INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 24, 2016) – It was more than 20 years ago when Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz first heard Sprint cars rumbling around Nodak Speedway from his house in Minot, North Dakota. Actually, it was closer to 30 years ago when the oldest son of Danny and Diane Schatz had to find a way to get to the track every weekend so he could witness the dirt flying through the air, smell the fumes of the racecars and feel his heart race like never before. He knew then he was addicted to the cars and the noise and just had to figure out a way to consume more and more.
It became his dream to race in the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman® Sprint Car Series and, for the last 20 years, Schatz has traveled up and down the road turning laps with the Outlaws at dirt tracks in all corners of the United States, parts of Canada and even on Australian soil. And, in the process, he’s made a lot of history. Being from North Dakota and racing with the Outlaws meant he wouldn’t get many opportunities to race close to home but, since his rookie season with “The Greatest Show on Dirt” back in 1997, he’s appreciated every chance he’s had to get behind the wheel of a 1,400-pound, 900-horsepower racecar and do his best during the Outlaws’ annual stops in his home state.
The 39-year-old has climbed the mountain with the series going from the teenage kid with no fear to the chiseled champion who finds his way to be in the mix for victory just about every time he climbs into the TSR No. 15 Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J. This weekend, the seven-time and reigning WoO champion leads the traveling Sprint-car stars back to his native North Dakota for a pair of races at facilities where he’s been extremely successful. Schatz carries win streaks at both stops of the second leg of the Gerdau Northern Tour. He’s won the previous three WoO A-Features at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, site of Friday’s race and, Sunday, he’ll look to make it five consecutive WoO A-Feature wins at Nodak Speedway in the Gerdau Magic City Showdown.
Schatz made his WoO debut in North Dakota in the summer of 1993, when the Outlaws staged their annual Duel in the Dakotas at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo. The 15 year-old finished 15th and came back the following two summers with finishes of 13th and 14th. For the first 10 seasons of his Outlaws career, the event in Fargo was the Outlaws’ only stop in the Rough Rider State. Schatz finished seventh his rookie year, posted top-10s in five of the next six WoO races, and a second-place finish in a preliminary feature during the 2000 stop. That had the hometown fans bursting with pride. Two years later, Schatz broke through and won his first WoO A-Feature in his home state with a thrilling victory in the finale of the 2002 Duel in the Dakotas. He won a preliminary feature the following year and swept a pair of races in 2006 at the half-mile facility before the series shifted its North Dakota stop about an hour north of Fargo.
In 2007, the Outlaws made their debut at River Cities Speedway and since then have made annual trips to the exciting quarter-mile high-banked dirt oval each year since. Schatz had raced in all 18 of the Outlaws’ main events at the facility, winning seven and finishing inside the top-five 16 times. He’s won five of the last six Outlaw 40-lap main events at River Cities. A second-place finish in August 2014 is the only non-victory since August 2013. In June this year, he worked his way from the seventh starting position and into the lead on lap 21. He maneuvered lapped traffic with precision and collected his seventh career WoO A-Feature triumph at River Cities and his 13th career World of Outlaws A-Feature victory in North Dakota.
For the past three seasons, Schatz also competed in the NLRA Late Model companion event at River Cities. In August 2013, he won both the WoO Sprint A-Feature and the NLRA Late Model feature. Last Friday night, Schatz had a rare off night with the Outlaws and raced his No. 15 Fastlane/Petro of Fargo/K3 Farms/Schatz Crossroads Late Model to victory in the NLRA feature race.
Success in his home state has been a regular occurrence during the past decade for Schatz, but things didn’t start well for him at his home track. In August 2006, the Outlaws made their debut at Nodak and, if weren’t for a flat right-rear tire, Schatz may have been the Outlaws’ first winner at the 3/8-mile dirt oval. Bad luck struck again in 2007, when Schatz was battling for the lead with Daryn Pittman and the two made contact. The result was a broken front axle and his only finish outside the top-seven in 10 career WoO A-Features at the track. His first career victory at his home track came in August 2012, when he took the lead on lap two and set the pace the rest of the way in the 35-lapper. The win continued a surge that ultimately resulted in him taking over the points lead and later claiming his fifth WoO championship. In 2013, Schatz was again on a late-summer charge and swept the weekend in North Dakota, overtaking his TSR teammate Steve Kinser on lap 30 to win his second straight at Nodak. Schatz made it three in a row with win number 15 on the season in 2014 by taking the lead from Joey Saldana with nine laps to go. Last August, Schatz led during the middle stages and outdueled Brad Sweet late in the race to score his 25th victory of the season and fourth in a row at Nodak.
Prior to Sunday’s race, SLS promotions has invited fans to come out to the track early and spend time with Schatz as he celebrates his 20th season with the Outlaws at his home track. A special meet-and-greet with Schatz from 3 to 5 p.m. CDT is being held at the Carousel Pub, located under the grandstands at Nodak Speedway on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds. Admission is free and all attendees will receive a commemorative 20th season poster.
The North Dakota racer continues to set a remarkable pace through 64 WoO races in 2016. Not only does he return home riding win streaks at each track, but also is in the midst of a two-race winning streak with the Outlaws. Last week, he dominated the 30-lap A-Feature Tuesday at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Nebraska before nearly pulling off a clean sweep Sunday in the Outlaws’ debut at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Schatz established a track record, won his heat and led the final 22 laps of the 40-lap A-Feature. The victories pushed his lead in the championship standings to 250 points over David Gravel. His 18 wins, 31 podium finishes, 45 top-fives and 58 top-10s, as well as nine KSE Hard Charger Awards and 345 laps led, all are most by any driver competing with the Outlaws this season.
The pit gates open at River Cities at 2 p.m. CDT Friday. The grandstands will open at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.rivercitiesspeedway.com or call 218-773-3001.
Sunday at Nodak, the pit gates open at 2 p.m. CDT. The grandstands will open at 4 p.m. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit racenodak.com or call 815-344-2023.
Race fans unable to attend this weekend’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 DIRTVision.com for more information.
The TSR Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance team can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TonyStewart_Rcg, liked on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TonyStewartRacing, and followed on Instgram @TonyStewart_Rcg.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J:
Traveling with the Outlaws during your career has taken you to all parts of the country and around the world. Is there still something special about having the chance to race at River Cities Speedway and it being only an hour from home?
“It’s always fun to be around home. And, whether you win there or not, it’s always a fun place to race. I probably make racing in Grand Forks a little hectic with me racing both cars, but it’s sure a lot of fun. We’ve managed to get some wins in the Sprint car and the Late Model, so that makes it more enjoyable, too. The biggest things that we always get to see some familiar faces when we get to race in North Dakota. The atmosphere is just unreal. I get to sleep in my bed, as well, when we race there, so that makes it special. We really enjoy competing there because it almost always comes down to lapped traffic. It’s really hard to pass in open racetrack anymore. Everybody’s equipment is so good and everyone’s motors are top-notch. You have to have traffic to get yourself in good positions and get around guys who are equal to you or the same speed as you. It’s a fun place to have that happen and you do get to traffic quickly. Hopefully, we have the same scenario when we get there this time.”
The weekend concludes with a trip to your hometown and the race where it all started for you. Racing at Nodak Speedway has to be one of the more special nights of the season for you.
“The place that is very near and dear to my heart is where I grew up in Minot, North Dakota. It’s where I got to make my first laps in a Sprint car. Home is always going to be home. It’s where I was born and raised. It’s great to see the excitement and enthusiasm that having the race at Nodak Speedway has brought to the schedule and to people of Minot. The facility is second to none. Racers talk about it all over the country and how awesome it is. They have done a great job with the racetrack. It is pretty awesome to see Minot, North Dakota have a World of Outlaws show and get a good turnout each time. It gets me really excited to go back for this event every year and I know Larry and the people at SLS have continued to help it grow. They wanted to do something special since it’s my 20th season, so they’ve organized something pretty cool for the fans this year. To be able to meet the fans from 3 to 5 on race day is going to be awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces and hopefully they come out and see us. We’re looking forward to having a great weekend. Obviously, a perfect weekend for us would be to be able to get a couple of wins, but I know there a lot of guys digging deep trying to get themselves in a good spot. That gives me all the faith in the world in the three guys who I get to go into the racetrack with, that they are going to do the same. So we are going to work our tails off to trying to get a couple of victories.”
Speaking of 2016 being your 20th season on the road with the Outlaws, does it really seem like you’ve been doing it for that long?
“I’ve been around it for 20 years and I love what I do. You keep your nose to the ground and keep doing what you love to do and here we are 20 years later. It’s been a fun 20 years and has gone by in the blink of an eye. I try to think back and have probably forgotten about more fun things than people ever get to do, and that’s because of racing. I’ve always enjoyed racing and it’s what we do — traveling and racing with these guys. Hopefully I can be around for another 20 years, but that might be pushing it.”
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