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Series season review - Donny Schatz

2007 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Season Review: Donny Schatz Donny Schatz was on a mission in 2007. After winning 17 A-Feature events in 2006 en route to his first Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car...

2007 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Season Review: Donny Schatz

Donny Schatz was on a mission in 2007. After winning 17 A-Feature events in 2006 en route to his first Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series title, the native of North Dakota wanted to reach the winner's circle more times in 2007, which he did in convincing fashion.

In claiming his second consecutive World of Outlaws title this season, Schatz won 19 A-Feature events, along with winning the Knoxville Nationals for the second straight year. He now has 70 career A-Feature wins with the series, which places him in a tie for sixth on the all-time list.

"We had a great year," said Schatz. "The crew worked their tails off all season and we had a lot of fun. We set our goals pretty high and I have them set really high for next year as well."

The two-time defending series champion opened the 2007 campaign the same way he ended 2006, in the winner's circle. He charged to victory lane on opening night at Volusia Speedway Park and followed that up with two third-place finishes to firmly entrench himself atop the championship standings. A trip to the West Coast brought a win at Manzanita Speedway in Arizona. In the series return to Houston Raceway Park in Texas, Schatz made it two wins in a row.

After seven straight finishes of sixth of better, he returned to victory lane at Knoxville Raceway at the end of April, a week after retaking the point lead from Joey Saldana, which he would not relinquish the rest of the season. During the series first East Coast swing of the season, Schatz continued to show his prowess at the famed Williams Grove Speedway, winning both events in May. In the series first visit of the season to The Dirt Track @ Lowe's Motor Speedway, he won a thrilling battle with Paul McMahan. This was in the midst of a string of 15 consecutive Top-10 finishes that helped him begin to open a gap between himself and Saldana in the standings.

In the 75 A-Feature events that were contested in 2007, Schatz finished in the Top-10 in 71 of them. Of those finishes, 53 were in the Top-Five. He led the series in a number of other statistical categories including: money earned, laps led, wins in the Crane Cams Dash and pole positions. The racer inside of Schatz wanted to finish in the Top-10 in every race.

"I can tell you all four times where we didn't finish in the Top-10, because I was pulling my teeth out on those nights," he said. "One of those was really miserable, but that is just the way it goes. You will have nights like that. The crew definitely worked hard all year."

Schatz put his name in the record books in 2007 as the first driver in sprint car racing history to win the Knoxville Nationals, Kings Royal, Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup. Williams Grove National Open and Williams Grove Summer Nationals all in the same season.

"You just want to win every night, irregardless of what race it is," he explained. "It will probably sink in down the road. Every day it does sink in a little more and it's a confidence booster. Sometimes you can get ahead of yourself and anything less that winning those races again will be a let down to me. That is what I want and that is what I expect out of myself. We're going try to dig down deep and take ourselves to another level of intensity next year. Hopefully we will be even better."

Schatz also shined very bright when the television cameras were rolling. He began the inaugural "SuperClean Summer of Money" on ESPN2 with a runner-up finish at Dodge City Raceway Park in Kansas, and followed that with a win at Black Hills Speedway in South Dakota. After two Top-Six finishes in his home state of North Dakota, Schatz kept his unbeaten streak in South Dakota alive, winning at Huset's Speedway. Schatz continued to roll through the summer.

After coming so close for so many years to winning the Knoxville Nationals, Schatz and his team claimed sprint car racing's biggest prize again in 2007. The triumph was worth a record $150,000.

"The second one was just as special," he noted. "When you take all the competition that is there all week and all of your cards are on the line. We had an awesome car there on Saturday and the weather was trying to mess with us. We had a lot of things that make it a trying week. Normally you come out of Knoxville feeling like you are riding a rollercoaster, but for us we still had a lot of races to win and to try and win this championship. It was a fun time."

The 2007 season marked his final season behind the wheel of his family's familiar yellow car. He will join Tony Stewart Racing in 2008, as a teammate to Kraig Kinser. While driving for his parents Danny and Diane, Donny earned 70 A-Feature wins with the World of Outlaws, along with the two consecutive titles, and he also was the 1997 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year.

"It's been a lot of fun," said the second generation driver. "My family has been a big supporter of me since day one, and this is sort of my way of paying them back for everything they have done for me. Hopefully they can enjoy it a little more as spectators. We'll just see what happens. I won't know until I get to the first race in the spring and I am in Tony's (Stewart) car."

A number of post-season awards were bestowed on Schatz over the course of the last month, including being named the Economaki Champion of Champions by National Speed Sport News. He also was named for the First Team of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association All-America Auto Racing Team for the second consecutive year. In addition, he was named the 410-sprint car Driver of the Year by the North American Sprint Car Poll, while his team was named Team of the Year.

Schatz began his off-season by making the 17-plus hour flight to Australia to compete in the opening rounds of the World Series Sprintcar season. He was caught up in an accident while running fourth on the first night and then the following night battled Kerry Madsen for the win, winding up in the runner-up spot. A tough night followed in the third round, which prevented Schatz from competing in the final race he had scheduled, during his first of two trips down under.

He made a triumphant return in his second stint of the off-season Down Under on December 26, winning the Boxing Night event at Parramatta City Raceway. He will compete a number of more times over the next three weeks at the track, including the annual $50,000 International Classic, which he has won a number of times in his career.

"We had some races over there and then we came back home to kick back and do a little hunting," he said. "We enjoyed a few things, though there was a lot of work to be done. I was looking forward to the off-time. I wouldn't say that I was burned out, but we definitely put a lot of energy into this year. It was a mentally strong season. To be on top, you definitely need to take some time away and that is what I did."

-credit: woo

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