2006 World of Outlaws Season Review: Donny Schatz Concord, NC--Dec. 8, 2006 -- Donny Schatz remembers when he was a boy sitting in the grandstands watching sprint car races in his home state of North Dakota, dreaming about winning the World of...
2006 World of Outlaws Season Review: Donny Schatz
Concord, NC--Dec. 8, 2006 -- Donny Schatz remembers when he was a boy sitting in the grandstands watching sprint car races in his home state of North Dakota, dreaming about winning the World of Outlaws championship one day. He also dreamed of winning the Knoxville Nationals. For the past 10 seasons as a full-time competitor with the World of Outlaws, he turned that dream into a goal and ultimately a reality. He never thought he would win both in the same season, but that is exactly what he did in 2006.
When the checkered flag flew at The Dirt Track @ Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 28, Schatz had claimed his 17th A-Feature win of the year, and more importantly had wrapped up his first World of Outlaw Sprint Series title. For his championship, he earned $200,000 along with the Championship trophy and inaugural Champion's ring.
"The championship is what we set our goal to do," said Schatz, driver of the Parker Store J&J. "It's an accomplishment that is well-deserved. The guys worked awful hard. I have been around long enough, where I guess it is overdue. We're glad to be able to do it, and we look forward to trying to do it again. There is nothing to prove anymore. We have done everything there is to do. We'll see if we can keep on doing it. That is the fun part, to keep continuing on."
Schatz picked up his first win of the World of Outlaws season on March 9th on a blustery night that saw snowflakes swirling about at The Dirt Track @ Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This also was the night he took the lead in the championship point standings, a lead he would not relinquish the rest of the season, as he racked up wins at 14 different tracks.
Along the way, he notched an astonishing 42 Top-Five finishes in A-Feature events. To go with his 17 A-Feature wins, the native of Fargo, North Dakota also scored two preliminary feature victories. One of these came at Red River Valley Speedway in his hometown, where he swept the entire weekend of racing.
Schatz led the series in most statistical categories. He racked up over $372,000 in season winnings. He led 441 laps on the season, over 150 more than the next closest driver. In time trials, he stopped the clock first nine times, to lead all drivers, while setting new track records at Orange County Fair Speedway in New York, as well as at Southern Oregon Speedway. Schatz also was tied for the series lead with eight dash wins that earned him the same number of pole positions.
He entered the Knoxville Nationals in the middle of August with plenty of momentum on his side. He began the "Month of Money" by picking up $30,000 for winning the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup at Lernverille Speedway, an event he had yearned to win for many years.
He also won at K-C Raceway in Ohio the weekend leading up to the Knoxville Nationals. In preliminary action at Knoxville, he gained the most points during the qualifying nights leading up to the most prestigious event in sprint car racing, which put him on the pole position for the 30-lap Feature. After finishing second in the event on four separate occasions, Schatz etched his name into the history books powering his way around fellow World of Outlaws driver Joey Saldana on the 12th-lap. Schatz endured one late caution that bunched the field up, to pick up the biggest win of his career, along with a $140,000 payday.
"History normally has it where the guy that wins the (Knoxville) Nationals normally wins the championship, quite a few times," explained Schatz. "It's something that the World of Outlaws guys have always seemed to have had gone their way. They win the Nationals and they seem to be able to win the championship. When you race as much as we do, it's expected. That time of the year, is the time to get over that hill and get that big trophy, and try to finish off the year. It was a great year for us."
While Schatz received the accolades for his superb driving, he was always quick to point out the hard work of his crew and his entire team, and how they were the ones that earned the title.
"It's a whole circle here with this team, not just one thing," commented the 1997 World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year. "The motor guy has to do good. The guy building the car has to do good. Even the people building the tires have to do a good job. You have to do things consistently, and we were doing things consistently last fall (the end of the 2005 season) and we started with a clean slate this spring and here we are."
One of the most memorable wins for Schatz came at Eagle (Neb.) Raceway on September 15th, when he came from the 15th starting spot to pass Brooke Tatnell with just two laps to go in the 1/3-Mile Short Track Nationals for the win. This was the farthest starting position that any driver won from during the season. This triumph came a week after a horrific fiery accident that he walked away from during the first qualifying night at the Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar (Calif.) Speedway. On September 16 at Jackson (Minn.) Speedway, Schatz not only held off a fast approaching thunderstorm, but also the rest of the field to sweep the weekend of racing, showing he had no ill effects from the accident.
"I wish we would have had a bigger (point) lead earlier in the season," he said. "As far as racing, we still raced hard even though we had a very comfortable lead. We never missed any opportunities. These guys worked hard and now the chore is to see if we can do it again."
Schatz began the season with plenty of momentum after competing in Australia in the off-season. He scored eight wins including seven in a row at one point, as he prepared for the season opener at Volusia Speedway Park.
"I've always won a lot of races over there (in Australia)," recalled Schatz. "I've heard the comment, 'Well, nobody is there and this and that.' Last time I looked this about racing, not a contest as to bragging rights for anything. Bragging rights definitely don't put money in my checking account. Everyone was there and it was good for us. We had good momentum and a great package, and we still have a great package. Australia is good fun and it keeps me going throughout the winter and that is something that I like to do. It keeps my mental part very strong and I think that is 90 percent of this deal. You have to enjoy it and I enjoy going there. When you get home, you have to realize that you are on different soil and it's time to start from scratch. We do that and come back here and try to be successful and it seemed to work out that way this year."
Another memorable moment during the 2006 season for Schatz was his sweep of the events at Red River Valley Speedway in Fargo. He also was thrilled to be able to put on a great show for the fans at Nodak Speedway, in Minot, North Dakota, where he was born and raised. The largest crowd in the 50-plus year history of the track saw Schatz charge from the 14th starting spot to take the lead. After sustaining a flat tire that forced him to the work area, the fan favorite worked his way from the back up to seventh.
"We got to win Fargo a few years back, and this year we got to win both nights," he said. "It was an absolute pleasure. Going back to Minot, we did not get the win, but we started 14th and got the lead and blew a tire. That was for the fans that have begged for a show for 12-14 years. They got to see it, and they got to see a good one. That was very heartwarming. Obviously we'll be going back and that's a thriller. I hope it becomes a candid stop on the Outlaws tour."
Schatz scored a very emotional victory on October 21 at USA Race Park in Tucson, dedicating the triumph to his dear friend and World of Outlaws found Ted Johnson, who had passed away the night before. Schatz set fast time on the night, won a heat, and led all 30-laps of the A-Feature.
The accolades for his title continue to add up, as Schatz was recently named to the First Team of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association All-American Auto Racing team in the "Short Track" category. It was his first time on the ballot, and he became the seventh World of Outlaws drivers earn a berth on the team.
"I'm really excited to be recognized by all the writers and broadcasters," said Schatz. "We worked extremely hard over the last ten years with the World of Outlaws and this year everything came together. Winning a championship means that we were the best over the long haul and that was our goal to win races and come out on top at the end."
Looking to keep his momentum going into 2007, Schatz quickly departed for Australia after the season ended. He racked up three Top-Three finishes in the trio of races he ran before returning home. He will travel back to the Land Down Under for additional races, including the annual $50,000 to-win event at Parramatta City Raceway, which he has been victorious in multiple times in the past.
Also in preparation for next season, the team recently announced that they are in process of looking for a new crew chief and/or car chief for next season, as Ricky Warner departed shortly after the season to join another team.
Next Up: The World of Outlaws Sprint Series Season Review continues with the months of February and March.