Schatz, Parkerstore Team experience roller-coaster 2002 season. FARGO, ND (November 19) - Last February, Donny Schatz returned to the United States as confident as he ever had been prior to a Pennzoil World of Outlaws season. The Fargo, ND ...
Schatz, Parkerstore Team experience roller-coaster 2002 season.
FARGO, ND (November 19) - Last February, Donny Schatz returned to the United States as confident as he ever had been prior to a Pennzoil World of Outlaws season. The Fargo, ND resident had just concluded a successful Australian Tour, which included defending his Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic and $50,000 Summer Slam victories Down Under, and he was coming off a career-best fifth place finish with the Outlaws in 2001.
"We had everything setup to make a run at the championship," commented Schatz. "Traditionally, I've been a slow starter and I was determined to get off to a good start. The new format kind of hurt our program because of the qualifying deal, but we did make a good couple of runs through the field in California (from 16th to ninth in the opener and 12th to fourth at Perris). Maybe that was a sign for our entire year -- to pass a lot of cars."
Schatz and his ParkerStores team struggled through the first ten events, which included using both provisional starts in one weekend at the Spring Nationals in Devil's Bowl. The following weekend the team decided to switch to Hoosier Tires simply to see if things would change. The benefits came quickly as Schatz led the preliminary feature event and finished a close second (.012 seconds) to Mark Kinser in the final on March 24.
"We worked hard with Goodyear tires and they have been great to us," continued Schatz. "We had some problems with our motors and other things, so it wasn't just the tires, but the Hoosiers did seem to help us. It was a big confidence boost to run well in Houston. Not just for me, but everybody on my team needed it."
The #15 ParkerStore J&J scored another podium finish on March 30 at I-55 Raceway in Pevely, MO and three weeks later, Schatz was again leading a feature race. The team had a solid weekend at the Talladega Short Track where he led 26 laps in Saturday's 40-lap "A" feature. Lapped traffic allowed Danny Lasoski to sneak by him on the final lap and take the victory. During the next month, Schatz continued his trend of qualifying outside the top ten and making strong runs through the field. Those runs included coming from 24th to eighth at Nebraska Raceway Park, 15th to seventh at State Fair Speedway in Sedalia, MO, 21st to seventh at Williams Grove and a 17th to sixth charge at Hagerstown Speedway.
Four consecutive Top Five runs gave the team some needed momentum as the summer arrived beginning with a third place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Schatz earned his only fast-qualifier award of the season at Rolling Wheels Raceway in Elbridge, NY, on May 30, which was remarkable itself. What made the effort remarkable was that Donny and the team arrived only minutes before qualifying after concluding a marathon trip from Elbridge to Cleveland and back for a RaceDay event at Parker's Corporate Headquarters in Cleveland.
In the first few weeks of June, Schatz had two second place finishes and a fourth place run. His second place at Heartland Topeka Park was somewhat frustrating for Schatz as worked his way from 12th to take the lead, but got caught in lapped traffic again allowing Danny Lasoski to take the win. His fourth place finish at Huset's Speedway after starting 12th gave the team plenty of momentum as they arrived for the three day program at his home-track in Fargo.
Despite several mechanical woes during the three day event, the ParkerStore team proved to be show its best when it counted most. The weekend marked the debut of Speed Channel and in Friday's feature, Donny charged from 14th to finish third and in Saturday's finale, he started fourth and dominated the 30-lap "A" feature to collect the $20,000 in front of an obviously biased standing room only crowd.
"This is unbelievable, my first win at home," remarked Schatz following the victory. "You couldn't repeat this feeling if you wanted to. This is probably the biggest win of my career, and I can't thank my parents enough for helping me get here. I know I'm one of the happiest people here right now, but they might be even happier."
The win in Fargo sparked the team and they came home first just four days later as Schatz dominated the 30-lap feature at Beaver Dam Raceway. He scored another second place finish four nights later at the Terre Haute Action Track as the teamed prepared for the "Month of Money". Schatz opened the month of money again behind the eight ball as he qualified 22nd for the $50,000-to-win King's Royal. He charged his #15 J&J through the field and ultimately finished 4th. Three nights later, the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup Trophy and $35,000 was on the line. Schatz made another solid charge through the field coming from 15th to third and with only a handful of laps remaining he closed on the top two runners. Unfortunately, when he made his run for the lead second place driver Joey Saldana made contact with the ParkerStore #15 causing both cars to stop and ending his shot at winning the race.
Eleven days later, Schatz and his team were at Eldora Speedway for the 10th annual Historical Big One. One night earlier, the team debuted their new Shaver Engine, nicknamed Tiger, which was to be run at the upcoming Knoxville Nationals. Schatz came from 21st to eighth in just six laps, but his night ended when something went wrong with the motor. The team double checked everything the following day and "Tiger" helped destroy the field as Schatz walked away with the 40-lap feature race winning by nearly a half lap as he picked up the $100,000 first place prize.
The win provided the team with plenty of momentum as they returned to Knoxville looking to win the Knoxville Nationals. Qualifying again was a concern, but Schatz turned in the ninth-best lap in the second preliminary program. He took the lead early in the 25-lap feature race, but was victimized again by lapped traffic allowing both Tyler Walker and Danny Lasoski to get past him. He wasn't about to be satisfied with a third place finish and stood up in the drivers seat to come back and win Thursday's qualifying feature at the Nationals for the second consecutive year. He also duplicated his Kele World Challenge victory one night later coming from 15th to win by using a last corner slide job on PJ Chesson to collect the $10,000 paycheck.
Schatz spent his 25th birthday preparing for the 42nd annual Mopar Parts Knoxville Nationals. He knew going into the race that his #15 ParkerStore J&J was fast since he was two-tenths of a second faster than anyone else in "A" Main Hot Laps. He took off quickly from his seventh place starting position and jumped up to fourth. After battling Joey Saldana for third for most of the early stages, Schatz spent the final 8 laps chasing down Steve Kinser and Danny Lasoski. He got by Lasoski with three to go, but couldn't catch "the King" and finished second for the second time in the last three Nationals.
"When I look back at that week in August, I really can't believe it," recalled Schatz. "Winning the Historical Big One and doing so well at Knoxville really gave us all a lot of gratification. This Outlaw series is really tough, but to be on top of your game when all the big money is on the line is what it's all about."
Heading west is always the toughest part of the WoO swing following the Nationals. Schatz continued his runs from the back with a standout performance at Skagit Speedway as he charged from 15th to third. Four nights later, Schatz had the ParkerStore J&J out front at Riverside Speedway, the site of his first career WoO "A" Feature win in August of 1998. He had checked out on the field and looked as though win number six was on the way when a broken crankshaft ended his night.
By mid September a change was needed, so Don took over the responsibilities of the racecar at the track. His first night in command of the car at Nebraska Raceway Park was very familiar for the 2002 season. A 19th place qualifying effort was followed by his run from 19th to fourth in the 30-lap "A" Feature. The next two races he swapped the lead numerous times with Jac Haudenschild at Eagle Raceway and earned a pair of runner-up finishes.
The team had another solid weekend in early October at the Tennessee State Raceway in Baxter, TN storming from 12th to fourth. The following night the ParkerStore team returned to the Talladega Short Track and once again found themselves in the lead. Lapped traffic again played havoc on Schatz and he finished third.
Schatz finished the season with two races in New Mexico and a pair in Las Vegas. On November 2, he led his 12th WoO feature event of the season. He finished sixth in that feature and finished in eighth place finish the next night before moving to Las Vegas, where he raced from 23rd to 11th and 13th to sixth to close the season.
"We finished the season okay," concluded Schatz. "In the past, we were trying things and couldn't even sniff a top ten, so to finish with three out of four top tens is promising. We had a pretty good year and I know I wanted to finish better than seventh in the points, but we'll shoot for better next year."