Returning to Where it All Began: Schatz Carries Momentum to Nodak Speedway As a young boy sitting in the stands at Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota, Donny Schatz knew what he wanted to do with his life. While most boys his age would have...
Returning to Where it All Began: Schatz Carries Momentum to Nodak Speedway
As a young boy sitting in the stands at Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota, Donny Schatz knew what he wanted to do with his life. While most boys his age would have wanted to have become a doctor, firefighter or policeman, Schatz wanted to drive a sprint car and compete against the best drivers in the world. Over 10 years later he will return to the track he vividly remembers in the town where he was born and raised doing just that.
The native of Minot, who now calls Fargo, North Dakota home will return to Nodak Speedway on Tuesday, August 14 fresh off his second consecutive Knoxville Nationals win and as the reinging World of Outlaws Champion. The high-banked 3/8-mile will always hold a special place in his heart and he would like nothing more than to win a World of Outlaws event at the track.
"I probably know 90 percent of the people that comes to the races there so it would be awesome to be able to go there and win on our home turf," said Schatz, driver of the ParkerStore J&J. "It would mean a lot for me to win there. It is one of the few places we have not won at, and it would be nice to get that one."
While his father Danny raced while he was growing up, Donny never felt any pressure to climb behind the wheel. He made the choice all on his own to begin racing and eventually to make a career out of it. The second generation driver is quick to credit his father for a large part of his success along with the continued support that his entire family offers him and all of the sacrifices they made so he could race.
"With his business background my dad has a lot of input and knowledge that he can give at this level of the sport," noted Donny. "If I didn't have my father with me, I probably would not have been able to race at the level that I have raced at for a number of years. He's been very instrumental in my success, mentally, physically, and in the things that I have learned to do. You can talk to him about things and he remembers them just like I do. Even though I am the one racing, it seems like he is in the car with you and he's been a very big part of helping my learning curve."
Schatz currently is one of the most hands on drivers in the pit area, but that has not always been the case. He continues to learn each and every day time he takes to the track, as well as every time he picks up a wrench in the pit area. Whether it's meticulously tweaking his shocks or tending to the business side of his family run team, Schatz plays an integral part in nearly every decision that is made in regards to the team.
"I haven't always been a hand on guy," admitted the 1997 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year. "I used to not be part of it, thinking you had to have a big name crew who knew what was going on to be part of it. My dad told me that you need to learn for yourself. Long term, you are the only one that you know will be around. He taught me that. He helped me, even though he may not known all of those things he knew that I needed to know that."
The more hands on he became, the greater the sense of accomplishment became for Schatz. From his first World of Outlaws win in 1998 at Cottage Grove Speedway in Oregon, to his most recent victory in the 47th Annual Knoxville Nationals on Saturday night that earned him a record $150,000 payday, Schatz takes pride in everything he does on and off the track relating to the race team.
"There came a day when I started doing it myself," shared Schatz. "It didn't come overnight. It takes several years and I have been out here for 10 years and have paid attention. You learn things a lot better when you know what is going on. It is very important to do that. Some days it's tough to juggle the racing part of it with what is going on with the motors and the cars. It's also probably the most rewarding feeling. When you finish, you feel it. There is no one else out here that can feel what I feel in that No. 15 car. It's exciting to be there, but it's been a long trip to get there."
While he just turned 30 years old, Schatz has been competing full-time with the World of Outlaws since 1997. He has 64 career A-Feature wins, including a series-best 13 this season, as he chases his second straight series title. Many things have changed over the years in the sport and it is this constant evolution that helps keeps Schatz motivated, as well as the lasting relationships that he has formed with fellow drivers and teams.
"It's hard sometimes for me to remember back 10 years," he smiled. "We've been to at least a 1,000 races since then and that is a lot of races. The faces are one thing that always change. When you came out here in prior years, you looked up to guys that you raced with and now many of those guys have become your friends."
One face that Schatz misses every day is that of World of Outlaws founder Ted Johnson. The reigning series champion earned one of the most emotional wins of his career last October at USA Race Park in Arizona, the day after Johnson passed away. Schatz dedicated the win to his friend and the man that did more for sprint car racing than anyone ever will. He still thinks about Johnson often and is extremely thankful to have an opportunity to make a living racing a sprint car thanks to Johnson's vision and never ending work ethic.
"The biggest thing that has probably changed is the disappearance of Ted Johnson," noted the always determined driver. "I really miss Ted, because he was a hands on guy himself and he would come to the races and he was a fan. He was someone that we all looked up to and now that he is gone, he is greatly missed. This is traditional racing and old school racing and when you see things like that change, it's a big difference."
Having competed at Red River Valley Speedway in Fargo, North Dakota each and every year since his rookie season and winning twice, Schatz was eager to see the series make a stop at Nodak Speedway. That finally happened last season as the series visited the high-banked 3/8-mile for the first time.
"Minot had been begging for a World of Outlaws show for a number of years," said Schatz. "Last year was the year that it got put together and it took a lot of hard work from a lot of people. There were a lot of chances taken by people as well. All the guys from SLS Promotions (Scott Boyd, Larry Hillerud and Steve Sinclair) worked extremely hard as well as my dad to get everything going there. It was an awesome event and the support was great."
In the series inaugural visit to the track, before a record setting crowd, that was the largest in the 50-plus year history of the facility, Schatz charged from the 14th starting spot to take the lead from Craig Dollansky on the 22nd lap. After powering past over half of the field, he suffered a flat right rear tire, though still rallied to finish a very solid seventh. It was one of 49 Top-10 finishes he racked up en route to his first World of Outlaws title. A win at Nodak Speedway this season is all that is on his mind.
"I thought we would do it last year and we blew the tire," he said. "That's just part of the deal. We weren't disappointed, because the people got to see a good show, irregardless of who won. It was a great event and had great support from the fans with their interaction. That is what we like to see."
On Tuesday, August 14 at Nodak Speedway, Reserved Main Grandstand - Sections P-Q-R-S-T for adults will be $33, with children (0-12 yrs) $15. Adult reserved main grandstand - Sections K-L-M-N-O will be $30, with children (0-12 yrs) - $15. Pit pass combos will also be available for $35 and include a reserved ticket and a pit pass.
Adult general admission (North & South Grandstands) will be $28, with children (6-12 yrs) - $12, and kids (5 & under) -- will be admitted free of charge. Pit pass combos will also be available for $35 and include a general admission ticket and a pit pass. For ticket information call SLS Promotions at 815-344-2023 or visit www.slspromotions.com.