INDIANAPOLIS – Words can’t justify the kind of legacy Donny Schatz is building at the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, Sprint car racing’s biggest event. For 20 consecutive years, Schatz has spent one week every August participating in “The Granddaddy of Them All” and, for the past 15 years, he’s been blazing an extremely bright trail. This week, the Tony Stewart-Curb Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver is focused on one thing, and that’s continuing what’s been a phenomenal run on the sport’s biggest stage.
Last year, after winning his eighth Knoxville Nationals crown, he expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to simply take part in the event, let alone stand on the top step of the podium. Winning the Nationals “means everything to me – a guy can only dream so big,” Schatz said during the celebration.
The Fargo, North Dakota racer is in the midst of a dream season, having already won 22 World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series A-Features aboard the TSR No. 15 Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance J&J. One of those triumphs came in June at Knoxville. It continued his prowess at the famed half-mile, dirt oval where he has 22 career victories and ranks 11th all-time in wins.
His consistency both this season and during the Nationals is the result of hard work put in by his TSR Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance crew made up of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Eric Prutzman. Schatz has finished inside the top-three in 20 consecutive WoO points races and 36 on the season, and he’s finished first or second in 13 of the past 15 Nationals. That consistency and the hunger to capture Sprint-car racing’s most coveted trophy this week has the team primed to chase Nationals victory number nine beginning Wednesday night.
During this week’s event, Schatz will be looking to continue his incredible run of success at the famed Marion County Fairgrounds and he’ll do so wearing an “Onslaught” branded firesuit. Co-primary sponsor Bad Boy Buggies will be releasing a new vehicle soon and is using Schatz and the Knoxville Nationals to build momentum toward the product launch. The company says that after years of silence, it’s time to make some noise. It’s not an attack on normal. It’s an Onslaught™.
With his run of eight wins in the past nine Nationals and top-10 qualifying-night finishes in 16 of the last 17 Nationals, Schatz has been anything but normal, and he’s certainly been in attack mode. Within those numbers are some truly incredible runs, like his drive from 13th to first in 2011 and his epic charge from 21st to first two years ago on his 36th birthday. Last season, he earned his fifth Nationals pole position and led 49 of 50 laps. The victory was his fourth consecutive and, this week, he’ll look to become only the second driver to win five consecutive Nationals. Steve Kinser accomplished the feat from 1991 through 1995.
Schatz will hit the track Wednesday for his qualifying night, which includes a complete program. The Nationals’ unique format puts emphasis on all phases. Points are awarded for qualifying, heat finishes and qualifying feature finishes. The maximum points available for any driver is 500, and Saturday’s race lineups are set by points earned during qualifying nights.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance J&J:
Everyone wants to know the magic formula for winning the Nationals. Is there such a thing?
“Nothing can beat hard work. We’ve spent a lot of years working on our program and we’re never done trying to make it better and finding ways to improve. It has to start with the team Tony Stewart has assembled. Being surrounded by incredible people and having tremendous partners like Bad Boy Buggies and Chevrolet Performance is a huge factor. As far the event itself, consistency really helps – the way you run all year long leading into that race. It’s obviously the granddaddy of our whole season, so you want to make sure that you capitalize on every opportunity you have. This race team has done a great job of doing that over the years, but things change every day, so you have to adapt to the changes. We’re hoping we can do that better than everybody else. It’s something these guys have always been good at. We’ll see what’s in front of us and hope we have a little luck on our side, as well. It’s not just one thing, it’s a lot of things.”
You’ve said in the past that just being part of the Knoxville Nationals is like a dream come true. But what does it mean for you as a driver to have won the Nationals, and has that changed over the years?
“Not winning it is probably one of the hardest things. It really doesn’t owe anybody anything. You have to earn its respect. I firmly believe you have to lose it before you learn how to win it. I’ve done that several times. It’s a whole different mindset at that place. At certain times of the week, it’s just like any other race. You have to be prepared to be in the right position at the right time. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve got to prepare the best we can to put ourselves in the best position we can.”
With the success you’ve had up front this season, it’s been a little different than years past, where you’ve hit your stride in the summer. Does that change your perspective, or the team’s perspective, heading into Nationals?
“It doesn’t change our perspective. I’m sure it changes other teams’ perspectives. I don’t really pay attention to what anybody else is doing or has going on. I know that if we do our job the way we’re supposed to and doing everything right, we’re going to be in a position to be competitive and win the race. It doesn’t put us in any different position. It seems lately our bad nights where we’ve felt like we’ve been really terrible, we’ve run second, so a guy can’t shake a stick at that. We finally put ourselves back in a place to win a race, so that’s huge and that really helps these guys feel like they’re doing the right thing.”
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