INDIANAPOLIS – There’s something special about racing at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Six-time and reigning World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz has raced all across the United States, in three Canadian provinces and at numerous dirt tracks in Australia during the last 20 years, and he has yet to find any place quite like “the Big E” – where the speed itself makes it unique and tradition from hosting some of the sport’s greatest drivers in victory lane is second to none.
This weekend, the driver of Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing’s (TSR) No. 15 Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance J&J will be part of a Friday-Saturday doubleheader being billed as “The Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends.” Schatz, the current WoO points leader, returns to the high-banked, half-mile dirt oval seeking his seventh WoO A-Feature win of 2015 and first at Eldora since the 2009 Kings Royal.
The Fargo, North Dakota, racer and his Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance team of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Eric Prutzman have made improving in areas where they haven’t been as successful in the past a priority in 2015. One of the early tests was an 11-race tour through California that typically has been a major challenge for the team.
With four wins during the tour, the team headed east feeling like they had accomplished one early goal and could turn their focus toward another goal – winning at Eldora. Consistency hasn’t been a problem for Schatz at Eldora in the 23 races he’s run since his most recent Eldora victory back in July 2009. He’s finished inside the top-10 in 21 of the 23 races, including the last 10. In his two most recent races, the Kings Royal and Four Crown Nationals, he’s battled for the win but ultimately finished second.
During his 19-year WoO career, Schatz has had a number of memorable runs at Eldora. He splashed onto the national sprint car scene in 1996 in the $50,000-to-win Kings Royal, finishing eighth in only his second race at the facility. In 2002, he earned his first win at the track in the prestigious $100,000-to-win Historical Big One. In April 2003, he earned his second triumph there – a WoO preliminary feature.
His first official WoO A-Feature win came in the 2007 Kings Royal, and he would follow that with Eldora wins in May 2008 and 2009, each time grabbing the WoO points lead for good en route to WoO championships number three and four, respectively. In June 2012, Schatz made his Dirt Late Model debut in Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream charity event, and his fourth-place finish would prompt him to begin driving the full-fendered machines on a part-time basis beginning in 2013. Last year he made three World of Outlaws Late Model feature lineups, including both nights of the season-ending Bad Boy Buggies World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Schatz heads to Ohio following the Outlaws’ first weekend of action in the Midwest this season. He scored three top-10 finishes, competing first in northeast Oklahoma at the Salina Highbanks, where he finished 10th. The following night, he charged from 18th to sixth at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 near St. Louis. He closed the weekend storming from 20th to fourth at Tri-Speedway in southwest Indiana. The results allowed him to extend his lead in the WoO championship standings over Shane Stewart to 29 points with 21 of the scheduled 88 races complete. Schatz leads the series with six wins, 13 top-fives and 19 top-10s, and he has led a series-high 113 laps and twice earned the KSE Hard Charger Award.
For both events at Eldora Speedway, the pit gates and grandstands will open at 2 p.m. EDT. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.eldoraspeedway.com or call (937) 338-3815.
Race fans unable to attend this weekend’s races can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Fans can listen live as Johnny Gibson, “Voice of the Outlaws,” calls the action as he does at all WoO Sprint Series events on the DIRTVision.com cybercast as well as on the DIRT Radio Network. Go to www.DIRTVision.com for more information on all the site features, including updated results from each night of racing as well as a chat room to interact with other race fans.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance J&J:
During the early part of the season the emphasis has continued to be on winning races, but also on improving in some areas where the team hasn’t had the type of success expected. Are you happy with how things have gone to date?
“The season is off to a decent start for us, but we’re always searching for more. We’d like to have more wins and feel like we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We had an up-and-down run in Florida and probably weren’t as good as we wanted to be Las Vegas or Arizona. Things got better in California, and that was encouraging. And going back and winning at Devil’s Bowl was a positive. We know it’s critical to always concentrate on the next race. And we’re looking forward to going back to Eldora. We’ve been close there but not been good enough to win, and that’s what motivates all of us on this Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance team. My guys are second to none, and they put a lot of work into finding ways for us to be better. Winning at Eldora is something that is a priority for us. Like I said, we’ve been in the hunt the last couple of years, but our expectations are higher and we know it takes work. These guys put in a tremendous amount of time, and now we’re heading over there to see what we can do. We get to race there five nights this year, and our goal is to be in contention every night and see if we can come out on top. Wins drive us. And winning at Eldora is a really big deal to all of us.”
Speaking of Eldora, what makes it so special? Why is winning at Eldora something every dirt driver wants to accomplish?
“It’s one of the best places in the world to race. It was (the late) Earl Barltes’ dream palace, and he made a destination where drivers from all disciplines wanted to come there and win. There is so much tradition there. They host some of the biggest races of the year, and the fans come from everywhere to see us race. It’s an intimating place. It’s high banked, and the cars make incredible speeds. Only a few people each year can say they won at Eldora, and I haven’t been able to say that in a while. We want that to change. Tony (Stewart) and his people have continued to make it one of the premiere dirt tracks in the world. Whether it’s Sprint cars, Dirt Late Models, NASCAR Trucks or modifieds, you know it’s going to be an intense race and the winner will have earned the victory for sure. I’m excited to get over there Friday and see what we can do.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine