For the first of three times this season, Donny Schatz is racing on his home turf this weekend.
The Fargo, ND native is leading the charge to River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, ND tomorrow night. The 3/10-mile oval located is just over an hour away away from his residence in West Fargo and has become his personal playground over the years in World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series competition.
The 10-time Series champion has dominated, winning 12 of 26 Features at the short track. His successes have spurred from his early days of growing up on the North Dakota tracks in the early 1990’s.
“I think you can attribute the success to everything from all of the laps to the confidence of being home,” Schatz said on his success at the track. “It’s always been a place that I’ve enjoyed going to ever since I first started racing in 1993. It’s a shorter track and the racing is really good. You can make things happen in a hurry and it’s still that way today.
More than anything, it’s just nice to be home for the 43-year-old. However, the potential of his 300th career victory coming in his home state isn’t lost on Schatz.
“It’s pretty exciting for me on all fronts,” Schatz mentioned on being back at home. “Anytime you can get in the state of North Dakota, it’s got this really upbeat feeling. I hope it’s a win for us. We could really use a win no matter where it’s at right now. There were a couple of times I thought ‘oh man, I’m gonna win #300 at Haubstadt of all places,’ but here we are. It’s a great opportunity to get that win at my home track.”
Overall, the 2021 season to this point has been a bit of a letdown. Schatz himself will admit that.
“It’s been anything like the way we wanted it to go, clearly, “Schatz admitted. “We’ve had DNF’s, we’ve had terrible runs, and they’ve put us in a bad position. It was to be expected in a way, though. We didn’t get the laps we needed last year with this engine and then throw all of the changes that happened over the fall and winter on top of that. We’ve worked through some of the same problems twice since changing engines builders.”
Albeit winless, Schatz has still pieced together a solid campaign. Through the first 27 events, his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, Carquest #15 sits fourth in the standings. They’ve led 89 laps, recorded seven podium appearances, 15 top-five results, 19 top-ten finishes.
The biggest change in their program has been the constant research and development of the new Ford Performance Stewart 410 (FPS410) engine.
“It’s tough to develop something like a new engine while you’re going to the races every night and trying to reach your own goals, take care of your sponsors, keep your guys motivated, and everything that comes with running for a championship,” Schatz spoke on the challenges of developing the FPS410.”
“It’s easy for someone like a Brian Brown or someone who doesn’t run the Outlaws full-time to go back and reset when things aren’t good,” Schatz elaborated. “They can home and re-group and do all of these things to back going. You don’t have that luxury when you race with the World of Outlaws. There is no reset button on the road.”
Slowly, but surely, Schatz and TSR are getting back to where they feel they belong, though. Since a rough spell throughout April, Schatz has rebounded with 12 top-tens in 14 races, including three runner-up results. They’ve clawed their way back from seventh-to-fourth in the title hunt with another 56 races remaining.
“I think at one point we were like 220 points out of the championship and we’ve cut that down by almost 100 points,” Schatz proudly said. “We haven’t really been all of that strong either, sure we’ve been consistently in the top-ten and there have been issues for others, but that’s where you have to start. You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run.
The resiliency Schatz and his crew are building is something he believes will be crucial come later in the season, when he hopes to contending for his 11th World of Outlaws championship.
“It may not look like it today, but this could pay off down the line in say two months,” Schatz said on the challenges they’ve faced. “That’s when this tough, resilient part of the season will shine through. I hope it’s in the middle of a championship battle. It’s all the nature of the beast. Sometimes we have to work through things we don’t want to, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The beginning stages of that pay off could come tomorrow night, when Schatz is back at River Cities. He’ll be the favorite to watch as he chases his 13th win at the track, his first of the season, and the 300th of his World of Outlaws career.
Following Friday’s North Dakota stop, Schatz and the rest of the Outlaws will head to Granite City Speedway in Sauk Rapids, MN on Saturday night, where Schatz is also a two-time winner.
Schatz will also return to North Dakota again in August, following the 60th running of the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals pres. by Casey’s General Stores. He’ll get another crack at River Cities Speedway on Friday, August 21, and then a chance at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo on Saturday, August 22.
Fans who can’t make it to the track can catch all of the action on DIRTVision with the annual Platinum FAST PASS subscription for $299/year or the monthly FAST PASS subscription for $39/month.