Schatz Looks To Close Career-Best WOO Season With A Bang At Mopar World Finals LAS VEGAS, NV (OCTOBER 31) - When your racing season consists of more than 100 nights of racing from February to November stretching from coast to coast, it's hard to...
Schatz Looks To Close Career-Best WOO Season With A Bang At Mopar World Finals
LAS VEGAS, NV (OCTOBER 31) - When your racing season consists of more than 100 nights of racing from February to November stretching from coast to coast, it's hard to remember every thing that happens in a season. Donny Schatz is having the best season of his young racing career with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws in his ParkerStores sprint car, and the 10-month grueling journey will come to end this weekend at the Mopar World Finals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track where the 24 year-old driver has experienced the good and tough times.
In this season's second Pennzoil World of Outlaws race, Schatz dominated the opener of at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but with two laps remaining he slowed because of two lapped cars allowing Andy Hillenburg to bump by and take the victory. Schatz kept his chin up and diplomatically took the defeat on live TV, but noted "there's another 102 (races) to go so we'll be alright". Alright, indeed. Schatz, who pilots the #15 ParkerStores/Featherlite Coaches J&J sprint car, has the second most victories in WoO action this season with 10 and is hoping to finish the season in similar fashion as he did in 1999 at LVMS.
"We were pretty upset in March when we let that race get away," said Schatz, of his second place finish on March 2. "I knew things would come our way. In fact, the last race we won (Billings, MT - August 14) was because Hillenburg had some problems. We've had a pretty good season, but lately we've struggled which makes it hard to look at the big picture. For some reason, we've had a pretty good handle of the track in Las Vegas, so all we can do is show up and hope that we hit it right in qualifying and go from there."
Schatz closed the 1999 WoO campaign by leading all 30 laps of the season finale at LVMS. He used that momentum to capture the first six Australian World Series Sprintcars feature events in November and December of 1999. Schatz will be returning to Australia in a couple of weeks, but he's not ready to change his focus from finishing as high as he can in the Outlaws points chase.
The "Minot Missile" is currently in fifth place in the standings trailing Craig Dollansky by 19 points. The two have exchanged the fourth place a few times in the season's last two months. A lack of top ten runs since the California Swing in early September has allowed Dollansky to retake the spot, but two good runs to end the season may be enough for Schatz to claim the position. His best career finish in the WoO standings was seventh in 1999.
"I'm really not sure what our problem has been here lately," said Schatz. "We can't even get close to the top ten. Most of the season we were a threat to win every race, but lately we've been running in the back. The good thing about returning to Las Vegas is that we've got a good starting point with the car. The same thing with places like Williams Grove (where Schatz won three features this season) and Knoxville. I know if we can get going like we were around (Knoxville) Nationals time, we can have two good nights of racing."
Schatz and the ParkerStores team started the 2001 season with a fifth place finish and then the previously mentioned second place finish at Las Vegas. It took the team 23 races before they found victory lane for the first time (April 29 - Huset's Speedway - Brandon, SD) and that started a stretch of five wins in fifteen nights of action. The wins came at Williams Grove (May 17), Lebanon Valley (May 28), Bristol Motor Speedway (June 8) and Topeka (June 15).
It was 21 races later when the team had one of the more memorable nights of the season as they won two feature races at Williams Grove Speedway on July 26. That Thursday night started a weekend of three wins and two second place finishes. That weekend helped build momentum for the team entering the Outlaws "Superbowl", the Knoxville Nationals. Schatz won his preliminary night feature, captured the $10,000-to-win Kele World Challenge and the pole position for the Nationals Championship feature. Unfortunately, the left rear tire peeled from the rim on the opening lap and ended the team's chances of winning the $125,000 prize. Showing their resolve, the ParkerStores team bounced back with a victory three days later in Montana.
The highlights since Billings (27 races) included a fourth place finish at the Gold Cup of Champions at Chico and a string of three top three finishes starting with a third place finish in the Williams Grove National Open. Following the National Open, Schatz scored third and second place finishes at The Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"We started the season wanting to be a championship caliber team," said Schatz. "We've accomplished a lot, but no one on this team is happy with the way we are going right now. We've been off for the past four events and we really want to finish the season with a couple of good runs. In 1999, a lot of people remembered that I won three of the last five races and that gave us a lot of momentum heading into 2000 season. We'd really like to gain some momentum for next year by winning the last Outlaws race of the year."
The Mopar World Finals will air live on SCN (SprintCarNet.com) beginning at 11 PM (et) on Friday and Saturday. TNN: The National Network will tape Friday's program and air in on Sunday (November 4) at 3 PM (et).