INDIANAPOLIS (August 9, 2017) – There’s one in every sport. One event that stands above all others. The kind of event where heroes are born and legacies are made. Since 1961, Sprint car drivers and teams have ventured to central Iowa with hopes and dreams of winning the Knoxville Nationals and etching their names into motorsports lore.
For Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz, the annual pilgrimage to the Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville, Iowa has seen him grow from a wide-eyed teenager with a dream of someday being part of “The Granddaddy of Them All” to now a nine-time winner of the prestigious 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores.
The eight-time and reigning World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series champion has made his mark in the sport from coast to coast over the past 21 seasons, but his accomplishments at Knoxville in August are legendary. This week, the driver of the TSR No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J will look to return to victory lane after having his five-year winning streak ended last year in one of the most entertaining Knoxville Nationals A-Mains in the event’s 55-year history.
The Fargo, North Dakota resident first ventured to Knoxville in August 1993, just days after his 16th birthday. During this year’s Nationals, he’ll celebrate his 40th. It took him five tries before he made the field of 24 cars that start the A-Main and, this week, Schatz will look to qualify for his 20th A-Main during this, his 10th season driving for TSR.
The goal every night for Schatz and his TSR crew of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti is to find a way to be in position to win at the end of the night, but the Nationals takes it to another level. 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 the two qualifying nights.
THE KNOXVILLE NATIONALS
- Schatz is one of 24 drivers to have won the Knoxville Nationals and his nine wins ranks second to Steve Kinser, who has won 12.
- In 1998, Schatz qualified for his first A-Main during his second season of competing with the Outlaws. He passed Kinser late in the race to finish fourth and earn his first top-five finish.
- He led the first 25 laps of the 2000 Nationals A-Main before finishing second to Mark Kinser. He finished second four times between 2000 and 2005.
• In his 13th appearance in the Nationals, Schatz broke through and won his first Knoxville Nationals by out-dueling Joey Saldana in the 30-lap A-Main. It was the first of four consecutive wins – two driving his family-owned No. 15 and two aboard Tony Stewart Racing’s machine.
- He scored his fifth career second-place finish in 2010 during the 50th running of the Nationals. Schatz had a spirited duel with Sammy Swindell throughout the 50-lap race. Swindell lost the lead when he crashed and Schatz was down on horsepower late and wasn’t able to hold off Tim Shaffer.
• The following season, Schatz had motor problems in his preliminary night feature and was forced to start Saturday’s A-Main from 13th. He charged forward, taking the lead on lap 15 and drove away to win his fifth Nationals.
• In 2012, Schatz made it back-to-back wins again, racing from fifth and leading the final 36 laps.
• The 2013 Knoxville Nationals ranks as one of the most unpredictable as Schatz began the final night starting fourth in the B-Main. He won the B and then charged from 21st and took the lead from Brian Brown on lap 44. Schatz became the first driver to win the A-Main after transferring from the B. He also became the first driver to take home three trophies – A-Main, B-Main and Hard Charger.
• In 2014 and 2015, Schatz continued his success in Sprint car racing’s biggest event by leading 49 of 50 laps in 2014 and all 50 laps in the 2015 race.
• After starting fifth in last year’s Nationals, Schatz took the lead on lap 13 and led to the mandatory break on lap 25. He exchanged the lead early during the second half of the race with Jason Johnson and made a late run at Johnson the on the final lap, but came up .168 seconds short in his bid for a sixth consecutive Nationals triumph.
• In 24 Nationals, Schatz has nine A-Main wins, 16 top-fives and 17 top-10s. He has made 20 qualifying-night A-Main starts and has three wins, 12 top-fives and 18 top-10s.
CELEBRATING 10 YEARS
The 2017 season is the 10th year Donny Schatz is driving for Tony Stewart Racing. The partnership was made official during the 2007 Knoxville Nationals just hours before Schatz and then TSR driver Paul McMahan shared the front row for the 30-lap A-Main. Schatz won that night and has been winning at a record pace for the past decade carrying TSR to unbelievable heights. In a private ceremony Tuesday evening, Stewart presented Schatz with a custom-painted helmet that includes images from each of his 10 seasons of competition as a TSR driver. He’ll wear the helmet in this year’s Nationals chasing his 10th Knoxville Nationals crown.
Throughout the first 10 seasons of the Schatz and TSR relationship, the team has delivered incredible results and has done so with successful partnerships. The team opened the 2017 campaign debuting the Arctic Cat and Ford Performance colors by winning a pair of Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions races in Florida and four of the first five WoO races. The team scored a Kings Royal triumph at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio carrying the Textron Off Road brand on the TSR No. 15 Textron Off Road/Ford Performance/Curb J&J and, three nights later, carried the iconic Arctic Cat green to victory lane in the Don Marin Memorial Silver Cup at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pennsylvania.
Earlier this spring, Textron Specialized Vehicles Inc, a Textron Inc. company incorporated Arctic Cat into the company as part of its future powersports brand portfolio. Arctic Cat’s legacy and heritage live on in the powerful Alterra™, Wildcat™ and Prowler™ products, will join Textron Off Road’s existing Stampede® side-by-side in the company’s family of off-road vehicles. The iconic Arctic Cat brand, built on decades of performance and leadership in snowmobiles, will remain in use on the company’s innovative, high-performance snowmobile product lines.
ENTER TO WIN A DONNY SCHATZ-THEMED HDX
Winning the biggest races of the season and a WoO championship isn’t the only goal in 2017 for TSR, Arctic Cat and Donny Schatz. There is shared passion to reach greatness without limits. And fans are encouraged to join the ultimate limitless ride by entering to win by random draw a customized, one-of-a-kind, Donny Schatz-themed Arctic Cat HDX 700 all-terrain vehicle online through Oct. 1 at www.arcticcat.com/donnyschatzhdx.
The grand-prize winner will receive a trip for two to the Outlaws’ season-ending World Finals in Charlotte, including participation in a prerace ceremony. The winners will receive tickets to the World Finals and receive the keys to the Donny Schatz-themed HDX from the eight-time champion during pre-event ceremonies.
SCHATZ FAST FACTS: 2017 WOO SEASON
- Through 56 of 92 scheduled races in the 2017 WoO campaign, Schatz leads the championship standings with 7,600 markers and holds an 82-point advantage over Brad Sweet.
- Schatz leads the series with 15 wins and 42 top-five finishes. His 48 top-10s are second most behind Sweet’s 49.
• Schatz has picked up the first two “Month of Money” A-Feature triumphs, scoring his third $50,000-to-win Kings Royal victory and fifth $25,000-to-win Silver Cup.
Fans are encouraged to follow the progress of Schatz, TSR and the No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J throughout the campaign on the web and social media. More information can be found at www.TonyStewartRacing.com, www.arcticcat.com, and www.donnyschatzmotorsports.com.
Tony Stewart Racing: Facebook at www.Facebook.com/TonyStewartRacing or on Twitter and Instagram @TonyStewart_Rcg.
Donny Schatz: Facebook at www.facebook.com/DonnySchatz or on Twitter and Instagram @DonnySchatz.
Arctic Cat: Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArcticCat or on Twitter and Instagram @ArcticCat_atv @ArcticCat_Snow
Curb: Facebook at www.facebook.com/CurbRecords or on Twitter and Instagram @CurbRecords.
Ford Performance: Facebook at www.facebook.com/FordPerformance or on Twitter and Instagram @FordPerformance.
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J:
This is a special time of year for everyone in Sprint car racing. It has to feel good to come to a place where you’ve done some really good things over the past 10 to 15 seasons.
“It’s always bittersweet to come to Knoxville. It’s the biggest week of our whole year. Everyone who is part of our sport is here and a lot of people from other forms of motorsports are here just to take it all in. It’s the ultimate challenge. You can experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s the crown jewel of our sport. When it’s over, you know you don’t get to do it again until next year, and the focus then goes back to trying to win a World of Outlaws championship.”
You are heading into the race once again on top of the Outlaw championship standings. Can you assess where you feel like things stand for you and your team entering the Nationals?
“We’ve won 15 races and are leading the points, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been a super-strong season for us. We’ve had a lot of finishes where we felt like we weren’t quite as good as we needed to be and couldn’t capitalize on some opportunities to get a few more wins. Maybe you dwell on those nights more than you do on those 15 wins, but the expectations are pretty high. We’ve won as many as 31 races and we’re more than halfway through the season and not quite halfway to that number. You have to gauge it off that. We just keep working. My Arctic Cat guys – Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti – just keep digging. It isn’t like we have been terrible, we just aren’t where we want to be and we’ll just keep digging until we get there.”
Why is it so difficult to win the Knoxville Nationals?
“It’s hard to win any World of Outlaws race. The competition is so fierce every night we race. You show up at this race and everyone is on their game and gunning to be the one that leaves with the big trophy. We are no different. I’ve got three of the most competitive people working on my car and they want to win everything. Nothing beats hard work and preparation. We showed up trying to be prepared for any challenge we might be faced with. You have to take the Nationals one step at a time. First, you have to be prepared to succeed before you get here. That happens in the winter and all spring. Everyone is always working toward this race. When you get here, it’s about getting through your qualifying night and positioning yourself for Saturday. Qualifying is huge, transferring through your heat and then making your way forward in the qualifying feature, then you kind of just see where everything is at. We know it’s one race that’s really divided into two. We have a stop halfway through and you can make changes. Making the right changes is the key. Sometimes when you are leading at the halfway point of the race, when they do the pit stop, you’ve got everything to lose and nothing to gain. Everybody else is in that position where they can try do something in order to make a big leap. Sometimes when you are in that position, you have everything to lose and nothing to gain. You have to learn from your mistakes. That’s how I was able to win the Knoxville Nationals. I made mistakes and we ran second a lot of times and I had to learn how to overcome those before I could ultimately win it. I did everything I could last year. Maybe the track caught us a little by surprise, but it’s over with, you can’t dwell on it. Today is a new day. We are here to try to keep that from happening this go around.”
You’ve said in the past that just being part of the Knoxville Nationals is like a dream come true. If you had to pick your most memorable moments at the Nationals, what would they be?
“There are two that stick out. When you have never had that feeling of winning the Nationals, that first one is pretty incredible. But the way we did it the year (2013) we had to come through the B and then from 21st was probably our best performance. Those two stick out and the feeling was pretty similar for both of those. I know if I can win this year, I’m probably going to feel the same way. Hopefully, we can have that happen.”