KNOXVILLE, IA - One race typically doesn't define of season, but the Knoxville Nationals clearly isn't just another race. This week, sprint car competitors from around the world will convene in the Iowa community of Knoxville chasing after the ...
KNOXVILLE, IA - One race typically doesn't define of season, but the Knoxville Nationals clearly isn't just another race. This week, sprint car competitors from around the world will convene in the Iowa community of Knoxville chasing after the $125,000 top prize and loads more cash and honors in the Sprint Car Capital of the World. Donny Schatz has been knocking on the door the last five years trying to add his name to the illustrious list of winners in the prestigious Knoxville Nationals and this year his goal is to be the last man standing on Saturday night.
"I'll be honest I could tell a couple of days ago that the nationals were getting close....I started feeling that little twitch in my stomach," said Schatz, who has three runner-up finishes in the last four Knoxville Nationals. "Everyone on this ParkerStore team is pretty excited. We've been racing better lately and we're just hoping luck goes our way when we get to the track on Wednesday night. We've got to get lucky with a good draw, qualify well and make it through our heat race. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself."
The Knoxville Nationals format challenges a driver and team to be their best every time they hit the famed half-mile dirt oval. Schatz will accumulate points each time he drives the #15 ParkerStore J&J during Wednesday evening's festivities. He will shoot for the perfect qualifying score of 500, which would mean he was the fastest qualifier (200 points), won his heat race (100 points) and was victorious in the 25-lap preliminary feature (200 points).
Schatz has been terrific on his qualifying night the past six Nationals. The 26 year-old Fargo, ND, native finished second three times before winning the last three qualifying night features. He could join Steve Kinser as the only driver to win four in row by winning on Wednesday night. Kinser won consecutive qualifying night features from 1989 through 1992, and Schatz realizes that winning a qualifying program offers no guarantees when the big trophy is on the line Saturday night.
"We've been really solid in the qualifying night programs the past few years, but we haven't closed the deal on Saturday night," continued Schatz, who started the Nationals "A" Main on the pole in 2001 and 2003. "Your goal coming into the qualifying night is to be the high point man when the night is done. We've won three in row and have been high point man twice. When you do that it really sets you up for the weekend. Guys like Steve (Kinser), Mark (Kinser) and Danny (Lasoski) will tell you that the hardest part about winning the Nationals is being in a spot to do so on Saturday night. The only way to be there on Saturday is do well in your qualifying night."
Since becoming a traveling member of the World of Outlaws in 1997, Schatz always seems to be at his best in mid-August. During his rookie season on the Outlaws tour, he qualified second overall and was leading his heat race when a torsion stop broke sending him into the turn three wall and essentially ending his fifth attempt to qualify for the "Grand Daddy of them all". In 1998, he started a string of three consecutive runner-up finishes in his qualifying night feature before scoring his first career top five finish in the Nationals by coming home fourth.
In 1999, he finished ninth in the Nationals "A" Feature, and the 2000 Nationals again included a runner-up finish in the qualifying night, but also saw Schatz lead the first 24 laps of the Nationals "A" feature before coming home a heartbreaking second. The 2001 event looked to be the year for Schatz after he won his first career feature at Knoxville Raceway in his qualifying night in dominating fashion, but in Saturday's "A" feature, Schatz didn't get to complete the first lap after having a left rear wheel problem in the first turn.
He bounced back the following season and was involved in one of the more memorable qualifying night features in recent history as he dueled with Tyler Walker and Danny Lasoski before winning the 25-lap thriller. He started seventh in the Nationals "A" Main two nights later and ran out of laps trying to catch eventual winner Steve Kinser. Last season, Schatz again wired the field on his qualifying night, but could only lead the Nationals "A" main for seven circuits before giving way to Danny Lasoski.
Schatz enters the Nationals having one of his most consistent seasons. He and Crew Chief Tyler Swank are in their second full season together. Last year, they picked up 12 World of Outlaws feature wins, and this season, he ranks third in the World of Outlaws standings, but only has one victory. A breakthrough win on Saturday would certainly make their season.
"We hope to come out on top this week and be competitive every time we're on the track," said Schatz. "The bottom line is that this event is what sprint car racing is all about. We have a great group of people and sponsors like ParkerStore, Bellerud Transport and Blue Beacon Truck Washes involved with our race team. They will all get to come out and enjoy this event with us. I've learned that you can't let all of the pressure overwhelm you. I am going to do the best I can, my team is going to give 110%, and hopefully we'll finally win this race."
Fans can keep up with all the Knoxville Nationals activities live this week. All four nights of action can be heard live on the Sprint Car Network at www.sprintcarnet.com. The Speed Channel will provide four hours of live coverage on Saturday night beginning at 9 PM EST.
Log onto www.donnyschatz.com to follow all of the news and information on Donny Schatz during the Knoxville Nationals