It’s been a typical whirlwind of a couple weeks for eight-time World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz. Sunday morning he arrived back in the United States following his annual six-race tour of Australia. While waiting for his connecting flight to leave LAX, he had the chance to reflect on his recent run at Audesck Archerfield Speedway in Brisbane and look forward to making his first laps in the 31st annual Chili Bowl Nationals.
“I’m usually connecting to Minneapolis and then have a short flight to Fargo,” said Schatz, “but this year we’re going to do something a little different. I’m excited about it. I really enjoy having the chance to go to Australia every year. John and Kathy Kelly take good care of me over there. It is a fun trip for me…kind of like a vacation, but we’re still racing so there are some things we like to accomplish. We had a little bit of rough go over there, but in the end we had the chance to do some racing and see familiar faces and meet some new ones too. No one likes to crash and doing it on the first night really put us behind. I have to thank Lannie Nichols, a friend of mine that came over to work on the car, Paul Morris, who opened his home and allowed to work at his raceshop and have several nights of fun too. Mark Cooper has been a good friend for quite some time and he’s the one that got my car over there. Like I said, we had some decent runs on the track. I thought we had worked ourselves into a good spot in the Australian Open, but Kerry (Madsen) was better than we were. We’ll take second and look forward to next year.
“Now, it’s kind of an outside the box opportunity for me. I really appreciate Tim (Clauson) and the Clauson-Marshall Racing (CMR) team for giving me the chance to run their car. It was something I had kicked around with Tony (Stewart)and we started talking with Bryan last spring. It all came together and each part of this has been really special. Last week, Arctic Cat came on board and I’ve been having fun with their snowmobiles and ATVs for years, so it’s a perfect fit. I just hope we can go out there and make some good laps. I’m really excited for this opportunity. It’s an incredible field.”
Schatz rounded out his six-race run at Archerfield with a second-place finish in Saturday’s 50-lap World Series Sprintcars Australian Open finale. He drove his No. 15 J&J from the fourth starting position and held third for the opening 15 laps. He overtook James McFadden for second the next cirutino and passed Kerry Madsen for the lead on lap 18. Schatz would lead the field for the next 17 laps before lapped traffic opened the door for Madsen. McFadden got back around Schatz on lap 42, but Schatz retook second on the final circuit.
It was his fifth top-five run in six starts. His tour got off to a rough start with a crash on Boxing Day. The impact of crash severely damaged his J&J and his crew was forced to build a new car. Schatz delivered a vintage performance four nights later charging from 12th to the lead in 17 laps. He would lead the rest of the way to score his 29th Sprint car triumph in 2016. He followed that with a New Year’s Day run from 9th to second and third-place finish in the World Series event on January 4th. Friday night in the Australian Open preliminary feature, he raced from 10th to fifth.
The week ahead will be a busy one for Schatz and it begins Monday with a pair of practice sessions behind the wheel of the No. 15 CMR Arctic Cat machine. Between those two practice sessions, Schatz will participate in a media news conference with Stewart and fellow Chili Bowl rookie Jonathan Davenport. Schatz is part of Tuesday night’s 20-lap Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions. He is part of Wednesday night’s qualifying group which consists of heats, qualifiers and mains…all providing points towards Saturday’s lineup.