Legendary sprint car driver Donny Schatz is still exploring ways to sharpen his craft
PORT ROYAL, Pa. — Donny Schatz has accomplished practically everything a sprint car driver desires: Nine World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series titles. Nearly 400 feature wins. Ten Knoxville Nationals. A bunch of National Opens, Kings Royals, Gold Cups and Silver Cups.
He’s basically the GOAT of dirt racing. And he drives for three-time NASCAR Cup Series champ Tony Stewart. Considering all of that, a NASCAR race has to be in the foreseeable, right?
“I’m not interested in any NASCAR sanctioned events,” Schatz said Saturday at Port Royal Speedway. “It’s not my bag of tea. This is what I was made for: To be on dirt, not in a NASCAR truck.”
Then, as he leaned on the spoiler of his sleek, black No. 15 Super Late Model, he shifted the conversation.
“You always want to do some of the things you were never really good at,” Schatz continued. “Maybe that’s why I like Late Model racing because I’m no good at it. You just keep trying and keep the verse as you can and have fun.”
Since WoO was off this past weekend, Schatz made the trek from Charlotte to compete in the two-day Northeast Ultimate Super Late Model Series apart of the prestigious Bob Weikert Memorial weekend at Port Royal Speedway. Though the 410 Sprints were the highlight of the event, Schatz only brought his Super Late Model, taking advantage of a refreshing opportunity outside of the WoO grind.
“I always like to race the late model when I can,” Schatz said. “Normally [we race] a little closer to home, [North Dakota]. We did have a car to pick up from Rocket [Chassis]. These guys at Port Royal wanted me to come out. … They’ve done a lot of things to this facility and the Weikert Memorial. So, yeah, I decided maybe we ought to venture to the East Coast and try one of the fastest racetracks in the country with this thing.”
The 40-year-old finished fifth both nights running Tony Stewart’s Late Model Ford engine. On Saturday, he started eighth and methodically worked through the 30-lap feature for a hard-earned top-five. For six laps, he battled alongside veteran Late Model racer Jason Covert for fifth, and eventually won the position battle. On Sunday, he rolled off seventh and made his way up to fourth before losing traction and settling for a second-straight fifth-place finish in the 35-lap A-main. He placed 10.28 seconds behind winner Rick Eckert on Sunday night.
“I had a fun time,” Schatz said. “Making the show both nights, I was happy. Run top-five both nights. Can’t ask for much better than that. Had a great time. That’s what racing is all about. You have to make sure you’re still having fun.”
It was a solid showing for Schatz, who ran with and topped some of the best Late Model racers in the Mid-Atlantic area. The only drivers who beat Schatz both nights are Eckert, a WoO Late Model Series regular, and Jeff Rine, one of the best Late Model racers in Pennsylvania.
“We just made strides all night long,” Schatz said. “They’re really technical cars. We passed some really good cars to get to where we were. Yeah, I’m happy with that.”
When asked about the difference between the Sprint Car and Late Model, Schatz said, “There isn’t anything that correlates. These things take a whole different beast. For me, it’s just fun for myself as a driver to get in have something that’s completely different. You’re not looking for that wing feel. You’re out of your element trying to figure out what to do. I think it sharpens you up a little bit on both ends of the spectrum. The guys who put this car together are the best guys in the business.”
Schatz said he has “lots of more races planned” in his Late Model, depending on the WoO schedule and weather.
He currently sits atop of the WoO standings through 21 races, holding a 108-point lead over Kasey Kahne Racing’s Brad Sweet. Schatz already has nine wins and is approaching 400 sprint car feature victory for his career – two away at 398 — another milestone in an illustrious journey. He has a career winning percentage of 18.6. For perspective, Richard Petty’s Cup Series win-percentage is 16.9.
Schatz is in position for his 10th WoO Sprint Car title and fifth straight series crown. His nine series championships have all come over the past 12 years. He’s also been pillared by one of the most influential figures in racing history in Stewart.
“He’s a great ambassador as a car owner,” Schatz said. “He has a lot of good people in a lot of good places. He keeps on them. Hopefully, we can continue to keep him that way.”
While we may never see Schatz in a NASCAR-sanctioned event, he did race against Cup Series drivers in the 2012 Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway, where he finished fourth of 26 entrants, finishing behind winner Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, and Austin Dillon.
Schatz also mentioned the idea of the competing in the USAC Silver Crown series down the line, but for now, he plans to add to an already decorative dirt racing career.
“When you set out to do these things, you hope you’re successful at it,” Schatz said. “You work hard to be successful at it. That doesn’t mean just because you work hard and you hope and you cross your fingers you’re going to be successful. I’ve been very fortunate to be around good people. I’ve had a lot of success. I hope the best success is yet to come. It doesn’t change you as a person. It doesn’t change your work ethic. Just because you won something one time or 10 times doesn’t mean you’ve made it.
“You never expect anything to come your way because of past success. You have to make your future successes happen on your own. That’s all I can tell you. It’s been a long time. I’ve been around a long time. And, hopefully, I can continue to be around a lot longer.”
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