ROSSBURG, OH - With close to 100 nights of racing during a season, it's easy to see how the Pennzoil World of Outlaws stars just take each race like the next. Within all of those races are ones that stand out. One of those events is the annual ...
ROSSBURG, OH - With close to 100 nights of racing during a season, it's easy to see how the Pennzoil World of Outlaws stars just take each race like the next. Within all of those races are ones that stand out. One of those events is the annual King's Royal at Eldora Speedway. On Saturday night, the 18th annual King's Royal will take place and rising Outlaw Star Donny Schatz is hoping to be crowed King after the 40-lap test of stamina, patience and adrenaline.
Schatz used the 1996 King's Royal to splash onto the national sprint car scene as a 19-year old, when he traveled from North Dakota to Western Ohio for a chance to gain respectability in front of a national television audience. Things couldn't have gone better for "The Minot Missile" as he finished an impressive eighth in his King's Royal debut. The finish proved to be a pivotal point in his young racing career because shortly afterward, his family decided to send him out to chase the Outlaws full-time the following season.
"The first time we were there things really went pretty good," said Schatz, who drives the #15 ParkerStores/Featherlie Coaches J&J. "No one really knew much about us and we just kind went about our business. We were in a good situation and made the best of it. Unfortunately, things haven't gotten better for me in the King's Royal."
Schatz has come along way since that July night in 1996, but his showings at the King's Royal haven't necessarily proved it. With finishes of 14th, 15th, and 14th in the last three Royal Rumble's, Schatz is ready to put the mechanical woes of previous year's behind him and challenge for the first big money payoff of the season.
"We haven't done real well at the King's Royal, it just seems like we either struggle with our motor or getting the car to work in that race," said Schatz, who has climbed to sixth in the WoO standings. "I'm hoping that this year we get both our motor and car working perfectly and having Kenny Woodruff should certainly help. We've been a top five car both times we raced there this year, so maybe we can be the ones carrying the $50,000 check home on Saturday night."
Woodruff's guidance as a crew chief has seemed to help Schatz at the famous high-speed, high-banked half-mile dirt oval. Schatz was the fastest qualifier in April and has finished fourth in both "A" Features at Eldora this year. Their success shouldn't be a surprise given Woodruff's impressive numbers at Eldora Speedway. He's been the crew chief for three King's Royal winners (1989 - Bobby Davis, Jr., 1993 & 1995 Dave Blaney) and also has won three Historical Big One races at the Big E. "KW" joined Donny Schatz Motorsports last August making this the first King's Royal for Schatz and Woodruff as a team.
"I've been doing this a long time, and we always seem to go real well at Eldora," said Woodruff, who is tied with Karl Kinser for most King's Royal crew chief victories with three. "Anyone that knows me can tell you that I want to win more than anything. We had a nice run earlier this season, but that was then. We need to come in and take care of business and walk out with the trophy."
Schatz used a 15-race string from late-April thru mid-June to move from 12th in the standings to within two points of fifth position. He won five races and scored 13 top ten finishes during that stretch. He had a run of nine consecutive top ten finishes halted on Monday at Knoxville Raceway when the team lost a motor while running eighth, but they bounced back on Wednesday at Terre Haute with a charge from 14th to sixth. He now trails Andy Hillenburg by five points for fifth in the WoO standings.
One of those five wins that may give the team added confidence was his race from 10th to first at Bristol Motor Speedway. The "Minot Missile" took a liking to the high-line and knows that you can't be intimated at Eldora.
"Eldora is a challenging track, but I've been really comfortable in the car that Kenny has put under me there," continued Schatz. "The big thing with the King's Royal is starting close to the front. Winning the heat race is pretty much everything. You want to qualify the best you can, but on the other side of the coin that penalizes you somewhat. In the last couple of years, I've been in situations where I led the heat race until the last lap or two and got passed. No one said winning was easy and with this format you really have to work for everything you get."
Earl Baltes' place will be jammed full of fans and they'll get their moneys worth as Outlaw drivers will have to deal with the difficult format which includes a six-car inversion in the heats with only three transfer spots available. The six heat winners will start in the front of the dash and most likely lead the field to the green flag of the King's Royal.
The format is tough, but the payoff is great. Donny Schatz is hoping to become the youngest winner of this prestigious event and add it to an impressive resume that already includes a Western World championship, a Williams Grove National Open title, and an Australian Grand Annual Sprint Car Classic victory.