Concord, NC — The off-season usually goes by pretty fast for Donny Schatz, and that’s the way he likes it. After a very busy last couple of months including a stint racing in Australia, the four-time and defending World of Outlaws champion is ready to climb back behind the wheel of the Armor All J&J for Tony Stewart Racing and defend his four straight titles.
Schatz became the only driver other than 20-time series champion Steve Kinser to win four World of Outlaws titles and win four consecutive when he accomplished that feat in 2009.
“I am excited to get going,” said Schatz. “We try not to sit down for too long, but you get home for a few weeks and get a little rest and you’re ready to go again. Unfortunately you have to go halfway around the world to race in the winter. I’m ready to get going. There are a lot of new things this year. I’m just glad to be back doing what we love to do and that’s being in the seat.”
The season will begin again for the North Dakota native at Volusia Speedway Park in the Florida DIRTcar Nationals, where he started the 2009 season on a roll, winning on opening night and in the finale, to leave the Sunshine State with the series point lead. He also was victorious twice with the All Star Circuit of Champions at the half-mile, including a rousing performance that saw him come all the way from the tail of the field after a first lap spin to win. In his career at Volusia, Schatz has three wins with the World of Outlaws and has finished eighth or better in each of his last nine starts at the track with seven of those being podium finishes.
“It takes a lot of things,” he noted of running well in Florida. “Volusia is a very tricky place. It can be 200 miles apart between two different nights and that’s something that wears on you a little bit. It’s a big track and the gap in the racing at the half-miles has gotten so much closer between everybody. You just have to keep doing things that keep you a little bit ahead. My guys have worked hard this winter to make sure that I am going to be in a good situation. Thanks to those guys for busting their tails and me going to Australia to keep racing. I’m looking forward to getting going.”
Schatz is the second winningest driver in the DIRTcar Nationals of the 16 drivers that will be competing full-time with the series in 2010. He has taken the checkered flag eight times at the half-mile, with the first of those coming in 2006. He was victorious for the first time with the World of Outlaws in the 2007 season opener.
“It is good to get down there and racing,” explained Schatz. “Florida is unique and often what works down there won’t work anywhere else. We’ve been good there in the past and left there and went to some of the track we weren’t so good at in the past and we weren’t as great as we wanted to be. You have to make sure understand what is going on and analyze what you do learn in Florida.”
Schatz will have veteran crew chief Ricky Warner turning the wrenches for him again in 2010. Warner has been with Schatz for each of his four titles, along with Shane Bowers, who also has been with Schatz for each of his championships. Steve Swenson, who has worked for Tony Stewart Racing for the past several years, will join Schatz’s crew this season.
“We’ve worked together quite a bit and enjoy each other,” said the North Dakota native of his and Warner’s relationship. “We also have times where we don’t enjoy each other as much. Everybody is not always going to agree and we both had different directions as to what we needed to do and what direction we needed to go to be even better. Not everyone is always going to agree and I’m glad we did that, because now we are as close as we’ve ever been. I’m looking forward to racing with Ricky. There is no one out there better to be doing what he does than him. I’m glad to have him standing in my corner.”
Schatz will have a new teammate this year, as 20-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser, will be driving for Tony Stewart Racing. Schatz, who grew up watching Kinser race, continues to learn from him on the track, is excited to have the opportunity to be teamed with the living legend.
“To have a teammate like Steve Kinser, what else could you ask for,” deadpanned Schatz. “He is ‘The King.’ There are no if’s and’s or but’s about it. To have him under the Tony Stewart Racing banner is pretty cool. We’re glad to have him. I’m glad to get to race along with him.”
Schatz got a jump on the 2010 campaign by competing in Australia for a couple of weeks during the off-season, picking up three wins, including his record eighth victory in the $50,000 Scott Darley Memorial at Parramatta City Raceway. He followed that up with a $20,000 triumph at Brisbane International Speedway with the World Series Sprintcars. He finished on the podium in six of his seven starts Down Under and now has won at least one race in Australia each off-season since 2000. He had the chance to race against his car owner Tony Stewart in four events at Parramatta City Raceway.
“I not only got to race against him, but he was my teammate,” stated Schatz. “I’ve understood a little more of this teammate thing since I came to TSR. We learned a lot about each other and spent a lot of time together. He’s a very sharp and he’s more than just a driver. He is a smart business man and a good motivator. I learned a lot from him, especially in the time we had away from the track and the approach to take on things. We worked together well at the races and I wish he could have had a few better finishes. He did a great job there and we had a lot of fun. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to do that again sometime.”
Schatz won 12 times en route to winning the World of Outlaws title last year and led the series with 39 Top-Five finishes and racked up 54 Top-10 finishes. With nearly 80 races on the schedule this coming season he looks for consistency again to play a key role in the title chase. He also was on top of the leader board in fast time honors in time trials in 2009, which earned him five bonus points each time he was quickest.
“It’s going to take a lot of things,” he said when asked about winning another title. “We’re going to have to be consistent like we were and we’re going to have to be even better than we were. It did get pretty tight there at the end last year and that’s not how we want it. We fell out of two races last year that we thought were absolutely ridiculous and if you have two last place finishes, that’s something I can’t live with if we lose a championship. The crew worked hard to make sure we don’t have those problems again. We’ll just have to be up on the curve. I think we are in the best position we have ever been in here. They changed the tires and my guys seem to adapt to change a little bit better than everyone else. We’re all pumped up and ready to go.”
Schatz won his 100th career A-Feature with the World of Outlaws last season, making him just the fifth driver in the 30-plus year history of the series to accomplish that feat. He did that on August 21 at Dacotah Speedway in his home state of North Dakota. Ironically that was the last time he visited Victory Lane in a World of Outlaws event, which is a span of 16 races. He opens the 2010 campaign just seven wins short of tying Hall of Famer Doug Wolfgang for fourth on the series all-time list.
The 2010 World of Outlaws season kicks off with the 39th Annual Florida DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park February 5-7. To purchase tickets online visit http://www.DIRTcarNationals.com or call 386-985-4402. Each ticket purchased is also a free fan pit pass.