2008 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Preview: Donny Schatz Donny Schatz has always enjoyed challenges while racing, and this year he will embark on a new challenge, after joining the always potent Tony Stewart Racing...
2008 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Preview: Donny Schatz
Donny Schatz has always enjoyed challenges while racing, and this year he will embark on a new challenge, after joining the always potent Tony Stewart Racing team for 2008.
Schatz accomplished quite a bit driving for his family owned team from 1993-2007, as he won 70 A-Feature events with the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, as well as the last two series titles, in addition to two consecutive victories in the Knoxville Nationals. As a way or giving back to his parents for all that they have provided him with during his racing career, he made the decision to join the team which is owned by the two-time NASCAR champion in the off-season and will pursue his third straight series championship this season, as a teammate to Kraig Kinser.
The two-time defending series champion spent a large portion of the off-season competing in Australia, as he made two separate trips there to compete. In his second stint down under, he racked up five wins, including another $50,000 win at Tyrepower Parramatta City Raceway. He also won the $20,000 finale for the World Series Sprintcars at Brisbane International Speedway. He picked up nine Top-Five finishes in 11 starts, including eight first or second-place performances.
"I'm ready to get back racing," said Schatz. "It was kind of a short winter, and that's exactly how we like it, to have a short time being out of the seat. I'm excited and ready to get to Florida. We'll get down to Florida early to work out any bugs we may have."
Having joined Tony Stewart Racing, which is based in Brownsburg, Indiana, the off-season was a little different than in the past for Schatz, as he did not have to worry about working in the shop to make sure all the cars were ready for the season.
"It made my life a whole easier this winter. I was able to go to Australia and focus on the stuff that I do there. It's been a very smooth transition. Tony (Stewart) has really great people in place, with Jimmy Carr, Rick Warner and Brett Frood. Those guys have worked their tails off to be in the position that they are in. I have to commend them on that. When I was at the shop, they were ahead of the game. They are doing things the right way."
Schatz will begin his Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series title defense on February 8 at Volusia Speedway Park in the 37th Annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals. He won the opening night of the event last season and finished on the podium in all three of the races run at the half-mile. In his career at Volusia, the North Dakota native has seven Top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
"We look forward to getting off to a good start and hopefully getting to victory lane on the first night," said the second generation driver. "We'll keep trying to get there every night."
Last season Schatz led the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series in most statistical categories including: A-Feature wins, laps led, money earned, wins in the dash, and pole position. In the 75 A-Feature events that were contested, he earned an amazing 71 Top-10 finishes. Over the last two seasons, he has won 36 A-Feature events with the series, including 19 last year.
"You have to win 19 races a lot sooner and have more to time at the end of the year to get more," said Schatz, when asked how he could improve on his success from 2007. "There have been a lot of a lot of great years where Steve (Kinser) and Mark (Kinser) were able to win 25 to 30 races. We just have stay focused and I think we will start this year off a lot better than I have ever started off in the past. We are more prepared and organized, as well as way ahead of the learning curve."
Being the two-time defending series champion, Schatz may have a bullseye on his chest, but he does not think about that. Rather, he focuses on what he and his team need to do each night to reach the winner's circle. It's this focus and intensity that have helped guide him to the last two series titles.
"I look at it, that it's my space when I get in the race car and have my helmet on," explained Schatz. "I love to do what I get to do, and my guys put me in the best equipment or they wouldn't be there working on it. It's a great position to be in and if there are guys chasing, then that's the way it works. We'll just go at it and try to win races every night. Hopefully at the end of the year we're fighting for another championship. We have ourselves in a good position to win a lot of big races as well."
Hailing from North Dakota, Schatz is excited that he will have four opportunities to race with the series in his home state this year. Back-to-back races at River Cities Speedway and Red River Valley Speedway again dot the schedule in late June. The series will make its inaugural visit to Dacotah Speedway in Mandan, North Dakota on August 16, followed by a return to Nodak Speedway in Minot, where Schatz was born and raised on August 17. In his career with the series, Schatz has won four times in North Dakota.
"It's been a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get the race in Minot and all of the races in North Dakota," he shared. "We're looking forward to going there. I would really love to be a position to win at Minot. It's always been a great show for the fans in the past and that is the most important part. Irregardless of who wins it, if the people enjoy what they see, that is ninth-tenths of the battle. We'll be going to another new track at Mandan. I have raced there and it's going to be great to go there. We're looking forward to all of the races there."
Schatz's team will be led by Ricky Warner who guided him to his first title in 2006. Also taking to the road again in 2008 will be Shane Bowers, who has worked with Schatz for the past two seasons. A new crew member will also join the team, and both Tony Stewart Racing teams will share a fourth crew member who will bounce back and forth between the teams at the track.
"The crew is working very hard," he said. "They have done their homework and have prepared hard. They are preparing both teams to be able to race for a championship."
Schatz joined elite company in 2007 by winning his second title, as he joined Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell and Mark Kinser as the only drivers that have won multiple titles with the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series.
"Every one that you win, I believe takes more work," said Schatz. "We've done most of the things we can. You never give up. You just have to keep plugging away. We have a great comfort level with the things that we do, and we just have to stay in that situation. We're glad that we are in that position and work to keep ourselves in it. There will be times the pieces will fall and we just have to pick them up as quick as we can. You're going to struggle from time to time, it's just how short of a stint you make it. We're really looking forward to this season."