INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 29, 2016) – Two decades ago Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz made his first laps at historic Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and the teenager from North Dakota wasn’t quite sure it was a track that he would look forward to returning to. It didn’t take long for the driver of TSR No. 15 Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J to come around and for the last 15 years, it’s been one of the stops on the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series tour he looks forward to most.
The seven-time and reigning WoO champion returns to Williams Grove this weekend for the 54th annual Champion Racing Oil Morgan Hughes National Open. Schatz is the all-time winningest driver in the event with five career triumphs and his 19 career Outlaw wins trail only Steve Kinser for most by any driver at the famed half-mile dirt oval. Remarkable stats for a driver that failed to qualify for his first main event at the track.
His outlook on “The Grove” changed late in his fourth season with the Outlaws when he arrived at the 2000 National Open with veteran mechanic Kenny Woodruff turning the wrenches on his family-owned No. 15. Schatz recalls the guidance “KW” provided that weekend leading to one of the more memorable upsets in the biggest Sprint car race in the East. To this day, he points to lessons learned that weekend as key to his development as a driver.
At the time, Schatz was thrilled just to win a race at Williams Grove, but it was a victory that put him in elite company. He joined a virtual who’s who in Sprint car racing and includes numerous hall of famers that have won the prestigious National Open. The list begins with Gordon Johnock in 1963, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, ends with Stevie Smith, who won last year’s 40-lap thriller.
After winning the event for the second time in 2004, Schatz raced to victory for a third time in 2005 with Newville, Pennsylvania native Ricky Warner handling the crew chief responsibilities. It was the first marquee event win for the duo. The tandem has been extremely tough to beat since scoring 182 Outlaw triumphs. Eight of those wins have been at Williams Grove including two more National Opens in 2007 and 2012.
In this his 20th season of competing with “The Greatest Show on Dirt”, the number 20 continues to be significant for Schatz. On August 28, he won his 20th WoO A-Feature of the season at his hometown track of Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota and became the first driver in the 39-year history of the Outlaws to win 20 or more Outlaw main events in four consecutive seasons. If he can win this weekend’s National Open, he’ll reach 20 in a pair of categories. He has 19 career wins at the track, tying him for 19th all-time with Jan Opperman, Tommy Hinnershitz and Kramer Williamson. His childhood idol Doug Wolfgang is next in line with 20. With his July victory in the 33rd annual Kings Royal at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, Schatz now has 19 wins in the sport’s four most prestigious races – nine Knoxville Nationals, five National Opens, three Kings Royals and two Gold Cups.
Schatz is coming off his 23rd victory of the season last Saturday at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pennsylvania. His TSR crew of Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti continue to work on making improvements to the TSR No. 15 machine. The goal this weekend for the entire team is to improve on their previous Williams Grove finishes this season of third in May and fifth in both Summer Nationals main events.
The quest for an eighth WoO championship is down to eight more nights of racing. Schatz leads the WoO championship standings by 284 markers over Daryn Pittman. He also leads the series in top-fives with 55, top-10s with 70 and KSE Hard Charger Awards with 10.
For the second consecutive year, Mother Nature has become part of the equation at the National Open. Last year, rain forced officials to push the event to a one-night show on Sunday. Thursday’s opener this year has already been canceled and the plan is for the event to go on as scheduled Friday with a complete show of qualifying, heats and a 25-lap $10,000 A-Feature. The National Open finale will also include qualifying, heats and a 40-lap A-Feature paying $50,000 to the winner.
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.
Follow the TSR Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance team on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TonyStewart_Rcg, like on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TonyStewartRacing, follow on Instgram @TonyStewart_Rcg.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J:
Racing with the World of Outlaws has taken you to tracks all across the county. Williams Grove Speedway has been a staple on the schedule since your rookie year and a place where you’ve achieved a great deal of success. What kind of impact has racing at Williams Grove had on your career?
“It’s made a big impact. I wasn’t very good when I first raced there. That was 20 years ago and I think I even told someone back then that they should fill it up with water and test boats there. But that’s the way a young kid thinks. You have to get yourself out of that thinking. The place has a lot of history. It’s a great facility. It has a uniqueness and being able to adapt to that uniqueness is what separates you from other people. That’s what racing with the Outlaws is all about… being up to the challenge. Not just today, but each day throughout the week going to a different facility. I never really appreciated Williams Grove until I got to race there with someone like Kenny Woodruff, who had raced there for a long time. He helped me understand where you have to get after it and where you have to slow down and things you have to pay special attention to. Kenny really helped me get to where I felt comfortable there, which isn’t easy at place where you carry that much speed into the tighter turns if it slicks off or stays wet. Sometimes you have to drive out of control, so he really just instilled it in me. I got to the point where I really respected the place for its uniqueness. I felt fortunate to finally win a race there and it’s crazy how good I felt that night and couldn’t wait to get back there. I’ve felt that way ever since. I think that’s what’s brought me to where I am today…I went from not liking it to loving it in a few short years.”
Part of racing with the World of Outlaws is that you take everyone’s best shot when you come to town and compete at their tracks. The competition you face venturing to Central Pennsylvania is well documented. Do you and your team change your approach based on the competition?
“We really just try to worry about what we are doing. I’m sure the guys that have been doing well all year will be part of the equation this weekend. We hear who wins and see results. It’s really irrelevant though, because it’s not about what someone else does that is going to affect what we do ourselves. Our strategy has always been to simply focus on ourselves and the direction and adjustments we need to make ourselves. That’s the fun part about it. We don’t get caught up in things we can’t control and just dictate our own camp. We know we can be as good as anybody out there and that’s what you have to live and die by.”
This weekend you return to Williams Grove for the third time this season. How does the National Open rank?
“The National Open is definitely one of the key events of our season and probably one of the toughest ones we have because of competitiveness from the locals and the facility. I mean the racetrack is just crazy tricky, unique. Once you think you’ve learned something there one day, you can come back the next day and it’s not even close. That’s something that plays a big factor in how things play out at Williams Grove. The facility itself, to the way the track is shaped, whether you need to slow down and hit the bottom, or carry speed and slide across the middle…it’s a very tricky and very unique place. The weather plays a part in that as well. We try to stay on top of it and hopefully we can. It’s a really big race. The atmosphere is amazing and an event I’m extremely proud to be part of.”