By Mike Spieker
WEST FARGO – On Saturday, the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series returns to Red River Valley Speedway. The event will mark the second consecutive year and the 32nd time overall the World of Outlaws have visited the high-banked three-eighths-mile dirt oval on the Red River Valley Fairgrounds.
Leading the way will be nine-time and defending World of Outlaws champion and Fargo’s own, Donny Schatz. The grueling World of Outlaws tour takes the best sprint car teams in the world all across the country to nearly 100 events from February to November.
For Schatz, returning to his hometown, home track, and home fans, can be a breath of fresh air.
“When you run across the country all year, to get back to Fargo and the Red River Valley Speedway, where I started racing sprint cars back in the day, it’s pretty cool,” said Schatz. “We’ve only had the opportunity to run there one time since the track has been changed. We wanted to win it. We didn’t. Hopefully, we can change that this weekend and have a great showing.”
In the World of Outlaws’ highly-anticipated return to the speedway last August, Schatz started seventh and finished fifth in the $10,000-to-win, 30-lap feature. The late Jason Johnson of Eunice, Louisana scored the win in what was his only World of Outlaws victory in the state of North Dakota.
Schatz leads all active World of Outlaws drivers with four career wins at Red River Valley Speedway, albeit on the former half-mile configuration. Schatz’s first win came in 2002, but he hasn’t won at his home track since 2006.
“It would mean everything to get back to victory lane on Saturday,” he explained. “You want to win every race you’re in, but there’s just something about coming home to the people who have been watching you for 20-plus years, the familiar faces and the new group of kids that are becoming fans. It’s pretty rewarding to just be there participating, let alone have an opportunity to compete or win, but that’s what we all strive for. It’s pretty competitive out there with the World of Outlaws right now and there’s a lot of drivers running really well. We’ll have to be on our game if we are going to have a chance at winning this weekend.”
This weekend’s World of Outlaws events at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks on Friday and Red River Valley Speedway on Saturday come off the heels of the biggest event in sprint car racing, the Knoxville Nationals in Knoxville, Iowa.
Schatz was eyeing his 11th career Knoxville Nationals title last weekend. After a torrid battle with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup star, Kyle Larson, and Brad Sweet, who drives for another NASCAR star, Kasey Kahne, Schatz took the checkers in the runner-up spot to Sweet in what was the second closest finish in Knoxville Nationals history.
Still, with the second place finish, Schatz extended his streak of finishing either first or second at the Knoxville Nationals to 14 consecutive years – a feat that is unrivaled.
“Every other race is just hot laps for the Nationals,” said Schatz. “That’s our biggest race of the year. Whether you win it or not, you focus on the next race. I’m looking forward to getting back to racing with the World of Outlaws like we do every other week of the year.”
Ruling River Cities
Schatz will be looking for the season sweep at River Cities Speedway on Friday. Schatz won the first race of the season at the high-banked three-tenths mile oval on June 15, which was his series-leading 10th career win at the track. In the 22 World of Outlaws events held at River Cities Speedway, Schatz has never finished worse than seventh.
While it takes an extremely talented driver to achieve those consistent numbers, Schatz credits his Tony Stewart Racing crew for giving him a good, reliable car night in and night out.
“My race team is incredible at giving me a good baseline that I like. I’m able to adapt as the track changes, but a lot of it comes down to the race team,” he said. “They can see what goes on while I’m out there on the track and make the necessary adjustments. Ever since my very first laps at River Cities, I’ve always raced well there.”
Along with running his No. 15 sprint car on Friday and Saturday, Schatz will also be running his NLRA Late Model. The 800 horsepower machines will serve as the support class for the World of Outlaws both Friday and Saturday night. Schatz got into late model racing nearly five years ago and has taken a liking to the full-fendered race cars.
“I enjoy the time I get to race the late model,” said Schatz, who runs about 20-25 late model races a year. “It’s tough when you try to run both the sprint car and late model on the same night. It takes a lot away from the sprint car team and it doesn’t allow me to focus as hard as I need to on the late model to make the adjustments needed. There’s been a lot of fans who have shown their excitement for me to run both cars so that’s what it’s really all about.”
Schatz finished fifth with the NLRA Late Models at River Cities Speedway in June but picked up a win with the series on August 4 at Nodak Speedway in Minot. He has six career NLRA wins, including last August at Red River Valley Speedway.
Chasing No. 10
Entering the weekend, Schatz holds a 198 point lead over Brad Sweet atop the World of Outlaws point standings as he chases his 10th series title. The Fargo driver took the point lead on the second race of the season at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida on February 10th and hasn’t looked back.
While Sweet will close the gap from time to time, he hasn’t been able to keep pace with Schatz’s series-leading 15 wins, 35 top fives and 44 top tens through the first 46 events.
Tickets for Saturday’s World of Outlaws event at Red River Valley Speedway can be found at slspromotions.ticketforce.com.
Who: World of Outlaws Sprint Cars
Where: Red River Valley Speedway – West Fargo, N.D.
When: 6:30pm – Saturday, August 18