INDIANAPOLIS – Throughout the last six decades STP®, one of the most recognizable brands in motorsports, has been associated with some of motorsports’ most iconic drivers and, for the last decade, no driver has been more successful in Sprint car racing’s signature event – The Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals – than Donny Schatz. This week, Schatz looks to continue his incredible run at the 54th FVP Knoxville Nationals behind the wheel of a special STP 60th anniversary-schemed No. 15 Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) machine.
The five-time World of Outlaws (WoO) STP Sprint Car Series champion and current series point leader has won seven out of the last eight Knoxville Nationals and has finished first or second in 12 of the last 14. Schatz begins his quest for an eighth Knoxville title Wednesday in the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Crimsafe J&J.
The field of more than 100 cars will be split, with half the field accrueing points for qualifying, heat finish and A-Main finish Wednesday and the remainder collecting points Thursday night. Saturday’s 50-lap A-Main will be lined up by points.
Schatz, the 36-year-old driver from Fargo, North Dakota, first ventured to the historic Marion County Fairgrounds as a child with his father and his dream of one day competing in the event became reality in 1993. This year marks his 21st Nationals and he’s earned one of the coveted 24 starting positions 16 consecutive years. He earned his first top-five in 1998 and two years later led 25 laps before finishing second. Three more second-place finishes followed over the next four Nationals before finally, in 2006, Schatz earned his first Knoxville Nationals crown. It was the first of four consecutive victories culminating with his 2009 triumph in a retro-schemed STP machine honoring Mario Andretti’s 1969 Indianapolis 500. After finishing second in the 50th annual Knoxville Nationals in 2010, Schatz raced from 13th to win in 2011, from fifth in 2012 and, last year, he became the first driver to ever transfer from the B-Main and go on to win the A-Main. He won the B-Main and started 21st in the A-Main. Schatz charged into fifth during the first half of the race and methodically worked his way to the front, passing Brian Brown for the lead on lap 41 and then drove off, winning by nearly five seconds.
Schatz and his STP come into the Nationals on a major roll with eight consecutive podium finishes in the WoO STP Sprint Car Series. He leads the championship standings and has earned a series-best 12 victories, 40 top-fives and 53 top-10s.
Race fans unable to attend this weekend’s Knoxville Nationals 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 STP Sprint Car 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 live results from the track.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR/STP/Armor All/Crimsafe J&J:
Every year, the focus is on the big picture and that’s winning a World of Outlaws championship. One of the other major goals is winning the Knoxville Nationals. Is your race program where you want it to be heading into the biggest race of the season?
“I feel really good. We didn’t have all the races at Knoxville leading up to the Nationals that we have in the past, but I think sometimes those races hinder you a little more than they help you. Because, when you get to the Nationals, there is so much hype there. It’s nothing like the regular Outlaw show. The track is so much different. The way it’s prepped is different and the way it races is different. We’ve had a great-working car there the last 10-plus years and we’ve kept doing the same thing and tried to improve each year. And that’s what it comes down to. We go there with the same package and do our best. I feel like our motor program is strong. We are qualifying better than we have in a few years and we’re to a point where we have the car rolling the corners really well and you need that on your qualifying night. When it comes to Saturday night, it’s one of those races where experience has a lot to do with it. I’ve won that race and, if you haven’t won it, it’s a thorn in your side. Mentally, you are asking yourself, ‘What do I have to do to win it?’ Brian Brown has gone through that the last couple of years. I went through it. Once you get over the hump and win it, you have that ultimate confidence. There are not going to be that many guys in the field Saturday who have that same confidence so, once you’ve won it, it’s almost like you have luck on your side, history is on your side. It’s something we look forward to and I think that confidence packaged together with this team, the car and everything combined will help us have a chance at it again this year.”
You mentioned that having previously won the race is an advantage. Can you describe how that helps you at Knoxville?
“It’s a mental thing. If you think you are beat, you are. The Saturday night of the Knoxville Nationals is like no other with all the hype put on it. You can see it in how guys walk around the pits Saturday afternoon. I had the chance last year to just kind of watch the way guys composed themselves on Saturday afternoon. It’s amazing to see how each person reacts to different things on the mental side of things. Last year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to just sit there and observe those things if we hadn’t won it before. I would have probably been on edge, nervous and trying to figure out what I do all afternoon. But there we were, parked way down in the middle of the B-Main field and kind of off the radar and not being overwhelmed by it all. The mental part is huge and that’s why Steve Kinser has won so much, because he’s mastered the mental side. We all strive to be as strong as him mentally and some of us have got a little bit of that, but not quite where we want to be.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine