past few years. Is there something about being closer to home that brings out the best in you?
“We are always trying to do our best no matter where we are on the map, but I’d say when we race close to home we might push a little harder. It’s always nice to get to a track and see people you grew up racing around. The fans have been so good to me in this area. I love seeing all the kids coming out. We try to go out there and give them something to get excited about. My family gets to come to a lot of these races and I have nieces who are starting to race themselves. I really enjoy seeing how excited they get when we do well. And the tracks in this area really provide us with the chance to move around and race. I can’t say enough about (crew chief) Ricky (Warner), (car chief) Scuba (Steve Swenson) and (crewman) Brad (Mariscotti). They have been giving me a really good car and keep working to make it better. I know they are pretty excited about this week, too. I have family in Nebraska that I get to see at the races a couple of times a year and we’ve been decent at I-80. Jackson is still close enough where a lot of my family can make it to the track. And then Saturday we get back to Wisconsin, where we’ve had a lot of fans for most of my career. We can’t wait to get back to the track.”
We have almost reached the halfway point of the season. You have overcome a triple digit deficit in the championship standings and are beginning to stack wins. How would you rate the first part of the season?
“I’ve been asked a lot about how I’d say the season has gone so far and I’d say it’s been average. We are always trying things. We are always trying to get ahead and there is only one way to do that. You have to keep working on everything. Shocks. Torsion bars. Tires. All of it. And then I’d say the level of competition has picked up, as well. We’ve had a lot of different winners. But any kind of results are going to look average when you compare them to what we did last year – the success we had and with where we were with the racecar. It was pretty incredible. Ultimately, I don’t think we are where we want to be with the feel of the racecars, but we are working on it. The new format has put a lot more importance on qualifying, but we’ve stayed the course and focused on being able to pass cars. We may not start close to the front, but we’ve been able to move around on the track and drive up through the fields. We’re getting closer, but it’s still a work in progress.”