Hometown Win: Schatz Slides Around Saldana for Red River Valley Victory Donny Schatz had one thing on his mind Friday night in the World of Outlaws preliminary feature at the Duel in the Dakotas, and that was to win. The native of Fargo,...
Hometown Win: Schatz Slides Around Saldana for Red River Valley Victory
Donny Schatz had one thing on his mind Friday night in the World of Outlaws preliminary feature at the Duel in the Dakotas, and that was to win. The native of Fargo, brought a brand new car to the always fast half-mile, and didn't disappoint his hometown crowd. He fought off all challengers including a number of drivers from the All Star Circuit of Champions in the co-sanctioned event.
Driving the Parker Stores J & J, Schatz won the dash to earn the pole position for the 25 lap preliminary feature. Joey Saldana in the Dodge/Mopar/Curb Records JEI took the initial lead and led the first 19 laps. Schatz though looked high and low lap after lap for a way around Saldana. He pulled along side the Brownsburg, Ind. native throughout the first half of the race and never let him out of his sight.
Schatz found the line he needed in traffic on lap 20, as he sliced to the inside and took the lead from Saldana. This caused the crowd to erupt, as everyone was on their feet wildly cheering for the current series point leader.
The hometown favorite withstood one late caution and held off a determined Tyler Walker for the win. Schatz pocketed $5,000 for his efforts, and more importantly put himself on the pole for the dash on Saturday night.
Walker in the Volcano Joe's Coffee Maxim made a strong charge late in the race, and worked his way to second after starting sixth. He used a vintage slide job to get around Saldana with just two laps to go. With his runner-up finish he too is locked in for the dash on Saturday night.
Early on Friday night, Schatz was getting acclimated with his new car. He qualified in the sixth spot, and finished fourth in his heat, to earn a spot in the dash. In that dash, he had a spirited battle with Saldana lap after lap, as the two traded the lead and used every inch of the wide and smooth track. He followed that up with the strong performance in winning the preliminary feature.
"Nothing is better than getting to victory lane at home," Schatz said. "We want to thank everyone for coming out. Joey and I ran laps side by side in the dash and it's not very often you have that anymore. It was a good fun night for us, and I hope the people enjoyed it. There's going to be even more tomorrow."
Schatz last won a World of Outlaws event at his hometrack track in 2002. He will look for the weekend sweep on Saturday night, as he will battle the Mean 15 and the best from the All Stars, for the $12,000 top prize, and bragging rights on his home turf.
Schatz had been looking forward to returning to his home racetrack for quite a while and he put extra pressure on himself to get a finish at the front. He has not finished outside the top-seven since May 20 at Sharon Speedway after he accepted the $50,000 Challenge and started at the back of the field, and worked his way all the way to the 10th spot before damage to the car forced him to retire for the evening.
After a strong run on Wednesday night at The Raceway @ Powercom Park, a 1/3-mile track, Schatz showed that he is just as strong on a wide and quick half-mile. Even more impressive, he did it with a car that had never felt the clay of a race track until hot laps on Friday evening.
"We got better as the race went on," said Schatz. "We have a race car here we can work with. We put a different car together and it responds to everything we do to it. We're excited about that."
Schatz who enjoys racing in traffic, used it to his advantage as he closed up Saldana countless times as the race went on. The two were setting the fastest laps of the race as it wore on, and on lap 22, Schatz turned the quickest lap of the 24 cars in the preliminary feature.
"I was good in traffic," Schatz said. "That is where I caught Joey. Our advantage is in traffic. Our cars are good and we can move around. Those other guys sometimes can't run if they are not out in the open."
Schatz has been running strong all season long, but felt the last couple of weeks that the car was just a little off, and that led to the decision to debut the new car on Friday night. The Ricky Warner led crew put in countless hours making sure every nut and bolt was tight, and everything was right on the car, knowing how much their driver wanted to win on his hometrack. Schatz also gave credit to J & J who builds the chassis' of the cars he races.
"They build great race cars," said Schatz. "Every once in a while you get a car doesn't respond. We've been frustrated and trying to get things as good as we can. Now we feel we have a car we can work with. It's the exact same car, but they all feel a little different when you get out on the track. This one races better and doesn't qualify as well, and that is what I like."
Though the team was able to celebrate a preliminary feature win, the loot on the line Saturday night is what Schatz's is most focused on. He knows how quick one's fortunes can change when racing with the best sprint car drivers in the world.
"It's over with," Schatz said. "It's done. Now we have to focus on tomorrow."
Walker who is still getting the feel back for sprint cars, after spending a good portion of the last couple seasons down south, racing stock cars, turned in another solid performance. He started sixth in the preliminary feature, and methodically worked his way to the front. He used an impressive slide job to pass Saldana with two laps to go for the runner-up spot.
"It's good to be back in a position fighting for wins," Walker said. "I have to thank Guy Forbrook for believing in me. It's good to be back in a race car that is capable of winning every night. It's a lot of fun for me and everybody onboard. It's a pleasure to drive, and I'm having a lot of fun. It's good to be back in a sprint car."
Walker had a smile on his face, as he climbed out of his car on Friday night, knowing he will be a prime contender on Saturday night. He will start second in the dash, and that will determine the top ten starters for the co-sanctioned event with the All Star Circuit of Champions.
"It's going to be a good race," said Walker. "Hopefully we can keep up with Schatz. His crew chief Ricky (Warner) is a good friend of mine. Donny and I are friends. I hope we can put on a good show for the fans, and make them get their money's worth."
Saldana came home third, after leading the first 19 laps of the night. He will roll off third in the dash on Saturday night in the finale of the Duel in the Dakotas. He used a great start at the outset of the race to take the lead from Schatz in the first corner of the high-banked track. He built a sizeable lead until he got into some traffic and that allowed Schatz to close back up.
"I though we were good enough to win," said Saldana. "I got into lapped traffic and I got really tight. I don't know why, I just couldn't turn it. I came home third, and we have to get better for tomorrow. We were rolling around there pretty good. I don't know if the track got better or what. I felt like I would have been better in lapped traffic. We definitely got beat racing like that (in traffic)."
Saldana has won a couple of times this season this season on half-mile tracks at Terre Haute and Volusia Speedway Park. His Willie Kahne led crew will have a little extra time on Saturday to fine tune the car, since they do not have to worry about qualifying or taking to the track for a heat race.
"We've been fast, we just have to put a whole night together," said Saldana. "Tonight we looked like we were going to do that and the last eight laps got us. We just have to get a little better."
Craig Dollansky in the Karavan Trailers Maxim was the final driver to lock in a starting spot in Saturday night's dash by coming home fourth. Dollansky used a steady drive to keep the leaders in his sights.
"To be locked in, is one of the big accomplishments on a prelim night," Dollansky said. "Right now we are locked in and sitting pretty descent for tomorrow night and the dash. We have to change up a few things to get a little faster for tomorrow night, but we know what we need to do. Hopefully things go our way."
In the last two World of Outlaws main event features on half-mile tracks, the Elk River, Minn. native has a win at Eldora and a runner-up finish at Terre Haute. That bodes well for him on Saturday night as he looks for win number three on the season.
"I feel real good on the big tracks right now as well as the short tracks," said Dollansky. "We have a good starting spot for tomorrow, and we have to work on a few things. We should be in pretty good shape and see what we can do."
Dollansky who is solidly in the top-five in series points, was able to make a stop at the teams shop earlier this week, on the way to Red River Valley. That extra preparation has the whole team feeling confident heading into Saturday night's feature.
"Every week has been getting stronger and stronger for us," Dollansky said. "We just have to keep working on things. There's always room for improvement. I'm pretty happy with the way that things are going."
Rounding out the Top-five was Sammy Swindell filling in for the injured Terry McCarl in the Big Game Treestands Eagle. Swindell turned the fasted lap in qualifying of the 33 cars that took to the track.
Daryn Pittman came home sixth in the Hop-n-Sack Convenience Stores Maxim, with Brooke Tatnell in the Race Outfitters Eagle just behind him. North Dakota native, Mark Dobmeier crossed the finish line eighth, in the Senske & Son Schnee. Justin Henderson, a contender for the Kevin Gorbecht Rookie of the Year Award Presented by Maxim Racing and ButlerBuilt came home ninth. Jac Haudenschild worked his way from 16th to finish 10th in the Wright One Construction Maxim.
The Mean 15 will wrap up the Duel in the Dakotas on Saturday night with the $12,000 to win feature. They will battle the best from the All Star Circuit of Champions in the co-sanctioned event.