MECHANICSBURG, PA (SEPTEMBER 25) - What a difference a year can make. In seasons past, Donny Schatz dreaded his trips to the historic Williams Grove Speedway in Central Pennsylvania. The 24 year-old Pennzoil World of Outlaws (WoO) star felt like...
MECHANICSBURG, PA (SEPTEMBER 25) - What a difference a year can make. In seasons past, Donny Schatz dreaded his trips to the historic Williams Grove Speedway in Central Pennsylvania. The 24 year-old Pennzoil World of Outlaws (WoO) star felt like he struggled at that one particular track more than any other on the Outlaws tour. His thoughts have definitely changed since last September when he pulled off a shocker by claiming the National Open.
"I think winning last year's National Open was a huge upset," said Schatz, who led the final 14 laps and claimed the $25,000 first prize. "Looking back though, I really feel like that win was a big building block for this season. It was the first time (Crew Chief) Kenny (Woodruff) and I won together and he was a big reason why we won that race. We have won three more times here this year, and we should have won the fourth, too."
Schatz enters this weekend's 39th annual Williams Grove National Open as one of the favorites after being dominant in his family owned #15 ParkerStores/Featherlite Coaches J&J this season at "The Grove". He won the May 17th Outlaw preliminary program in decisive style leading laps 3-25 and earned the pole position the following night in a program that was that aired on TNN: The National Network. Mother Nature was the only one to slow Schatz and the ParkerStores crew down as rain fell just before the green flag dropped.
The team returned in July and picked right up where they left off as Schatz looked like a seasoned veteran performing slide jobs on leader Greg Hodnett before finally taking the lead for good in the July 26th preliminary program. Following that victory, Schatz strapped back into the #15 J&J and went on to lead all 30 laps of the "makeup" feature event.
"Winning twice in one night, certainly ranks up there as one of the great nights in my career," continued Schatz. "I wish we would have won the next night too and taken some of Stu Murray's Wirtgen bonus money, but Donnie Kreitz got us. I know our team will be ready for this weekend. There is just something about pulling into a track where you've run well. Everyone seems to pick it up a notch."
The victories at Williams Grove Speedway have helped Schatz reach double figures in WoO wins. He's won six "A" Features and four preliminary programs, and all of those wins have come in streaks. Schatz won five races in 15 starts earlier in this season, which included his May 17th victory. The two wins on July 26th started a weekend of five finishes of first or second and a string of five wins in 12 starts, which included wins at New Egypt Speedway, a Knoxville Nationals preliminary feature victory and the Billings (MT) WoO "A" Feature. Also during that stretch he won the $10,000 Kele World Challenge race and the pole for the Knoxville Nationals "A" Main.
"We've had some good spurts this year, but it's tough to sustain those over long periods of time with this caliber of competition," said Schatz. "I think we've proved to a lot of people that we have a shot at winning every night and our goal is to finish the season with another strong string like we've had twice this year."
The disappointment of the Knoxville Nationals may be the only thing that hasn't changed from a year ago for Schatz entering the National Open. In 2000, "The Minot Missile" led the first 24 laps before finishing second to Mark Kinser. This year, Schatz had a dominant car and didn't even get to make one lap as his left rear tire peeled off the wheel entering the first corner of the race.
"The Nationals is such a tough deal, and the way things have went there past two years is pretty tough to swallow," said Schatz, who currently ranks fourth in the WoO standings. "Winning a prestigious race like the National Open gave me a lot of confidence last year. I knew that I could get it done in a big race. I won "The Classic" last January in Australia, which is pretty big race, and we'd really like to keep the title as National Open champion. I know the competition is going to be tough, and they will all be out to knock us from the podium, but I like our chances."
If Schatz can win Saturday's 40-lap race, he will join four other drivers that won consecutive National Opens: Bobby Adamson (1967-68), Kenny Weld (1971-73), Lynn Paxson (1982-83) and Doug Wolfgang (1984-86).