STEVE KINSER & DONNY SCHATZ
Former Outlaw Champions Look to Repeat 2010 Victories in Florida
INDIANAPOLIS (Feb. 8, 2011) -- After watching professional football's most storied franchise regain the coveted champion status by winning its fourth Super Bowl on Sunday, two of the toughest competitors in the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint car series are ready to reclaim the title, themselves. Tony Stewart Racing's (TSR) Steve Kinser, the sport's most decorated driver, and Donny Schatz, four-time WoO champion, begin their journey to become champions again this weekend in the 40th Annual Florida DIRTcar Nationals by University of Northwestern Ohio at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
The 2011 WoO campaign, which includes 70 nights of racing over the next 10 months, begins in Florida for the seventh consecutive season and both TSR drivers would like nothing more than to repeat last year's DIRTCar Nationals outcome. Schatz triumphed in the season-opening event to claim his 101st career WoO A-Feature victory, while Kinser earned his inaugural A-Feature win -- and 553rd overall -- behind the wheel of the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/JD Byrider/Chevy Maxim in the second night of competition. With three nights of action set to take place this weekend, Schatz and Kinser know that winning early on would be a great way to start their march to the crown.
Despite surging in the second half of the 2010 WoO season, Schatz' bid for a fifth consecutive title came up just short as he finished second in the final standings. After his victory in the season opener at Volusia, Schatz only found victory lane four more times in WoO action last season, a win total he knows must increase this year. After winning four consecutive WoO titles from 2006 to 2009, the Fargo, N.D., racer is eager to resume his "Drive for Five" -- although non-consecutive -- aboard the TSR No. 15 Armor All/STP/Chevy J&J. On Friday night, he'll be trying to make his 900th career WoO A-Feature starting lineup in one of the most demanding series in all of motorsports.
Schatz's TSR STP/Armor All crew will be comprised of crew chief Rick Warner and crewmen Steve Swenson and Bob Curtis. It spent the offseason fine tuning its championship equipment while Schatz kept his driving skills sharp by winning three of six Sprint car starts in Australia, including his ninth $50,000 Scott Darley Memorial at Tyrepower Sydney Speedway in January.
Kinser, who has won 20 WoO titles, is excited about his second season driving for two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart. His goal for 2011 is to bring another WoO championship back to Indiana. "The King of the Outlaws" had a fantastic 2010 season winning races throughout the season while carrying the Bass Pro Shops colors. He followed his early Florida triumph with wins in Minnesota, North Dakota, Kansas, Ohio, New York and Washington. The win in Ohio came in dramatic fashion as Kinser made a final-lap pass en route to collecting his seventh $50,000 Kings Royal trophy at Stewart's Eldora Speedway in Rossburg.
The Bass Pro Shops crew will once again be led by Kinser's longtime crew chief Scott Gerkin. Crewmen Gary DuBois, who has been with Kinser since 1995, and Mikey Kuemper, a former TSR wrench, will assist Gerkin in maintaining the TSR No. 11 this season. The team is looking for another solid start to the season in Florida before heading west.
Victories by both Schatz and Kinser last year in the DIRTcar Nationals served notice to the competition that the TSR combo was going to be a factor for wins all season. The results weren't a coincidence as both have had their share of success around the half-mile dirt oval. Schatz has four career WoO wins, nine podium finishes and 12 top-10s in his 15 career Outlaw starts at the track. He scored his first career All-Star Circuit of Champions (ASCoC) victory at VSP in February 2006. Kinser has a pair of WoO A-Feature victories at VSP and seven top-five finishes in 13 career WoO starts at the facility.
Steve Kinser, Driver of the No. 11 TSR/Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevy Maxim:
The 2010 WoO campaign was your first season driving for Tony Stewart Racing and you finished third in the final standings. Is there anything from last season that you can build on heading into 2011?
"I'd say there were a lot of things we learned last year. We had a pretty good season and were right in the hunt all year. Unfortunately, we just had a few bumps in the road and that's what ended up costing us the title. It was great to be part of TSR and work with the people at Bass Pro Shops, and I'm looking forward to going after another championship this year."
Teamwork is a big factor in most sports and racing is no different. Your Bass Pro Shops crew has been with you quite a few years and has been involved in a lot of your success. How vital is it in this sport to have a great group of people behind you?
"It's really important. This isn't a one-man show. Scott (Gerkin) and Gary (DuBois) have been with me for a lot of championships and a lot of wins. I can tell you they are a big reason we have had so much success. We've got a good group of guys working on this team and, with all the support we have from everyone involved with Tony Stewart Racing, I feel like we have everything we need to win the championship. There's no doubt we have all the tools to do it."
With a schedule that reaches all parts of the United States and into Canada, preparation is a big part of the winning formula. Is that one of the reasons you've been able to win 20 Outlaw championships?
"I'd say preparation has been a big factor over the years. This year is no different than the others. The most important work you do all season is in the shop. You win more races by the preparation you do than anything you do at the racetrack. The guys have worked hard and we're all looking forward to doing some racing again. We had a good start in Florida last year. That really helped us get our season off to a great start. We're going to follow the same plan this year. Race two nights with the All-Stars and try a couple of cars out and then be ready for the three Outlaw races on Friday, Saturday and Sunday."
You've been through a ton of battles throughout your career. The competition in the World of Outlaws is always tough. Can you assess the field that will be vying for the WoO championship?
"This series gets tougher and tougher as the years go on. I don't know that anyone stood out as just a dominating car all last year, but there were four or five cars every night that were the ones to beat. Jason Meyers and his race team did a great job last year. (TSR teammate) Donny (Schatz) got strong at the end of the year. Joey (Saldana) ran well all season but got hurt and had to sit out a race, and I'd expect he's going to be a factor this year. Jason Sides was really good all last year. Kraig (Kinser) is joining up with Lonny Parsons, Don Lamberti and Casey's General Stores this year, and I think they've got the potential to be plenty fast. And the list keeps going with guys like Craig Dollansky, so it's going to be tough, that's for sure.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR/STP/Armor All/Chevy J&J:
Even though you didn't win the championship last season, you finished strong. Can any of that late momentum carry over to the beginning of this year?
"We finished off really well. I think we cut into a pretty big point lead to where it felt like we had a chance going into the last few races of the year. We came from fourth and ended up second, and that was as good as we could do without winning it. We learned a lot last fall and continued learning this winter. We used (racing in) Australia as an opportunity to get our program back to where we felt it needed to be. I really believe we found the things needed to get us back on top, and we're really excited to get 2011 started."
For the 2011 campaign, you're beginning your fourth season with Tony Stewart Racing and, this year, you'll be driving a red, white and blue machine. Do you think the new colors will bring you success?
"I hope so. Honestly, it's always exciting to see things change. The guys worked really hard to build us some great cars and all the people at TSR came up with a new design that includes the red, white, and blue of the STP. We're excited to really promote the STP brand and we're glad to be part of their program. Hopefully, we can do as good a job for STP as we did for Armor All, and our goal is to see if we can get them a championship this season."
The season begins in Florida and you've had great starts down there. What is mindset heading into this year's DIRTcar Nationals?
"It's always fun to start our season in Florida. Everyone spends the winter in all the snow and the cold, and they put in a lot of hours. We're ready to get back on the track and provide the guys some fruit for all their labor, and Florida is the best place to do it. In the past, we've started off the season with a win at Volusia and won the championship and also started the season with a win there and not won the championship. Five nights of racing can throw a lot at you. It's just fun to get down there, get started, and feel good. I'm just happy to get everything started and get the year going in the right direction."
Setting goals is important for every season. You've stated that winning another championship is the ultimate goal of the season, but what are your immediate goals?
"Our goal for the first six or eight nights is to get as many wins as we can. I've always said winning the first one is the hardest, and then you can focus on the next 70 races or so. Honestly, we just want to get ourselves back into that winning contention. Be the team that's winning the most races, and leading the most laps. We want to be in a position at the end of the year where we're not even fighting with anyone else for the championship. We're going to try and just do our own thing. Just get out there and win as much as we can. That's where this team deserves to be and I expect to have them there. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it happens."