WORLD OF OUTLAWS POINTS LEADER EYES SPRINT CAR RACING'S BIGGEST PRIZE KNOXVILLE, IA (August 9) - In every sport, one event stands above the rest and has meaning words can't describe. The Superbowl, World Series, Masters and Kentucky Derby are...
WORLD OF OUTLAWS POINTS LEADER EYES SPRINT CAR RACING'S BIGGEST PRIZE
KNOXVILLE, IA (August 9) - In every sport, one event stands above the rest and has meaning words can't describe. The Superbowl, World Series, Masters and Kentucky Derby are the pinnacle within their sports respectively. In auto racing, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 bring out the best in NASCAR and open wheel drivers alike while this week's 46th annual Super Clean Knoxville Nationals presented by Midwest Ford Dealers offers the trophy every sprint car driver aspires to posses.
For Donny Schatz it's an opportunity. His chance to put behind him the heartbreak of finishing second in this race four times in the last six years. This is the platform to leave no doubt. "We're excited about this week for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I honestly feel like we've got a total package ready to win this race," said Schatz, who has three career wins at the famed Knoxville Raceway, all coming in Nationals preliminary features (2001, 2002 and 2003). "The way the format works you have to be great every time you are on the track and right now our focus is on time trials and then we'll begin to think about the heat race, feature and Saturday night. You can't get too far ahead of yourself because this thing can get overwhelming. Our experience will help and we can't wait to get started."
Schatz and his ParkerStore team enter the four-day event, which pays $140,000 to the winner on Saturday night in the midst of a career-best season as the Fargo, ND racer is the leader in nearly every statistical category with the World of Outlaws this year. Eleven World of Outlaws "A" feature wins. A 264-point advantage in the championship standings. 294 laps led. Six Quick-Time awards. Five pole positions. Twice starting seventh and charging to victory. Many variables have played into the results this season, but the main component has been consistency. Night after night the No. 15 ParkerStore J&J with Shaver power is right in the thick of things as evidenced by his 12 overall wins and 12 second place finishes in 48 WoO starts."To have a season like we are means that a lot of things are working well," continued Schatz. "We've been working with this car and motor package (J&J cars and Shaver motors) for the last five years, but (Crew Chief) Ricky (Warner) has been able to make us even better. We really improved our qualifying program and our slick track stuff is really strong. We've got a long way to go, but feel good about our position at this point."
"The Kid" from Minot has come along way in his quest to become one of the best behind the wheel of a sprint car. He made his Knoxville Nationals debut in 1993 and by his rookie year with the Outlaws in 1997 he qualified second. In 12 Knoxville Nationals appearances, he has five career top five finishes in the Nationals.
In 1998, Schatz came home fourth in the Nationals raising eyebrows with a late pass of Steve Kinser. Two years later, he led the first 25 laps before Mark Kinser got by to take the win. The agony grew the following year when Schatz was dominant during his qualifying night (winning his first career feature at Knoxville) and in Friday's Kele World Challenge and "A" Scramble. He earned the pole position, but never completed a lap as a tire problem caused him to spin in the front of the field after taking the green flag.
In the next two Nationals, Schatz again finished second. In 2002, he won a thrilling preliminary feature by beating Danny Lasoski and Tyler Walker and charged from seventh in the 30-lap finale seemingly needing only a couple more laps to catch Steve Kinser. One year later, it looked as though he was ready to take his first Nationals crown after beating Lasoski in his preliminary feature. He led the first six laps before Lasoski overtook him.
The 2005 Nationals "A" Feature began with Schatz starting third. He made a strong bid for the lead early, but couldn't get past Kraig Kinser. With a heavier surface following Saturday's rainout, he never got a chance to race Kinser in traffic and again came home second.
"We've learned a lot over the years and one thing for sure and that's second place pays pretty well," said Schatz. "There is so much involved in being there at the end on Saturday night from all the emotions to making 30 good laps. I know in my mind we've got all the components in place. We will go out and do the best we can and see what happens."
Schatz and his ParkerStore team will take to the track in Wednesday night's opener at the half-mile dirt oval. Saturday's finale will air live on SPEED beginning at 8 p.m. (CT)
KNOXVILLE NATIONALS NOTES & STATISTICS
This year's Nationals marks the one year of Crew Chief Ricky Warner's arrival to the ParkerStore team. After working with several young standout sprint car drivers like Kevin Gobrecht and Tyler Walker, Warner went to work for Ray Evernham Motorsports before returning to his sprint car roots.
"It's been a good experience for us," said Warner, who first came to the Nationals in 1991 when he worked for Deuce Turrill as a crewman on Kenny Jacobs ride that finished second to Steve Kinser. "Donny has been a really good driver for a lot of years and our goal was to come in and help make him better at places where he hadn't been that successful. I think we've done that.
"He's always been good at Knoxville so last year we just started from scratch and came home second. We've had a year to get to know each other better and communicate what the car needs to be faster. I'm looking forward to this week."
Since last year's Nationals the combination has won 18 feature events including last year's National Open at Williams Grove Speedway.
"We have a lot of fun and that's what's its all about," said Schatz. "Ricky definitely knows what's going on and it's fun to work with him. We've always been able to get our racecar in a position to challenge for victories. That's what is important to him and me.
"His mind is into every aspect of it. He eats sleeps and drinks it. His devotion is at the same level as mine is and that's hard to come by in this sport. Some guys are here for money. Some guys are here for the lifestyle. Some guys are here because that is all they know. Ricky does it for all those reasons and this is how he grew up. He was in Charlotte working for a prominent NASCAR team and was willing to leave that to come work for us. That's a big bonus. It takes someone like him to have the advantage on the competition that we do."
CENTRAL PENNSLYVANIA CONNECTION
Warner is joined on the ParkerStore crew by Shane Bowers and James Zartman, both from the New Oxford, PA area. With three team members and Donny's success at Williams Grove Speedway (two consecutive National Open victories and eight career wins at the track), the ParkerStore team definitely has a Pennsylvania Posse flavor.
SPECIAL PAINT SCHEME
The familiar yellow and black ParkerStore No. 15 J&J with Shaver power will be missing from this year's Nationals as the team will use a special Knoxville Nationals scheme. The car originally was designed to be a reverse of the flamed/tribal cars that Schatz drove from 2003 through 2005 with the black replacing the yellow, etc.
After the black car was completed a trip to a Fargo area paint shop, the car returned a multi-colored car that looks different depending on the lighting.
"We wanted to have something different for a change," commented Schatz. "We thought we would reverse the colors from our flamed car of the past. It's different...we started with a black car and added a little pizzazz to it. It's kind of a cross fire of several colors. We're excited to race it and hope we can park it in victory lane and see what color it is in the pictures."
Schatz will again be part of the field in the Factory Value Parts World Challenge pitting drivers that competed internationally. Schatz, who won the challenge in 2001 and 2002, came up just short last year finishing second to Daryn Pittman.
Schatz had a tremendous run in Australia winning eight of his first nine starts in the Gary Rush Racing No. 2 J&J at Parramatta City Raceway near Sydney and is hoping to have that type of success in this race.
The line-up for the race will be determined by qualifying points the competing driver accumulate during Wednesday and Thursday night's programs.
"The World Challenge is big part of Friday's format and means a lot to people like Roger Johnson, who help put it together. We've been able to build a pretty good fan base in Australia and last year we almost got Daryn. This year's field is strong as ever, so we'll have really dig to get it done."