Tony Stewart couldn’t have written a better script than what played out over the weekend in the 34th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. One of the crown jewels in Sprint car racing was won by Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz in front of a record crowd at the facility in which Stewart takes incredible pride.
Schatz, the reigning World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series (WoO) champion and his TSR crew were impressive Saturday from start to finish. The driver of the TSR No. 15 Textron Off Road/Arctic Cat/Ford Performance-backed J&J was the fastest qualifier in the field of 53 cars, charged from fifth to first in the opening heat and, after starting the 40-lap A-Feature sixth, he chased down early leader Cole Duncan and took the lead on lap 14 before driving off to score his fourth career Kings Royal victory and becoming the first driver ever to score consecutive wins in the prestigious event.
“Any time you can do anything that Steve Kinser hasn’t done is incredible,” Schatz said following his 14th WoO victory and 17th overall of 2017. “It goes back to the guy who owns this team and this racetrack. Tony (Stewart) has surrounded me with great people. Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti have the utmost pride and passion in giving me a car capable of doing what we did. It’s pretty cool to put Textron in victory lane the first weekend they are on the car. We’re excited to be working with them, as well as Ford Performance and Mike Curb. I can’t wait to get to the next race and keep on going.”
The energy was palpable early Saturday evening with the buildup of the first of the major Sprint car race of 2017 ready to unfold and begin the annual “Month of Money.” The fans were treated to thrilling 30-lap A-Feature Friday night with Christopher Bell racing the TSR No. 14 Arctic Cat/Curb J&J to his first Eldora WoO win after a spirited late-race battle with Schatz to give TSR its second one-two finish of the season. Earlier this season, Schatz raced to an Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions victory at Volusia Speedway Park and was followed by Kyle Larson. Those in attendance who anticipated another memorable evening were not disappointed.
Schatz was the first car to make a qualifying lap and his time of 13.197 seconds was the fastest clocked in the field. The Kings Royal format is not the traditional WoO scenario, in which the fast cars start up front. Instead, the heat races were inverted by five cars and only the top three were rewarded with transfers to the Kings Royal A-Feature. Schatz followed Rico Abreu early in the opening heat until lap four and then passed Brady Bacon two laps later to climb into third before setting his sights on second-place Ryan Smith. He was gaining on Smith when a caution for an incident involving Bacon provided a late opportunity. Schatz took advantage and surged around both Smith and leader Lee Jacobs to earn the win and the sixth starting position in the A-Feature.
Duncan and Sweet led the field to the green with Duncan setting the early pace. Schatz took fourth early by passing Jac Haudenschild and then zeroed in on Sheldon Haudenschild for third. He overtook Sheldon on lap six and continued his pursuit of Duncan and Sweet for the next seven laps before moving into second on lap 13. The next lap, he dove under Duncan coming out of turn two to take the lead. He pulled away from Duncan and drove away during continued to build his lead. At one point, he held a nearly eight-second advantage over Sweet. Bell surged past Sweet with a handful of laps remaining but was almost four seconds behind when Schatz took the checkered flag.
Weekend Race Notes:
- Mother Nature pushed back the start of the weekend with an early evening rain shower forcing Thursday’s Joker’s Wild program to be delayed until approximately 10 p.m. The track was extremely fast through the program of six heats, a D-, C- and B-Feature, two Craftsman Club Dashes and the 30-lap A-Feature. Kerry Madsen and Brad Sweet shared the front row and finished first and second. Schatz started ninth and finished ninth.
• Schatz was the fastest qualifier overall in Friday’s Knight Before the Kings Royal program. His lap of 13.057 seconds topped Group B in qualifying and was faster than Jason Johnson’s lap of 13.216 seconds which was best in Group A.
- In Friday’s A-Feature, Schatz started sixth and passed Madsen for third on lap 18. He battled Sweet for two laps before moving into second on lap 20. A caution took Bell out of traffic and Schatz made a run at him following a lap-21 restart. Schatz was credited with leading lap 22, but they raced side by side on lap 23 and Bell was able to lead the final seven laps to secure the win.
- Friday’s result marked the third consecutive season that Schatz finished second in the Knight Before the Kings Royal A-Feature.
- By winning the first heat Saturday night, Schatz qualified for his 22nd consecutive Kings Royal main event. Only Jac Haudenschild and Joey Saldana have longer current streaks (23).
• With the victory, Schatz became only the second driver to win the Kings Royal four times. Steve Kinser, who was part of the victory lane ceremony Saturday, won the first Kings Royal in 1984 and scored a total of seven wins in the event.
Saturday’s program only provided WoO teams with participation points since the event follows a format that differs from the regular WoO program. Schatz continues to the lead the 2017 WoO championship standings and has a 62-point advantage over Sweet.
The Month of Money continues with the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pennsylvania on Tuesday night. Schatz won the event in 2006 and 2007 outright before earning the top spot in the Twin 30s program in 2010, 2013 and 2014. Last year, the event returned to a single-feature format in which the 40-lap A-Feature pays $25,000 to the winner. The tour will then head east down the Pennsylvania Turnpike for its second battle with the “PA Posse” at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg. The two-night Summer Nationals Friday and Saturday at the famed, half-mile, dirt oval will conclude with Saturday’s $20,000-to-win 30-lap A-Feature. Schatz is a four-time Summer Nationals champion, scoring wins in 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2013. The week concludes with the Outlaws’ annual late-July trek to Upstate New York with a stop at Ransomville Speedway Sunday.