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Keeping Pace

Back to his roots: Schatz geared up for three race swing through his home state of North Dakota

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

The trio of World of Outlaws races kicks off with the Duel in the Dakotas at River Cities Speedway on Friday, June 19, followed by the finale of the annual event at Red River Valley Speedway on Saturday, June 20. The series will then head across the state to wrap up the weekend on Sunday, June 21 at Nodak Speedway.

Grand Forks, ND—June 17, 2009—North Dakota is not quite the sprint car hot bed that Central Pennsylvania, Ohio or California is, but that didn’t matter to Donny Schatz as he was cutting his teeth and climbing the sprint car ladder in his home state beginning as a teenager.

Growing up in Minot, he had a couple of different choices of where to race each week, the majority of those starts coming at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo, along with River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks and even a couple at Nodak Speedway in his home town. He’ll get a chance to visit all three tracks this weekend as the World of Outlaws make their first of two trips to North Dakota in 2009 this weekend.

The trio of races kicks off with the Duel in the Dakotas at River Cities Speedway on Friday, June 19, followed by the finale of the annual event at Red River Valley Speedway on Saturday, June 20. The series will then head across the state to wrap up the weekend on Sunday, June 21 at Nodak Speedway.

“It was a good place to grow up,” Schatz said of his home state. “On Friday nights, we got to either race Grand Forks or Fargo, depending on what the weather looked like. If one was raining we could always get to the other one, with them being just 70 miles apart. You would think with two tracks that close it would be spread pretty thin, but they had good racing at both. I was very fortunate to have that. I learned a lot of stuff racing around there and am glad that I had those opportunities. All the fans and the people that I met up there is pretty overwhelming to be able to go back and see them as an Outlaws champion.”

Schatz will have plenty of home state fans supporting him on this weekend, many of whom have been following his career for the last 15-plus years, of which 12 have been spent on the road with the World of Outlaws. He will have five opportunities to race in home state this season with the series, including two separate visits to River Cities Speedway, with the first of those coming this weekend.

“The fans that cheered me on there on a weekly basis are what helped propel me to where I am today,” noted the three-time and defending World of Outlaws champion and current point leader. “To be able to go back and race for them and sleep in my own bed for three nights is priceless. It’s turned into a big event. It used to be just one stop and now its three different places in one weekend. That’s pretty cool for the state of North Dakota and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Schatz’s versatility will be tested this weekend as all three tracks on the docket are each very unique. He has won seven times this season aboard the Armor All J&J for Tony Stewart Racing, with six of those coming on half-miles. He also was victorious on a 3/8-mile and looks for his first win on a bullring this weekend at River Cities Speedway, where he was victorious last season. In his career, he has won 11 times at Red River Valley Speedway, twice at River Cities Speedway and twice at Nodak Speedway.

“They each provide dramatically different challenges,” he shared of the three tracks he will visit this weekend. “Grand Forks is a small track with high banking and a lot of excitement. It’s pretty intense at that place. We had a pretty good run there last year. Fargo is a great big half-mile with a high bank. It’s not been one our best tracks the last several years. Nodak is right in between them as a 3/8’s (mile) with some good banking to it.”

Schatz would like nothing more than to pick up a win at Nodak Speedway, where he has been in contention in each of the World of Outlaws three visits to the track located at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds. In 2006, he was leading and had a flat right rear tire, while in 2007 contact with Daryn Pittman while going for the lead, led to broken front end which ended Schatz’s night. He finished fourth last season after starting seventh.

“That’s where everything started for me,” he said. “My family is from there and I grew up there. I’ve won races there, but to get a World of Outlaws wins would really be a highlight, to get the big trophy.”

River Cities Speedway will always be near and dear to Schatz as he climbed into a race car for the first time at the high-banked bullring when he was just a teenager to get the feel of the powerful machines. He has been racing ever since.

“My dad had some connections to a guy with sprint cars in Grand Forks and I drove my first laps there,” explained the 31-year old. “I drove one of the Mack boy’s cars, their family now owns a part of the track there. Another racing family helped me get some laps and from there it got us into sprint car racing.”

Schatz enters this weekend’s trio of events leading the World of Outlaws championship standings by 50 points over Joey Saldana. He has won seven times this season and is tied for the series lead with 15 Top-Five finishes as he chases his fourth consecutive series title. He leads the series with six fast time honors in qualifying and is one of just three drivers that have led more than 100 laps of feature racing competition this season.

“We’re close to hitting out stride,” he said. “We’re not really in any trouble right now. We’re not worried about where the points are right now. We’ve not had as many wins as we would have liked to have had and we’ve definitely more DNF’s (did not finish) and bad finishes. That’s just something we have to overcome and we’re doing our best to do that. Things just happen and we haven’t had anything happen for three years. It’s going to happen sooner or later. Hopefully we can do our jobs to the way we know how and at the end of the season come out on top and hopefully with the most victories.”

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.