By Mike Spieker
For the Fargo Forum
Photos by Zach Yost.
FARGO, N.D. – The 2018 World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series season was another banner year for Donny Schatz and the Tony Stewart Racing team. Schatz, a native of Minot, N.D. who resides in Fargo, recorded his 10th series championship over the weekend at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Outlaws’ season came to an end in no better fashion for Schatz on Saturday night, as he drove from the 10th starting position to win his 22nd main event of the season.
“[The Dirt Track at] Charlotte has been very good to us at the end of the season. We’ve won a lot of races there. We’ve also had a few bad nights there,” said Schatz. “There’s no better way to end the year than going out and winning.”
The win for Schatz was his 12th at the speedway and 283rd of his career (third-most all-time).
The season began with Schatz winning the second event of the 91-race season. In doing so, he took command of the World of Outlaws point lead. Once atop the standings, Schatz did not relinquish the point lead all season long.
Schatz’s 10th title puts him in elite company. He is just the second driver to record double-digit Outlaw championships – a feat only Steve Kinser had previously accomplished. Schatz is still in the prime of his career at 41 years old, but he says Kinser’s record of 20 Outlaw championship is unreachable.
“There’s no chance,” he said of reaching Kinser’s mark. “When you look at what he has done, I don’t feel like I have even scratched the surface and that’s okay with me. I’m humbled and blessed I had the opportunity to race around someone that great because people that are that great make everyone else around them better. Hopefully, we can continue to build on what we have and continue to enjoy it every step of the way.”
The 2018 campaign was a grueling one for Schatz and his Tony Stewart Racing team. His crew chief, Ricky Warner, was sidelined with health issues early in the season and car chief, Steve [Scuba] Swenson, suffered a broken ankle out on the road. Still, Schatz continued winning races and remained atop the standings all season long.
“It took a lot of adaptation from the entire crew. Being without Rick put Scuba in a more serious role as crew chief. When Rick came back, he wasn’t fully functional so that put a lot more stress on the other guys. Tony [Stewart] has always had great people. He will always have great people and we are very blessed that his guidance and leadership allowed us to stay in that championship position throughout all adversity,” said Schatz.
It’s no coincidence that Schatz and Warner are the longest running driver/crew chief duo on the World of Outlaws tour and are the most decorated team over the last 10 years. Since coming together in 2005, Schatz and Warner have been nearly impossible to beat.
“Obviously, the more you work with someone, the better you get to know them. You know how a person thinks, you know how they react to certain things. It doesn’t mean you get along as well as you would like every day, but that’s just the nature of the beast in a competitive sport,” said Schatz. “All my guys know what each other wants and that’s to win races. Sometimes it creates heated situations or drama, but when you can overcome that, I think it only makes you stronger. Their commitment to the race team is unprecedented.”
The Tony Stewart Racing No. 15 was the only car on the World of Outlaws tour this season to be running at the end of all 71 completed events. Schatz admits part of that has to do with his driving style. He doesn’t play games on double-file restarts, which are the most treacherous part of a race for the 900 horsepower open-wheel machines. It also goes back to the dedicated crew that maintains the car.
“People think we just throw new parts at it and that’s hardly the case,” said Schatz. “But what they do to maintain what they have, and how they maintain it, is so pristine.” The crew has a meticulous process going over every nut and bolt before each race and it’s something in which they take great pride.
Schatz had several highlights throughout the season, including a 20-win season for the sixth consecutive year, a podium finish at the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals for the 14th consecutive year, a season without a DNF (did not finish) for the third time in his career, wins at the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Ohio, the Jackson (Minn.) Nationals, and locally at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks and Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo. However, it was the team’s tenacity during the summer months that stands out as the most memorable part of the season for Schatz.
“We had a stage when we felt we weren’t as good in the middle of the summer as we would have liked to have been. I feel like we were off base and had our combinations scrambled a little bit. We didn’t have the performance we wanted and I think that’s what sticks out the most. We had to battle through adversity one race at a time. When things aren’t going well, you remember it more because you’re trying to fix that situation or that issue. It seemed like it went on and on, but when I look back at it now, we had a great year. I guess the expectations are so high that maybe those bad nights are just the ones I remember the most.”
Despite the 2019 World of Outlaws season opener being under 90 days away already, Schatz won’t remain idle for very long this winter. The Fargo driver will make his annual trip to Australia to compete in a sprint car at Archerfield Speedway near Brisbane, Queensland on December 26th. It’s also possible Schatz will pilot his dirt late model at some bigger events down south over the Outlaws’ offseason.
It was 25 years ago when Schatz strapped in behind the wheel of a sprint car at Red River Valley Speedway. He quickly began winning races locally, but nobody imagined that kid from Minot would land the top ride in all of sprint car racing, let alone win a World of Outlaws championship. Now, he’s won 10 of them and is considered one of the greatest of all time. Schatz continues to rewrite the history books each and every year and it doesn’t appear he will be slowing down any time soon.