Schatz, World of Outlaws return to Minot

The World of Outlaws makes its annual visit to Nodak Speedway on Sunday, which means Minot native and five-time points champion Donny Schatz will be racing in front of his hometown fans once again.

Schatz makes his first appearance at Nodak Speedway since the NOSA Sprints event on June 2. That night, Schatz was unable to catch Winnipeg’s Thomas Kennedy and settled for a second-place finish. On Sunday, Schatz hopes to chase down points leader Daryn Pittman of Owasso, Okla.

“We’ve worked very hard the last several months to get ourselves in position,” Schatz said. “We dug ourselves out of a deep whole. … All you can do is keep looking forward and working hard and hopefully you have that championship at the end of the year. And if not, it won’t be for a lack of effort.”

The Tony Stewart Racing driver is second in the STP Sprint Car Series, 67 points behind Pittman. Schatz leads all drivers with 14 wins and 45 top-10 finishes this season. The 36-year-old made history Monday, becoming the first driver to win the FVP Knoxville Nationals after transferring through the B-main. Schatz came from the 21st position to win his seventh Nationals event.

“We’ve always known we’ve had the ability to do that, we just haven’t been in that position before,” Schatz said. “It’s more of a rewarding feeling that everybody knows not to count us out. It doesn’t change you.”

Schatz got the Nodak Speedway monkey off his back last year, winning his first WoO event at the Minot track in seven attempts. The No. 15 sprint car bested a field of 23 other drivers to claim the $10,000 prize. He led 34 of 35 laps.

Schatz is fourth all-time in WoO victories with 138, but he’s managed to stay grounded despite all the success.

“I’m surrounded by great people, whether it be my family or the race team,” Schatz said. “You don’t try to lose grasp of who you are and where you come from. You have to enjoy it while it’s there and not get too far ahead of yourself. It can take its toll on you some days, but it’s not something that changes you as a person.”

The WoO is the most notable yearly race at Nodak Speedway, bringing floods of people to the grandstands. Vice president Lindsay Lawson said approximately 5,500 fans came to see Schatz and the WoO last year.

“The sprint cars are the fastest cars on dirt,” Lawson said. “There’s nothing on a dirt track that goes faster than the World of Outlaws sprint cars. A lot of the attraction is speed. The quality of competition is amazing. They put on a great show for the fans.”

In recent weeks, sprint car safety has become a national topic of discussion after NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart broke his leg during an event in Iowa last week. Stewart’s injury comes after drivers Jason Leffler and Kramer Williamson died during Sprint races. Schatz said he’s put more emphasis on safety as a result.

“It doesn’t change the way I drive, but it changes the way I’ve changed my safety features in the car,” he said. “It’s just keeping a closer eye on things. Like car parts, safety equipment wears out, it gets fatigued. You keep your eyes out for it more and you try to make sure something doesn’t happen. You can never be too safe. I’m not a major risk-taker.”

Nodak Speedway has taken the necessary steps to ensure both driver and fan safety during races. The track recently installed a new front wall near the grandstands to assure a safer experience for all involved.

“We’re always looking to do things to upgrade our facility in terms of safety,” Lawson said. “It’s really cleared up the area in front of the grand stands.”

Before he returns home, Schatz races tonight at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks.

Mike Kraft covers racing at Nodak Speedway during the summer. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.