MECHANICSBURG, PA (Sept. 30, 2012) – There was a time when Donny Schatz was nearly impossible to beat when the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series showed up at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. But for the last five years, the four-time WoO champion wasn’t the dominant force he once was.
That may have changed Saturday night, when Schatz piloted the Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevrolet J&J to victory in the 50th annual Morgan Hughes National Open. The win was his fifth triumph in the prestigious race, the most by any driver.
“Nothing feels better than this,” Schatz said following his 16th career triumph at the famed half-mile dirt oval in central Pennsylvania. “It’s been a long absence from victory lane here at Williams Grove. To get back here and win another National Open is awesome. This race team has done everything it could possibly do to get this racecar in tiptop shape every night. Tonight, we had a really good performance. I’m glad to get to victory lane tonight.”
Schatz opened the night by qualifying 15th in the field of 54 cars. A second-place finish in the fifth heat qualified him for the dash and an eight-inversion pill put him on the front row for the seven-lap dash that set the starting lineup for the 40-lap A-Feature that paid $50,000 to the winner.
The race itself took six tries to finally get started. On the sixth attempt, Schatz and Craig Dollansky raced into turn one with Dollansky grabbing the lead. Dollansky and Schatz were joined by Brian Leppo in a three-car battle for the top position during the first 10 laps. Dollansky set the pace until getting held up by lapped traffic on lap 14, which allowed Schatz to get past him and lead lap 14. Dollansky retook the lead the next time by and held the top spot until lap 24, when he made contact with Alan Krimes, whose lapped car had gotten into the turn-four wall.
Schatz led the field back to green and exchanged the top spot with Leppo, who executed a slide job on the restart. Schatz was able to pull back in front and lead the final 16 laps of the race. Schatz raced to his 16th career win at Williams Grove and 124th career WoO A-Feature triumph.
The victory allowed Schatz to surpass the win total of his TSR teammate and Sprint car icon Steve Kinser, who won the National Open in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 2003. Schatz won the National Open in 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2007 before Saturday night’s historic win, which came fives years to the day after his 2007 triumph. Schatz moves to the top of the win list for an event that some the sport’s greatest of all-time have won.
“It means a lot to me to have my name up there with Doug Wolfgang, Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell,” Schatz said. “I feel like one of these days I’m going to wake up and realize how big of an accomplishment this really is.”
It was just over two months ago when Schatz finished outside the top-10 at Williams Grove during the Summer Nationals, struggling to an 11th-place finish. A week later, he picked up a victory at Cornwall (Ontario) Speedway, which began an incredible run of success in the last 26 races. Schatz has won nine times, including his sixth Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, finished inside the top-two 16 times and outside the top-10 just once. Those results have allowed him to turn a 44-point deficit in the 2012 WoO Championship standings into a 158-point advantage with only five races remaining.
“It’s been a huge turnaround,” Schatz said regarding the team’s results the past two months. “When we were here in July, I felt like I couldn’t even see up to rock bottom. When you get to where you are winning races and championships, you expect those types of results to continue. When you’re not winning, it feels like the world is caving in. (Car owner) Tony (Stewart) grabbed ahold of all of us and straightened us all out and put us back on the straight-and-narrow path. And now, we’re here back winning races and being competitive.”
Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, spent almost 40 nights behind the wheel of a Winged Sprint car from January through July this season, and he’s been a big factor in the STP team’s late-season surge.
“Tony was here tonight and helped tune on the car,” Schatz said. “He made some shock changes and watched what was going on. He’s been a big part of the success with this racecar and what’s been going on. He said ‘good job’ afterward and told me he had to get back to work. He’s got a big day ahead of him tomorrow in Dover.”
Schatz and the TSR team will return to action next Saturday at Rolling Wheels Raceway in Elbridge, N.Y., when the WoO Sprint cars stage a one-night program in conjunction with the Super Dirt Week festivities.