MECHANICSBURG, PA - It's nice to have a little extra confidence. During his first four years of competition with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws (WoO), Donny Schatz always seemed to struggle at Williams Grove Speedway, the site of this weekend's ...
MECHANICSBURG, PA - It's nice to have a little extra confidence. During his first four years of competition with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws (WoO), Donny Schatz always seemed to struggle at Williams Grove Speedway, the site of this weekend's Wirtgen Shootout, but last fall those previous failures faded away. Schatz with the help of his Crew Chief Kenny Woodruff put the ParkerStores #15 into victory lane at last year's National Open, which for "the Minot Missile" was a huge surprise.
"In the last few years, I think I've missed more "A" Features at "The Grove" than any other place," said Schatz. "To win the National Open last fall was an absolute upset. I really felt good that weekend, and I'm sure a lot of that had to do with Kenny being on board. I'm looking forward to this race more knowing that I've got a pretty good idea of what it takes to win there now."
Schatz currently ranks ninth in the WoO standings after three consecutive top seven finishes, which included his first victory of the season. Schatz drove his #15 ParkerStores J&J from an 11th starting position and led the final 14 laps to win the "A" Feature at Huset's Speedway on April 29. Last weekend, the team continued to run up front. At Terre Haute, Schatz led the first 10 laps of the feature before finishing third and the following night at Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL) he charged from 13th to seventh.
"Earlier in the year, we found ourselves being the victim of bad circumstances," said Schatz. "Lately, we've been at the right place at the right time. Our motors are running strong and the J&J car is working extremely good. I think we're adapting to the new chassis really well, and we've found that problems can be fixed with simple changes. That's a sign of good race car when small things can make a big difference. The race car has definitely been working well."
Schatz and Andy Hillenburg will lead the J&J contingent of Outlaws against the "Pennsylvania Posse" in what annually is the toughest two-night program on the Eastern Swing. The "PA Posse" does provide the Outlaws with some strong competition, but for Schatz it seems the fans in the stands have more to do with the Outlaw vs. PA Posse rivalry.
"A lot of the guys in Pennsylvania are Outlaw caliber racers," said Schatz, who has four top ten finishes in 13 "A" Feature starts at the legendary half-mile oval. "I'm not worried about getting beat. If you do things right and go about your business you'll end up in front. The fans really drive the rivalry more than drivers. It seems like they are so "anti-Outlaw" that they think their guys are going to beat the Outlaws every time there. Sometimes they do, so I guess that makes it more special when you get to park in victory lane there."
Winning races is the name of the game in the ultra-competitive Pennzoil World of Outlaws. Most racers will admit that if you don't start near the front, your chances of winning are very slim. How you get those starting positions near the front is the tough part. In this year's WoO program, heat race winners earn the right the to start in the first four position of the Channellock Dash, which sets the "A" Feature lineup for spots one through ten.
"The way the format is right now you want to qualify somewhere between ninth and sixteenth," explained Schatz. "That way you're on the front row of the heat race. It's a double-edged sword, because if you don't win the heat you'll start in the back of the feature. If you do win it, you'll start in the first two rows. We haven't set the world on fire with our qualifying, but we've been getting better here the past few weeks."
The two-night Wirtgen Shootout will conclude with a Friday program that will air live on TNN: The National Network. Wirtgen's President, Stu Murray, has added some fuel to the rivalry by offering an additional $5000 for any Outlaw driver that wins and $10,000 to any PA Posse member that can come home first. A large field of cars is expected and getting locked into Friday's program on Thursday night is what Schatz has in mind.
"The big thing for us is to put ourselves in a position to win on Thursday night," said Schatz. "If we can do that, we'll be locked into Friday's show, which will be a huge advantage. Friday's program is going to be tough considering the competition and the fact that the track will probably really slow down. We want to be up front when the TV cameras are on. We started seventh and won the National Open, but I hope we're starting closer to the front than that on Friday night."