Tony Stewart-Curb/Agajanian Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz and the Arctic Cat/Ford Performance team were looking to add the 64th annual Gold Cup Race of Champions to their 2017 list of accomplishments last weekend when they returned to California for the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series’ second venture of the season into the Golden State. The current WoO championship points leader wasn’t able to battle for the win Friday or Saturday night, but he put on a show behind the wheel of the TSR No. 15 Texton/Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J, charging from 25th to ninth Friday and 25th to 11th Saturday.
It was the 21st Gold Cup Race of Champions for Schatz, who first competed in the prestigious event as a WoO rookie back in 1997.
The two-time Gold Cup champion led the traveling Sprint car stars to the quarter-mile, dirt oval with an eye on adding the Gold Cup to the team’s already impressive list of victories this season, which includes the Kings Royal, Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup and the Knoxville Nationals.
Schatz was one of 40 competitors chasing gold in Chico starting Friday night in the opener. He was the eighth car to make a qualifying lap and his time of 11.748 seconds ranked 16th in the first group. An extremely fast racing surface put a premium on passing, which didn’t help the chances of Schatz. He started eighth in the second heat and needed to reach fifth to transfer into the 30-lap A-Feature. But he was only able to advance one position in the 10-lap heat race. Schatz started 12th in the 12-lap Last Chance Showdown and was able to move forward climbing up to sixth, but he fell two positions short of gaining a transfer spot. The eight-time and reigning WoO champion utilized a provisional starting spot in the A-Feature and was on the move quickly. He passed five cars on the opening lap and two more on lap two. Six laps into the race, he was up to 15th and he continued his ascent during the next nine laps before a caution slowed his charge. He worked his way up to eighth on the lap-16 restart and held the position until the final lap, when David Gravel was able to get past him. Schatz finished ninth to increase his run of consecutive top-10 finishes to 27.
Kyle Hirst won the feature event to score his first career WoO A-Feature triumph.
The team returned Saturday night looking to improve during another complete program. Schatz was the 21st car to make a qualifying lap and first in the second qualifying group. The track surface was extremely wet during warmups and that continued in qualifying. Schatz posted a lap of 12.077 seconds and once again ended up 16th in his group. He started eighth in the fourth heat and finished seventh. Another charge from 12th to sixth in the Last Chance Showdown wasn’t enough to transfer him directly into the 40-lap A-Feature. The team utilized their final provisional starting position of the season and Schatz dealt with early contact from Jonathan Allard before making his run to the top-10. By lap 29, he was up to 14th and, four laps later, he reached 10th. Schatz battled Logan Schuchart on the final lap, with Schuchart taking the spot and Schatz finishing 11th. The charge from 25th to 11th earned Schatz his second KSE Hard Charger Award of the season.
Shane Stewart outdueled Justin Sanders to earn his first career Gold Cup triumph and eighth of the season.
Despite passing a total of 30 cars in two A-Feature programs, Schatz wasn’t able to build on his lead in the 2017 WoO Championship standings. He now has 9,230 points and leads Brad Sweet by 90 markers. With 70 of the 92 scheduled races complete, Schatz continues to lead the series in wins with 17 and top-fives with 51. He and Sweet are tied for most top-10s with 59.
The two-night Outlaw Wine Country Showdown at Calistoga Speedway closes out the Outlaws’ California tour for 2017 this weekend. Schatz scored his first triumph at the picturesque half-mile, dirt oval when he raced to victory in the 2005 Harvest Classic. He also was victorious at the track in September 2012 and won the Outlaws’ most recent stop at the track in April 2015.