Throughout his 20-year career with the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series, Tony Stewart-Curb Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz has always believed getting that first Outlaw win of the season was the hardest. The eight-time and reigning WoO champion got that out of the way in the season’s second event Sunday afternoon during the 46th annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida. And he didn’t stop there. The driver of the TSR No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J became only third driver in Outlaw history to win two WoO A-Feature triumphs on the same day after racing from 17th to first in Sunday night’s finale.
“This Arctic Cat/Ford Performance team that Tony (Stewart) has assembled is incredible,” said Schatz following the team’s fifth triumph in eight 2017 starts. “Last year, things didn’t get off to the best start for us and we ended up having to dig ourselves out of a big hole. After finishing 14th to open the Outlaw season Friday, we learned some things that didn’t work and you have to be willing to try things. We knew we would be better Saturday, but the weather forced us to run two races in one day. I know how much pride my guys – Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti – take in giving me a car that I can really maneuver. In the afternoon race, we were out front all day and, tonight, we had to come from a long way back because of qualifying. No one gave up and we just kept plugging away. We know the results from Florida don’t guarantee us anything as far as the rest of the year goes, but I do know how great these guys on this team want to be and they proved that down here these past two weeks.”
After opening the 2017 season with two wins and a second-place finish in the Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions-sanctioned Bubba Army Winter Nationals last weekend, Schatz picked right up where he left off the first two nights of the DIRTcar Nationals. He won Wednesday’s All-Star opener at Volusia and finished second Thursday night leading into Friday’s World of Outlaws 2017 season opener. It marked the 21st consecutive season the Fargo, North Dakota racer was part of the Outlaws’ opening night field.
Schatz was the 29th car in the 36-car field to make a qualifying lap around the half-mile, dirt oval and, after qualifying 24th overall, the evening was an uphill climb. He raced from sixth to fourth in heat four to transfer into the A-Feature. Starting 16th in the 30-lap A-Feature, Schatz searched the track early looking for ways to advance in the field. Contact with Mark Dobmeier on the frontstretch during lap 11 flattened his left-front tire and sent him into the pit area. The TSR crew replaced the wheel and Schatz rejoined the field 22nd. He climbed inside the top-15 on lap 18 and he ultimately finished 14th.
In each of the previous three DIRTcar Nationals, Schatz raced to victory in the Outlaws’ second race and he and his team were looking to bounce back and continue that streak Saturday. Unfortunately, an early evening rain shower and persistent drizzle that followed forced WoO officials to postpone the event until Sunday afternoon. The team came out swinging Sunday with Schatz posting the third-best qualifying lap before he dominated the third heat race. He started on the front row of the Craftsman Club Dash and led all six laps to earn his first pole position of the season. After battling with Chad Kemenah on the opening lap for the lead, Schatz held second during the first 10 laps and methodically closed in on Kemenah lap after lap. He took the lead following a restart on lap 13 and paced the field the rest of the way to earn his first WoO A-feature of the season and 230th of his career.
The victory lane celebration didn’t last long for the Arctic Cat/Ford Performance team. With only two hours to do its regular car maintenance, the crew worked feverishly to prepare the TSR 15 machine for Sunday’s finale and Schatz fired the motor just after 6:30 p.m. He was frustrated that his qualifying lap ended up 17th on the board in the field of 36 cars and equally frustrated his move to pass Joey Saldana for fourth on the final lap of the opening heat was ruled to be a tie and Saldana was given the spot. The challenge for the team in the 30-lap A-Feature was to put a car under Schatz that would allow him to race all over the track, and Schatz was on the move from the drop of the green. He raced his way from 17th to 11th in the first two laps. After a lengthy red flag resulting from an accident in which one of the racecars ended up landing outside the track, Schatz continued his drive to the front. He could run the bottom, middle and top grooves and, lap after lap, his climb continued. On lap 11, he advanced from sixth to fourth passing Friday night’s winner Jason Johnson and Sunday’s fast qualifier Brian Brown. He took second from Lucas Wolfe on lap 16 and then set his sights on leader David Gravel. He pulled even with Gravel coming out of turn four five laps later, but Gravel took his line away heading into turn one. Schatz then dealt with the lapped car of Saldana for a number of laps before ultimately clearing him with only four laps to go. Gravel was dealing with more lapped traffic and Schatz took advantage. He pulled even with Gravel on the bottom heading out of turn two and seized the top spot heading into turn three. Schatz took the white flag and drove away on the final circuit to score the win.
With his victory in the finale, Schatz joined WoO legends Sammy and Jeff Swindell as the only drivers in the series’ 40-year history to win two WoO races on the same day. The victory was his 10th career WoO A-Feature win at Volusia Speedway Park, most of any driver, and moved him to the top of the WoO championship standings with three of 93 nights of action in the books.
Schatz and his TSR team will resume the Outlaws’ campaign in Texas March 3 and 4, beginning a 15-race kickoff tour with races at LoneStar Speedway in Kilgore and at the Gator Motorplex in Willis.