Column By: NICK GRAZIANO / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – GRAND FORKS, ND – You can see a difference with Donny Schatz.
It’s in his swagger. It’s in his interviews. And, most notably, it’s in his stats with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.
Since July – in the last 18 races – Schatz has managed a 5.3 average finish, including a win at Weedsport Speedway and his 11th Knoxville Nationals title. In the 18 races prior, that average was 8.3 with no wins.
The 10-time Series champion of Fargo, ND and his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team will now carry that momentum into two of Schatz’s best tracks – also his home tracks – River Cities Speedway (Friday, Aug. 26) and Red River Valley Speedway (Saturday, Aug. 27).
Of active full-time Series drivers, Schatz has the most Series wins at both tracks with 12 at River Cities (the last coming in 2019) and six at Red River Valley (the last coming in 2021).
So, while already a threat at the two North Dakota circuits, Schatz now enters having finally found a comfortable package with the Ford FPS 410 engine, allowing he and the team to perfect their consistency.
“We’re able to work on the race car again,” Schatz said. “You know, the last… I don’t even know the timeline. We’ve been busy trying to get the motors to where I feel they need to be. We’ve been so focused on it that you don’t even work on your race car. Not that we don’t work on it, it’s just you focus on where you need to get the motors to be. That’s not a quick easy fix overnight.”
The FPS 410 debuted in late 2019 and has been an ongoing project since, trying to perfect the new engine from scratch. Its process was hindered by the pandemic in 2020, creating an issue with parts availability.
While Schatz still managed to pick up multiple wins with the engine, along with team-owner Tony Stewart and former teammate Kerry Madsen, the feel he needed from it wasn’t always consistent. With TSR scaling back to one team this year, solely focused on Schatz’s World of Outlaws efforts, progress emerged with the CARQUEST/Advance Auto Parts #15.
“It’s been a lot of years in the making,” Schatz said. “There’s been a lot of heartburn. There’s been a lot of swear words. There’s been a lot of things. But it’s also pretty rewarding to sit here right now and say that motor has won the Knoxville Nationals. It’s won a few races. We’ve had some great runs and some wins but to sit here and win one of the biggest races of the year, I’m pretty excited about it.
“There are all of us who have contributed to the downfalls of it. To start on something from paper with an idea from this guy to on a CAD program to whittle it out here. Then, everybody dealt with COVID. That changed the dynamics of where we got our parts made or where Ford got their parts made.”
While they’ve been finding success with it lately, Schatz added there’s still room for perfection.
“I don’t think we’re going to brag about how great it is day in and day out because we’ve gone to a lot of different racetracks and its always performed well on the bigger tracks,” he said. “It is getting to where I feel like it is good for me. That doesn’t mean it is going to be good for someone else. Obviously, Tony has had multiple cars in the past and one guy has liked it and one guy hasn’t. But I guess for us, as long as we can get back on the consistency wagon, which we have. We’re qualifying well. We can race better. And like [at Knoxville], we put ourselves back a ways and were able to come forward. I can tell you, it’s a fine line some nights. It gets really fine.”
Recently, Schatz finished fourth and sixth, respectively, during the Jackson Nationals at the Jackson Motorplex – a 4/10-mile track. This weekend will see the Series return to a couple of smaller tracks as River Cities is a 1/4-mile and Red River Valley is a 3/8-mile.
Schatz already has a win on a 3/8-mile this year at Weedsport and finished third at River Cities when the World of Outlaws visited the Grand Forks, ND track in June. Since the World of Outlaws started racing at River Cities in 2007, Schatz has finished worse than fourth two times – both seventh-place finishes – and hasn’t finished worse than fourth there since 2011.
With 22 races remaining this season before a champion is crowned during the World of Outlaws World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Nov. 2-5), Schatz currently sits fifth in points, 170 points behind championship leader Brad Sweet. While still in contention, Schatz acknowledged 170 points is a large hole to climb out of in 22 races.
“I’ve really got a different outlook on the championship at the point we’re at,” he said after winning the Knoxville Nationals. “We’ve dug ourselves a huge hole. We’ve dug out of holes before, but we’ve been in a lot better position. We’ve built back consistency, which is important. I don’t know if it will be enough to run for a championship, but I think we’ll be able to chip away at it.
“But we don’t race any different whether it is for a championship or not for a championship. I don’t anyway. I race the same against [my competitors] whether we’re 10th or the first race or the last race of the season. I think that’s the difference with the Outlaw guys. They race that way all the time, 100 percent.”
While you may see a difference in Schatz from how he was earlier in the year, there’s been no change in his drive to win.
He’ll continue that this weekend for the 2nd Leg of the Northern Tour at River Cities Speedway, Friday, Aug. 26, and for the Duel in the Dakotas at Red River Valley Speedway, Saturday, Aug. 27.