MINOT, ND (February 16) - When a series has only had five different champions in almost 25 years of competition, it's clear that winning the Pennzoil World of Outlaws (WoO) championship is one of the toughest titles to claim in ...
MINOT, ND (February 16) - When a series has only had five different champions in almost 25 years of competition, it's clear that winning the Pennzoil World of Outlaws (WoO) championship is one of the toughest titles to claim in
sports. Winning the Outlaw championship comes down to consistent finishes and more highs than lows over the course of the season. Donny Schatz,who first began his WoO career in 1997, is hoping this is the season he will join Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Bobby Davis, Jr, Mark Kinser and Dave Blaney as champion of the ultra competitive sprint car series, which kicks off their season next weekend in California.
"Every year you get stronger, and right now, my mental attitude is the best that it has ever been," said Schatz, who will drive his family owned ParkerStores #15 J&J. "I'm really excited to get the season started, and
hopefully, we can get a couple of wins the first weekend and charge on from there. I really feel like we've got a great shot at the championship, and I know we're going to give it our best effort and that's all part of racing.
There's very few guys that have won a World of Outlaws championship and I'd be honored to have my name on that list."
Schatz's WoO career has been on a steady climb towards the top since he made his national debut at the 1996 King's Royal. As an 18-year old on his way to the National WISSOTA Sprint Car championship, Schatz finished eighth in the nationally televised WoO race on TNN and excited many by joining the Outlaws the following season. To say his rookie season with the Outlaws was a learning experience would be an understatement, and the North Dakota native admits things have changed quite a bit since he his first season as a full-time Outlaw.
"The intensity level of every driver and every team seems to be so much higher," said Schatz, who won his first WoO feature in August of 1998 at Riverside Speedway in Cottage Grove, OR. "The fact that every team has put
more emphasis on their engine program and lightening their racecars definitely upped the pace. It was pretty competitive in 1997, and it seems like its five times tougher today. It just makes every night tougher."
Things have changed somewhat with the World of Outlaws since Schatz started the annual 100 race schedule, but many racing champions will tell you that the driver's mindset has a lot to do with who wins and who doesn't.
"I know mentally I'm a lot more prepared to win races now," claimed Schatz, who was awarded the Viviran Perseverance Award following the 2000 season. "When I got in the car before, I'd try to figure what I was going to do and wonder if I could do it. Now, it's not a question of if I can do it. I know I can do. When you get in the car every night and you're confident of what's going on no matter where you start, your chances of moving forward are a lot better."
Schatz felt he was ready for a championship last season after winning three of the final five WoO races in the 1999 season. The 2000 season proved to be one of the most difficult in Schatz's career as he struggled through early
season problems, which ultimately led to his crew chief moving on. Schatz and crewman Shane Anderson spent two months handling the car alone before Kenny Woodruff joined Donny Schatz Motorsports at the Knoxville Nationals. Woodruff's presence helped Schatz get his mental toughness back immediately as Schatz almost won the biggest race in sprint car racing.
"My confidence wasn't really great last year from probably a combination of things," said Schatz, who was tabbed the "Minot Missile" by the late Steve Evans while dominating the early laps of the Nationals. " I don't feel that
it was all me, but when we teamed up Ken Woodruff after doing all the work myself, I knew when I got in it every night what to expect. When he told me what it's going to do, that's what I expected and that's what happened. When I was working on the car, it was kind of a hit or miss situation."
As a more confident driver, Schatz finished the season by winning the Williams Grove National Open and became the first driver to finish second at the Nationals and to win the National Open in the same season. Kenny Weld
(1972), Doug Wolfgang (1984&1985) Steve Kinser (1992 & 1994) and Mark Kinser (1999) are the only drivers to win both in the same season, which makes the accomplishment pretty amazing, but not unbelievable since Woodruff is one of only a handful of crew chiefs that have ever claimed the WoO title.
In preparation for the upcoming 2001 WoO season, Schatz recently traveled to Australia to keep his driving skills sharp. His ten race journey was designed to build his confidence, and it turned out to be more than that. Schatz won the 4 of his ten races including Australia's biggest race, the Warrnambool Classic, and the $50,000-to-win race at Parramatta City Raceway. According to Schatz his recent success "Down Under" is going to help him when the
Outlaws begin their season on February 23 at King's Speedway in Hanford, CA.
"I know a lot of people don't believe me because of what happened last year," continued Schatz, who won several races in Australia between the 1999 and 2000 seasons. "The people I was surrounded by were positive all the time. If you have a bad night, it's not your last one. Live life, have fun. Enjoy what your doing and just keeping on going. The further you get drug down the worse off you are. Last year, I drug myself in the ground and it s
awful tough to do well when you get in the racecar with a poor attitude. I think that is something that I learned in Australia; Win or lose, you've got to have a good time and enjoy what your doing. I probably learned more this
winter about the mental aspect of racing than I did in the previous two years."
If this is going to be a championship season, Schatz knows some things will have to be different from last season. The team will utilize a new J&J Chassis and have their motors built by Shaver Specialties. Last year, it took
Schatz fifteen races to get the ParkerStores #15 inside the top five and this year they won't be able to wait that long, and he also knows that he needs to continue his success at the "big races".
"We've been pretty good the last couple years in the big races," commented Schatz. "I don't really know why that its, but after coming that close at Knoxville last year, there's one thing on my mind right now and that's
winning the Nationals. I want to win the races leading up to it, but you just have to take it night by night and come Nationals time, I think we're going to be pretty impressive. We'll see if can't knock off as many races as we
can along the way and stay close in the points chase. Our goal is for everybody to keep a good mental attitude and have a lot of fun in the process."