Donny Schatz began his quest for his ninth career World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series Championship last weekend in Florida. Two wins in three races.
Of course, the question is: will Schatz be crowned the champion once again when we get to the World Finals in early November?
The easy and most likely answer of course is Yes.
Nobody can match Schatz’s win totals and consistency. Everybody gets hot during the season, but Schatz stays the course for the long 10-month season.
After a poor first night performance, Schatz was back on kill Sunday afternoon as he drove by defending All Star champion Chad Kemenah and on to his first win of the season. But, he topped that with a drive from 17th starting spot to steal one from David Gravel late in lapped traffic.
This is what makes Donny Schatz by far the best sprint car driver in the world right now.
Staying on top is tough, but the Tony Stewart Racing Team has been doing just that despite the fact that everybody’s goal in the pits is to beat the 15.
“We just focus on what we need to do,” said Schatz. “Me and Rick Warner have been together for 10 years and this group has been around here for a long time.”
The same guys have been members of the team since Schatz got there. It’s unheard of in sprint car racing, but that has undoubtedly led to their success.
“It’s more because all of us are fiery people,” he said. “We’re not scared to offend one of the other ones if we think something’s not right. We all have the same goals. We have four guys that have input and that helps make it very, very competitive.”
The amount of experience on the team is one in a million in this sport.
“You can’t do it; it’s crazy,” said Schatz. “Loyalty goes a long way in this sport. It took me a long time to learn that on my own. I’ve been racing J&J race cars and using Ron Shaver motors for 15 plus years and racing with Rick for 10 of them. You just build on something. We don’t believe in magic tricks. We believe in what works and what doesn’t work for you.”
But, Schatz has to balance staying ahead with sticking with what has worked in past.
“That’s like the other night when we ran 14th,” said Schatz. “You probably learn more and we were terrible and we know exactly why. We tried a wild shock combination and obviously it was horrendous. There will be somewhere along the line that it will work. It’s trial and error. You can’t get complacent and start to think you have it all figured out. You’ve got to keep trying things.”
Schatz is competitive wherever he races and whatever the conditions are such as his daytime win at Volusia.
“All of us are just fortunate to be out here and doing what we love to do,” said Schatz. “We’ve met a lot of great people over the years. To be competitive is the first thing. There’s not a person that can walk up and down the pit area and say they’re going to win a championship unless they are competitive every night. That’s the way it works. It’s the small things that make championships. Just because we’ve won eight of them doesn’t mean the ninth one is going to come. It’s a mental attitude you have to have.”
Schatz will have a Ford power plant under the hood eventually. For now, it is Ron Shaver power as it has been for years. Schatz said Ford must first make a block that conforms to the Outlaw Sprint Car rules. The Ford engines used in the late model series are not legal for the sprints. Schatz is running a Ford logo on the hood.
“There’s not a car in this pit area that has the other brand in it,” said Schatz. “It’s is a design off of the other brand. This is brand recognition and we’re proud to be representing their brand just like we are with Arctic Cat ATV’s.”
Schatz stayed in Florida racing his Late Model during that portion of the DIRTcar Nationals. Schatz also ran in the Chili Bowl for the first time and it sounds like he’ll be back.
“I had an absolute blast,” said Schatz. “I told people I’d never run the Chili Bowl. I’ll never say never again.”
JASON JOHNSON CONTINUES MOMENTUM
It has been over six months since Jason Johnson’s stirring win over Schatz in the Knoxville Nationals, but apparently that momentum has carried over into the early new season.
“For my self-confidence, I’ve been working really hard trying to figure these 410’s out,” said Johnson. “You’re racing with the best in the business. It’s tough. I’m proud to win a race.”
He started the year with a win and then a runner-up Sunday afternoon.
“When you want to come out and compete with these guys and try to contend for a championship you definitely want to start off on the right foot. It’s a long season, but you couldn’t ask for a better way to start.”
The Knoxville win is six months ago, but fresh in their minds.
“It has definitely built some momentum in between the guys,” he said. “They all believe in each other and in me as a driver. They did a great job that whole week. If we can execute that kind of work force night in and night out that is going to give us the ability to compete for wins.”
Only time will tell if Johnson is the one to knock off Schatz in the end.
“You’ve got to be good coast to coast and everywhere you go,” said Johnson. “A lot of it is mental. You’ve got to show up every night with your A-game. I’ve got to keep myself prepared mentally and the guys have to stay on top of things. We geared up for it. We built several Maxim cars over the winter and our engine program is really strong at the moment so all-in-all we have a great formula right now. We’ve got to keep everybody motivated and keep digging.”
“Rich and Jennifer have been a sponsor of our team through Priority Aviation for several years,” he said. “Richard wanted to get a little bit more involved. We joined ventures between the two of us. He has a lot to bring to JJR. We’re excited to have him as a business partner.”
His weekend ended bad though as he flipped in the finale.
FOUR BLOWN ENGINES FOR DAVID GRAVEL
David Gravel had a rough Friday night with three engine failures and four on the weekend, but did rebound as well.
“We’ve got to be consistent,” said Gravel about winning a championship. “You want to start off the year better than we did the other night. It’s a long season and he didn’t have the best night either. You have to be consistent and keep pushing forward no matter what. Last year, we got off to a bit of a slow start. Hopefully, we’ll have a faster start and get some momentum built up. We missed two shows last year and this year we have provisionals in play. He’s going to be really good.”
The team was still searching for answers on the engine issues.
“We don’t really know exactly,” said Gravel. “We haven’t really found anything that shows us that’s the issue. It’s not the engine builders fault. We had engines from last year and this year and they all broke. It’s something fuel-related. We took the fuel tank apart and didn’t find anything. We changed everything we could.”
One engine was really bad and the other three need rebuilt. A fresh supply of engines was delivered to the team by pick-up from Pennsylvania.
BRENT MARKS SET FOR ROOKIE YEAR
Pennsylvania’s Brent Marks began his rookie Outlaw campaign at VSP and had a solid top 10 in the afternoon show.
“I’m pretty happy with that,” said Marks. “That’s what our goals are to run top 10 here this week. We had a rough start and I’m happy to get a top 10. It was tricky. It was wet and heavy early and it was spotty with moisture spots and slick spots.”
“I’m excited,” he said “We’ve got to get through the west coast swing. I think we can compete with these guys.”
VOLUSIA NOTES: The Shark Racing Team had their truck break-down on the way to Florida. Sprint car driver Colby Womer drove Ryan Smith’s truck to North Carolina and picked up the team and they continued to Florida. They have a new trailer that they built themselves but no rear trailer lights yet.
Brian Brown doesn’t have many laps at Volusia but had a good weekend other than Sunday afternoon when a U-joint broke ending his day early. Brown had quick time Saturday night before it rained. He was getting help from his uncle Danny Lasoski, who is the all-time win leader at VSP. Lasoski was not racing.
Lucas Wolfe was second quick in both Sunday shows and had a solid fourth place finish in the finale. He drove Jim and Laura Allebach’s 5W in Florida, but will drive for Mike Barshinger in Pennsylvania. Wolfe was headed for the 360 Nationals at East Bay in the 5W.