Donny Schatz has been flying around race tracks for the last 11 years with the World of Outlaws, but that is not the only flying he does. Five years ago he obtained his pilot’s license and flies himself to a majority of the events that he competes in each season.
He began to study flight when he was 15 years old and did a lot of the groundwork required to take the next step in attaining a pilot’s license, which was flight lessons with an instructor and ultimately flying solo. A number of years passed before he completed the process to obtain his license, during which he traveled the World of Outlaws circuit in a motorhome, driving tens of thousands of miles a year.
One of the leading factors in his decision to finish his pilot’s license was that he wanted to spend more time with his family in Fargo when he was not racing. With most of the World of Outlaws races hundreds or even thousands of miles from his home town, it was not easy for Schatz to drive home in between events. Another factor that played into his decision to finish the required work for his license was that his father Danny had been a pilot for over 30 years.
“I came to a point where I realized I had seen the country a couple of times and I was ready to spend a lot of time at home,” said Schatz, driver of the ParkerStore J&J. “It’s a rigorous thing, but it’s a good thing to have. It helps you keep a clear mind during the week being able to be at home. It’s not all glamorous like everyone thinks, but it has its perks.”
Schatz is quick to point out that there are many similarities that exist between flying an airplane and driving an 850-horsepower sprint car. He is able to apply many of the lessons he has learned in racing when he is flying a plane and vice versa, especially when dealing with weather conditions such as high winds. The reflexes needed for flying and racing complement each other greatly.
“Airplanes are not fool-proof,” he said. “There are times when you have to make quick reactions and make it like second nature. You do instrument approaches, meaning you can’t see and you have to fly by gauges all the way to the ground. There is a sense of nervousness when you are in there. There is nothing you can do about it until you get in those situations. It is just like it is in racing. You have to make decisions, and you have to make them right and you have to make them smart. Reaction means everything.”
In the spring of 2006, Schatz was able to fly with the Blue Angels prior to the event at The Dirt Track @ Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For years, he had marveled at their skill and was honored to get the opportunity to experience first-hand their flying prowess. When explaining what it was like to fly with the famed squad, he still shakes his heads in awe of the sheer speed they attain and the maneuvers that exhibit.
“For me it was a thrill and also one of the biggest scares I have ever had in my life,” he admitted. “It is so vigorously hard on your body that I don’t know how anyone can possibly physically go through it without a G-suit. The things they can do are awesome, but it’s so hard on your body. When I got out of that plane, I felt like I had been rung out like a wet washcloth for 20 hours. It’s exciting and it’s scary. Those guys are definitely in top physical condition and they know how to control the blood in their body.”
The majority of flying that the reigning World of Outlaws champion does is in his family’s plane, though he does still fly as a passenger on commercial jetliners on occasion. During his annual trip to Australia to compete in the off-season, Schatz flies commercial. He points out that flying commercial has drastically changed over the years, and he prefers to fly himself on his own schedule when he is able to.
“It’s like having a backseat driver in a car, you always feel like you would be better if you were driving or in this case flying,” explained Schatz of the times he is a passenger in a plane. “When my dad flies, and he is a very good pilot, I feel like I would be safer if I was flying. I probably feel the same way on a commercial airliner.”
Schatz won’t have to fly this weekend to the Duel in the Dakotas, as he will have a short drive from his home in Fargo, North Dakota to Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo on Saturday, June 30. He swept both nights of racing at the high-banked half-mile last season, including battling with Joey Saldana for the win on the first night and leading all 30 laps in the finale, en route to his first World of Outlaws championship.
Schatz knows that he will be very busy on Saturday, but always looks forward to returning to his home track. The event will be the third race of the “SuperClean Summer of Money” on ESPN2, which will be broadcast on Sunday, July 1 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 11:30 a.m. Central.
“You get to see a lot of people,” he said. “We get to see everyone that we know, and everyone wants to come up and talk. It’s hard to carry on a conversation with more than one person at a time. Sometimes you are trying to have four and five conversations at once. It’s a bit difficult in that sense and busy for us, but it’s always a great time.”
With an event later in the season in Minot, North Dakota where he was born and raised, Schatz will have a couple of opportunities to race in front of family and friends this season. With the demanding schedule that he keeps with the World of Outlaws, he is glad to have a few races close to home during the season.
“It’s rewarding to go home and sleep in your own bed, and have all of your friends and family there,” said the 1997 World of Outlaws Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year. “For me I don’t see my family from Minot all that much, so it’s good that we all get to get together. We’ll get have a barbeque and dinner and all the fun things that we should be doing on a regular basis, but don’t because we are on the road.”
Schatz will enter the event leading the World of Outlaws championship standings by 104 points over Joey Saldana. He has won a series-best eight A-Feature events heading into action on June 29, including a win on Monday night at Black Hills Speedway in South Dakota. In the 36 events that have been contested this season, Schatz has been a model of consistency with 33 Top-10 finishes as he chases his second straight title.
“It doesn’t add any pressure race-wise,” smiled Schatz of competing at his home track. “I get in the car the same way every night, whether we are here or there or anywhere. My job is to pick up the checks and trophies at the end of the night and do the best we can.”
The finale of the Duel in the Dakotas will be the third race of the “SuperClean Summer of Money” on ESPN2, which will be broadcast on Sunday, July 1 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 11:30 a.m. Central.
On Saturday, June 30 at Red River Valley Speedway adult reserved tickets will be $33 with adult tickets $35 the day of the race, with reserved tickets for kids 12-under $15. General admission tickets for adults will be $28 in advance and $30 the day of the race, with general admission tickets for kids 6-12 $15, while kids 5-under will be admitted free to the general admission seating area.
For ticket information call SLS Promotions at: 815-344-2023 or visit http://