Temperatures are on the rise as summer nears, and Donny Schatz is beginning to heat up.

Tracks get slick. Grip is scarce. And humidity plays with the density of air. These conditions have always brought out the best in the 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion. And 2023 has been no exception.

After combating struggles through the first couple months of the campaign, Schatz has resembled his prime self since the beginning of May. In the last nine races, Schatz has collected six podiums, including a pair of victories at Attica Raceway Park and Sharon Speedway. The podium tally would likely be seven if it weren’t for a late-race flat tire at Atomic Speedway. He’s also missed only one Toyota Dash over that stretch – a key aspect to their success.

“We’ve gotten ourselves qualified. I think that’s the most important part,” Schatz commented. “You can’t start in the third and fourth row of the Heat Races and think you’re going to get in the Dash unless something drastic happens. Nobody really does that. The guys have worked hard. They’ve done their homework, just kind of fine-tuned.

“Like I said, it’s all about getting qualified well. Then, you can work on your car a little bit and try a few different things in the Heats and the Dashes. The tracks where you have to drive with any sort of control, we’ve been good at. Lawrenceburg (Speedway) we weren’t all that good at, but honestly it was completely different than when we’ve been there in the past. Normally, there was a little bit of a bottom at times, but this was basically just a death slider race. That’s why we didn’t have the best result. But pretty much everything else the last month has been great – a couple wins and some podiums. You’ve got to be consistent. That’s where we want to be.”

A primary catalyst to their results is the performance of the Tony Stewart/Curb Agajanian Racing team’s Ford FPS 410 engine. With steadfast diligence, they’ve made progress in their motor program, leading to a more comfortable feeling and allowing Schatz to drive the way he prefers.

“Everybody at Ford and Ron Shaver that have been working on it are just continually trying to improve with baby steps,” Schatz said. “We’re getting pretty close. We’re getting back to where I can move my foot and being able to race.”

In addition to the program being in a good place, Schatz noted the Ford’s functionality excels during the summer stretch.

“The cylinder heads on these Ford motors are very efficient,” Schatz explained. “They are super efficient. Sometimes they get running to where they get pumping so hard that when you start to close the butterflies off and cut the air off, they keep running a little bit. And that’s where it kind of helps us come these summertime months when the air is bad. There’s not as much air in there to mix it with fuel and do that.”

Donny Schatz at Lincoln Speedway
Donny Schatz credits credits much of his team’s recent performance to their progress with the Ford engine program (Trent Gower Photo)

Looking ahead, the schedule suggests Schatz could continue his current pace. Next up is a visit to one of his home tracks – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND) – on Friday, June 2 – where the Fargo, ND driver’s record is impeccable. In 29 Series starts, he’s won 12 times, podiumed on 21 occasions, and finished no worse than seventh.

“It’s a forgiving place,” Schatz said of his results at River Cities. “I’ve learned where you can get yourself in trouble and not get yourself in trouble. And we’ve been very fortunate to always have a good race car there. Everything’s really just worked there. There are multiple grooves. Everytime we go there we seem to have a pretty decent racetrack.”

Another upcoming event close to home for Schatz is the Husets High Bank Nationals (June 21-24) in Brandon, SD – also the home state of his crew chief Steve “Scuba” Swenson. The four-day event will conclude with a $250,000-to-win Feature – the richest payday in World of Outlaws history.

“It’s definitely a place I cut my teeth at,” Schatz said of Husets. “I spent a lot of Sunday nights there. I tore a lot of stuff up there. I made a lot of memories there, and I’ve managed to win a few races too. We’re looking forward to it. I think when everybody heard it was paying $250,000 to win, we all thought, ‘Man, is Tod (Quiring, track owner) insane?’ But it’s cool that we can get that opportunity to race for that sort of money. It’s what you strive for. They work hard at trying to put on the best races they can.”

Schatz will be poised to maintain his recent performance for the remainder of the season as the third-winningest driver in Series history is in pursuit of his 11th championship. The early season troubles dug him a sizable hole but continuing to perform the way he has and maintaining a pragmatic perspective could lead the racing legend back into the title hunt.

“To win a championship you’ve got to be consistent,” Schatz said. “When you can’t win, you’ve got to have seconds and thirds. We’ve been in that form the last month, but I think we’ve dug just a little bit too big of a hole to dig out of it. But there’s still a lot of racing left, so we’re just going to keep down this path to get as much of it as we can, and maybe we’ll still have an opportunity going right down to the last race to have a race for a championship.”

Catch Donny Schatz in action with the World of Outlaws this weekend at River Cities (June 2) & Ogilvie Raceway (June 3). For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, watch all of the action on DIRTVision.