Column By: ALEX NIETEN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – GRAND FORKS, ND – The home stretch of the 2023 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car season heats up this week with two nights in North Dakota.
The Greatest Show on Dirt’s final trip through “The Peace Garden State” first brings a visit to one of the country’s most exciting bullrings – River Cities Speedway – in Grand Forks, ND on Friday, Aug. 25 for the Gerdau Presents The 2nd Led of The Northern Tour.
The next night an 80-mile drive to the south leads the tour to West Fargo, ND’s Red River Valley Speedway where the track hosts the Gerdau Presents The Duel in The Dakotas.
So many factors contribute to make this a weekend that promises to deliver a ton of action. The hotly contested championship battle ramps up with each passing race as points become more and more important. Of all the hundreds of tracks that longtime Series announcer – Johnny Gibson – has visited, he calls River Cities his favorite because of intense racing it always produces. And Red River Valley has seen its share of barn burners as well.
Let’s look at the weekend’s top storylines:
EVEN MORE MOVEMENT: The battling at the top of the World of Outlaws standings will not slow down. The latest jockeying is Carson Macedo rising into the second position after a strong weekend at Jackson Motorplex. A 50-point gap sits between Macedo and current points leader – Brad Sweet.
Looking at who may have an advantage between the top two in North Dakota, Sweet owns the edge at River Cities with a remarkable eight podiums in his last 12 starts including a pair of wins. Macedo has been solid with a win and five top fives in seven starts but hasn’t quite matched “The Big Cat’s” recent consistency.
The nod goes to Macedo when it comes to Red River Valley success. In three Series starts at the West Fargo facility, Macedo hasn’t finished worse than eighth and won last year. Sweet is yet to visit Victory Lane there but does own a pair of runner-ups – one with the World of Outlaws (2020) and the other with the All-Star Circuit of Champions (2011).
BIG GAME BOUNCEBACK: Last week at the Jackson Nationals was a tough trio of races for David Gravel and Big Game Motorsports. Gravel missed the top 10 in three consecutive races for the first time in four years. The championship contender slipped a spot to third in points, but he’ll be looking to bounce back over the North Dakota weekend.
Gravel enters as the most recent River Cities victor, topping the June race, and owns a 3.6 average finish in his last seven starts at the bullring.
The Watertown, CT native has never been to Victory Lane at Red River Valley, but he’s been in the top five in his two most recent attempts including a 2021 second place run. Gravel also podiumed there in 2011 with the All Stars.
HEADIN’ HOME: The final trip to North Dakota for the year means the final opportunity for Donny Schatz to race in front of his home state fans. The Saturday visit to Red River Valley is especially meaningful for Schatz as its where he grew up watching races and made his World of Outlaws debut in 1993.
The 10-time Series champion has been plenty prolific at the pair of tracks on the schedule this weekend. The two ovals have combined to account for 18 of his 310 career Series triumph – 12 at River Cities and six at Red River Valley.
Schatz’s résumé is especially remarkable at River Cities. In 30 career World of Outlaws starts, not only does he own the dozen victories, but he’s also picked up 21 podiums and never finished worse than eighth.
Saturday will be a special night for Schatz for a reason beyond driving a Sprint Car, too. The support class, IMCA RaceSaver Sprint Cars, will be partaking in the inaugural Danny Schatz Memorial to honor Schatz’s father who passed away last year. Danny was a hugely impactful figure for his son in both life and racing.
A HOT START: Plenty of eyes were on Shark Racing last weekend in Jackson, MN as Tanner Holmes began his time on the World of Outlaws tour behind the wheel of the #1T. And the Jacksonville, OR native took no time getting acclimated to his new seat.
Holmes began the trio of races with his first career Simpson QuickTime on Thursday and followed it with his first Series podium in the Feature. The next two nights saw him post top 10s to earn his first three World of Outlaws top 10 finishes consecutively.
Those impressive results came during his Jackson Motorplex debut, and Holmes will look to maintain momentum this weekend at two more new tracks in River Cities and Red River Valley.
ROBBIE’S ROLL: It was this very same weekend last year that kicked off Robbie Price’s strongest stretch of the season after taking over driving duties of the Sides Motorsports #7S.
First, he posted his third top 15 of 2022 at River Cities. Then the next night at Red River Valley, Sides came away with his first career Series top five. That led to two more top 15s and another run within the top five at Skagit Speedway the following week.
Now in his first full campaign, Price already owns two more top 10s than he did at this point last year and looks for another boost in North Dakota before heading to the west coast.
NOSA NAMES: As always when The Greatest Show on Dirt invades North Dakota, there will be a handful of routine competitors with the Northern Outlaw Sprint Association (NOSA) looking to impress on a national level.
Mark Dobmeier stands out as the obvious candidate for a strong showing. River Cities is his home track, and he’s already added four wins to his lengthy list of victories there this season including against a stout field when the Interstate Racing Association (IRA) came to town.
Another trio of Grand Forks, ND natives in Brendan Mullen, Austin Pierce, and Jade Hastings have also been to River Cities Victory Lane with NOSA this year and are likely to face off against the country’s best drivers this weekend.