Column By: BRIAN WALKER / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – PEVELY, MO – Since 2009, the first weekend of August has been resevered for one of the most grueling and challenging races on the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series schedule – the Ironman 55 presented by Festus Tourism Commission.
That tradition remains the same this year as The Greatest Show on Dirt heads for Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 this Friday and Saturday, August 5-6. The two-day stop in Pevely, MO is capped off with a $20,000-to-win, 55-lap Feature that tests the durability of these 900+ horsepower beasts and the strength of the brave pilots that control them.
Leading the charge into this weekend is championship contenders Brad Sweet and David Gravel, who are both chasing their first conquest of the Ironman 55. Three of the favorites, however, are Sheldon Haudenschild, Logan Schuchart, and Rico Abreu, all former champions with experience lifting the dumbbell prize at I-55.
Here’s what to watch for this weekend:
WEIGHT LIFTERS: A trio of former Ironman 55 champions will be in attendance hoping to extend their legacies at the Pevely, MO bullring. Two of them (Haudenschild, Abreu) have a chance at matching Craig Dollansky’s all-time record of three titles, while another (Schuchart) is looking to become the fourth multi-time winner through 14 runnings.
Following a disappointing weekend, I-55 presents the perfect pick-me-up for Sheldon Haudenschild and Stenhouse Jr. / Marshall Racing. The Wooster, OH native has earned four of his 30 career World of Outlaws wins in Pevely, MO, including the 2019 and 2021 Ironman 55. The NOS Energy Drink #17 is arguably the betting favorite this weekend as they chase redemption and a ninth win in the 2022 season.
Fresh off a victory at Knoxville (IA) Raceway against the All Star Circuit of Champions, Rico Abreu collected some major momentum ahead of the Ironman 55. The St. Helena, CA native topped back-to-back runnings in 2016 and 2017, earning two of his eight career World of Outlaws wins at the bullring he’s grown to love so much. He’s feeling good with “Tricky” Ricky Warner on the wrenches of the Rowdy #24 and hopes to end his 110-race winless streak with the Series that dates back to 2018.
Logan Schuchart, of Hanover, PA, is hoping to join Haudenschild and Abreu in the two title department of the Ironman 55. The Shark Racing star topped the 55-lapper in 2018, returned to contention last year when he advanced from 14th to fourth, and nearly stole April’s Pevely show from Carson Macedo in the closing laps. The DuraMAX Oil, Drydene Performance Products #1S team ended a month-long absence from the podium on Sunday, and now vyes for their first win since Bristol (TN) Motor Speedway on April 29.
BRAD VS. DAVID: The latter half of July had a massive impact on the championship standings as the battle shifted from four drivers within -100 points from the lead to only one driver in that category. Brad Sweet, of Grass Valley, CA, continues to hold the top spot in the Kasey Kahne Racing, NAPA Auto Parts #49 as he has since March in pursuit of a fourth consecutive World of Outlaws championship.
However, behind him in second, and back by only -36 points, is David Gravel aboard the Big Game Motorsports #2. The Watertown, CT native has won three of the last nine races and averaged a Series-best 5.0 finish throughout 13 races in the month of July. The 30-year-old veteran recorded a runner-up effort in the standings last year and now is arguably in the best shape of his career to dethrone Sweet for the $200,000 championship.
COWBOY UP: When the World of Outlaws last visited I-55 for a one-night offering in April, a first-time winner rose to the occasion with Carson Macedo in the Jason Johnson Racing, Albaugh #41. It was a rough and tough race with the winged warriors slicing and dicing across a treacherous surface impacted by rain on the newly-presented clay. The Lemoore, CA native led all 35 laps of that one and now pursues his first Ironman 55 title this weekend.
It’s been almost four months since then and the track crew has done an exceptional job working the new soil into the surface and studying its tendencies. In June, the Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Car Series presented by Low-E Insulation slid across a “smooth as glass” layout during their stop. Fans should expect plenty of thrilling battles from top-to-bottom presenting a jaw-dropping show that the Ironman is used to providing.
AWESOME IN AUGUST: When the month of August rolls around, Donny Schatz and Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing traditionally seem to find speed on a consistent basis more than anyone else. The 10-time Series champion is fresh off his second win of the season at Weedsport and he’s won at all five venues on the docket this month.
The Fargo, ND native is a two-time winner at I-55, but he’ll be chasing his first triumph in the Ironman 55 this weekend. The focus then turns to chase an 11th Knoxville Nationals title before vying for more money at the Jackson Nationals, and then returning to his home state of North Dakota where he’s dominated River Cities Speedway and Red River Valley Speedway.
With another 30+ races remaining on the 2022 schedule, Schatz has clawed his way back to fifth in the standings (-172 points) and still sits within a reasonable range to make a comeback for his 11th World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship.
GETTING XTREME: Joining the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series this weekend to make it an open-wheel-only doubleheader is the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota, held in conjunction with the POWRi National Midget League.
Several drivers including Michael Pickens (Auckland, NZ), Joe B. Miller (Millersville, MO), and Jake Neuman (New Berlin, IL) are candidates to potentially pull double duty with four Features in two nights at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55.