Photo Credit: DB3 Inc.
KNOXVILLE, Iowa (August 7, 2019) – The greatest four days in Sprint Car racing is finally upon us. Since 1961, drivers and teams from all corners of the country have flocked to the famed half-mile oval at the Marion County Fairgrounds in hopes of winning the prestigious Knoxville Nationals and having their name etched into history.
Schatz made his first trek to Knoxville Raceway for the Knoxville Nationals in 1993 in his family-owned Schatz Crossroads black No. 15. That year, he timed in 63rd quick out of 70 cars in the Thursday night program. The 16-year-old Minot, N.D. native finished sixth in the last chance heat race and failed to transfer to the C-Main by two positions. With his Nationals over, Schatz was awarded $75 for his efforts.
That night, the team made the 9-hour overnight haul to Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo, N.D. to race the next night. Schatz would go on to pick up his first-ever Sprint Car feature win that night against the WISSOTA Championship 360s.
It was a humbling start for a kid from North Dakota trying to make a career in Sprint Car racing.
Success at Sprint Car racing’s biggest event didn’t come overnight for Schatz. He wouldn’t make his first Nationals A-Main until his second full year on the World of Outlaws tour in 1998. In the 30-lap A-Main, Schatz drove from seventh to finish fourth.
From there, a string of heartbreaking runner-up finishes plauged Schatz. Schatz led 25 of the 30 laps in the 2000 Nationals before fading in the late going and finishing second to Mark Kinser. Schatz finished second four times between 2000 and 2005.
In his 13th Nationals appearance in 2006, he held off Joey Saldana to claim that elusive first Knoxville Nationals title and hasn’t let off the gas pedal since. Schatz went on to win the next four Nationals before winning five in a row from 2011-15. Now a 10-time Nationals champion, Schatz ranks second to the all-time Knoxville Nationals wins leader, Steve Kinser, who has 12.
Since 2000, Schatz has finished first or second in 17 of the last 19 Knoxville Nationals championship A-mains.
Schatz’s last Nationals title came in 2017 after holding off a hard-charging Kyle Larson in the closing stages. Schatz nearly claimed his 11th Nationals title last year, coming up a car length short to Brad Sweet at the checkers.
This is a special time of year for everyone in Sprint car racing. It has to feel good to come to a place where you’ve done some really good things over the past 10 to 15 seasons.
“It’s always bittersweet to come to Knoxville. It’s the biggest week of our whole year. Everyone who is part of our sport is here and a lot of people from other forms of motorsports are here just to take it all in. It’s the ultimate challenge. You can experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s the crown jewel of our sport. When it’s over, you know you don’t get to do it again until next year, and the focus then goes back to trying to win a World of Outlaws championship.”
Why is it so difficult to win the Knoxville Nationals?
“It’s hard to win any World of Outlaws race. The competition is so fierce every night we race. You show up at this race and everyone is on their game and gunning to be the one that leaves with the big trophy. We are no different. I’ve got three of the most competitive people working on my car and they want to win everything. Nothing beats hard work and preparation. We showed up trying to be prepared for any challenge we might be faced with. You have to take the Nationals one step at a time. First, you have to be prepared to succeed before you get here. That happens in the winter and all spring. Everyone is always working toward this race. When you get here, it’s about getting through your qualifying night and positioning yourself for Saturday. Qualifying is huge, transferring through your heat and then making your way forward in the qualifying feature, then you kind of just see where everything is at. We know it’s one race that’s really divided into two. We have a stop halfway through and you can make changes. Making the right changes is the key. Sometimes when you are leading at the halfway point of the race, when they do the pit stop, you’ve got everything to lose and nothing to gain. Everybody else is in that position where they can try to do something in order to make a big leap. You have to learn from your mistakes. That’s how I was able to win the Knoxville Nationals. I made mistakes and we ran second a lot of times and I had to learn how to overcome those before I could ultimately win it. I did everything I could last year. Maybe the track caught us a little by surprise, but it’s over with, you can’t dwell on it. Today is a new day. We are here to try to keep that from happening this go around.”
You’ve enjoyed a lot of success at the Knoxville Nationals over the years. If you had to pick your most memorable moments at the Nationals, what would they be?
“There are two that stick out. When you have never had that feeling of winning the Nationals, that first one is pretty incredible. But the way we did it in 2013 when we had to come through the B and then from 21st was probably our best performance. Those two stick out and the feeling was pretty similar for both of those. I know if I can win this year, I’m probably going to feel the same way. Hopefully, we can have that happen.”
2019 Stats (World of Outlaws):
Top Fives: 31
Top Tens: 42
Tony Stewart Racing: