INDIANAPOLIS (April 12, 2017) – Making history isn’t something eight-time and reigning World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz is concerned about, but appreciating it certainly is. For more than half of his life, the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing driver has chased his dream of competing with “The Greatest Show on Dirt,” a series that was created by the late Ted Johnson 40 years ago and started at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas.
This weekend, Schatz and his Arctic Cat/Ford Performance-backed team lead the Outlaws back to Devil’s Bowl, where Johnson first staged an “Outlaw” race in March of 1978. The two-night Texas Outlaw Nationals provides Schatz an opportunity to continue his quest for a ninth WoO title while competing to win a second Ted Johnson Memorial race trophy.
Since the beginning of 1997, Schatz has realized his dream of being an Outlaw, climbing the ranks from teenage rookie to one of the most decorated drivers in series history. In typical World of Outlaws fashion, his journey has been filled with a lot of ups and downs along the way.
Johnson was a major influence on Schatz during the formative years of his Outlaw career. It was a role Johnson believed was necessary in order to continue building the Outlaw legacy. And it was something he did with a number of the series’ stars from its inception. That all began when Johnson convinced the late Lanny Edwards to stage a $2,000-to-win show at Devil’s Bowl to start the 1978 season. Johnson envisioned it being the first race of a season-long series that would crown a champion at the end. Not many people thought the Sprint-car-fan-turned-race promoter could make it all work. Word spread quickly after 96 cars showed up at Devil’s Bowl that March and soon Johnson was able to book races at Eldora Speedway and all the major tracks across the country. Ultimately, it did work that season and some kid from Indiana named Steve Kinser earned the most points that season and was dubbed “King of the Outlaws.” Sprint car history was never the same.
While Schatz was growing up in North Dakota, Johnson was building the series bigger and bigger every year with Kinser, Sammy Swindell and Doug Wolfgang battling it out from coast to coast. More and more tracks like Devil’s Bowl became regular stops on the tour during the first two decades, including Red River Valley Speedway in Fargo. This is where is all started for Schatz – his first taste of what the Outlaws were all about.
Just over 10 years later, Schatz was trying to become an Outlaw, making his debut at Devil’s Bowl in the spring of 1997. If he was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it when he made his first official laps with the Outlaws around the half-mile, dirt oval. Instead, he offered a glimpse of what was ahead for the future series champion by qualifying sixth in the field of 50 cars. The following season, he battled Kinser for the Spring Nationals victory before finishing second to “The King of the Outlaws.” For the first six seasons of his Outlaw career, Schatz raced at Devil’s Bowl twice annually with the Spring Nationals being held early each season and the Winter Nationals late in the campaign. In 2014, the Outlaws ended an 11-year hiatus and ventured back to Devil’s Bowl, where Schatz made his return memorable by racing to his first career victory at the track and his historic 150th WoO A-Feature triumph of his career. He scored the Ted Johnson Memorial race victory one year later after out-dueling Shane Stewart in the 30-lap main event. Last spring, Schatz charged from 19th to eighth in the Texas Outlaws Nationals opener and raced from 13th to fifth in the Ted Johnson Memorial race.
WoO wins are always the goal and, anytime they come in Texas, it’s big. Schatz earned his first Texas triumph during his third season on the tour in March 1999. He raced to victory at Battleground Speedway just outside of Houston that night to earn his second career WoO A-Feature win. Six years later, Schatz was victorious at Houston Raceway Park near Baytown and won there again in March 2007. His two triumphs at Devil’s Bowl increased his win total in the state to five and, earlier this season, Schatz pushed that number to six with a clean sweep at LoneStar Speedway in Kilgore. The sweep included Schatz pacing the field in qualifying behind the wheel of the TSR No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J, leading every lap of his heat, the dash and 30-lap A-Feature.
Following his victory at LoneStar, Schatz was en route to the Gator Motorplex in Willis, Texas where the Outlaws were scheduled to make their debut March 4. Persistent rain forced WoO officials to postpone the event until Thursday. Schatz will be looking to add the Gator Motorplex to the list of 81 different tracks where he’s amassed his 235 career WoO A-Feature triumphs.
Schatz enters this week’s action with a 72-point lead in the WoO championship standings. Through 14 of the 92 scheduled races, he has a series-best six victories and 10 top-five finishes. He will carry a streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes into Thursday’s event.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J:
The WoO schedule is filled with stops at tradition-filled tracks. This week, you return to Devil’s Bowl Speedway, where the Outlaws officially started. How important is it for the series to continue racing at venues like Devil’s Bowl?
“Racing at places like Devil’s Bowl is a huge part of this sport’s heritage. It’s crazy to think that 40 years ago Ted Johnson organized an event hoping to attract all the top Sprint car drivers. They showed up and it started what we all now know to be the World of Outlaws. It’s my life. It’s a lot of people’s life, and we all owe it to Ted and the tracks that took a chance. Lanny Edwards was one of those guys and Devil’s Bowl is a huge part of the history of the Outlaws. When we first started racing, that was one of the things you looked forward to – going to all the places you had heard about. Knoxville. Eldora. Williams Grove. Devil’s Bowl. Chico. Places you knew were going to be tough, but places where you wanted to someday become successful. We raced a lot at Devil’s Bowl early in my career and then stopped for a while. When we started going back there a few years ago, I really appreciated that chance. Some of those fans who were there that night were there that first-ever Outlaw race back in 1978. You want to reward those people and help carry the tradition on to their kids and grandkids, keep building fans and putting on the best show we can. I’m really looking forward to this weekend and racing at all the historic places on our schedule for many years to come.”
Thursday night’s race at Gator Motorplex will be the 15th of the season. What have you learned about the 2017 season so far?
“We’ve learned that you have to work extremely hard for everything you get out on the road with the Outlaws. I can’t thank Tony (Stewart) enough for putting together an incredible group of people to surround me with. We have new partners in Arctic Cat and Ford Performance this year who have really jumped on board and got behind us. My crew of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti work extremely hard every night to give me a fast racecar. Our goals are still the same as they were when we left for Florida to start the season two months ago. We are out here to win races. We are out here to learn as much as we can every night and try to find ways to improve. You do that by trying things. You do that by figuring out different ways to do things. We’ve got three races this week to see if we can find ways to get better. It starts Thursday in Willis, where we haven’t been, so we’re excited about that new challenge, and then we get to go back to Devil’s Bowl and get back on a bigger track for the first time in quite a while. That’s another challenge we’re looking forward to. In this sport, I’ve always believed you have to keep looking forward. The next race is the most important one.”