KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Donny Schatz is North Dakota’s most decorated motorsports driver. The Minot native and current Fargo resident cut his teeth on the dirt tracks in his home state before quickly finding success and venturing out to the national level.
Since joining the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series full-time in 1997, Schatz has racked up 10 series titles — second-most all time. Schatz has won everything there is to win in sprint car racing, and in most cases, he’s won it multiple times.
On Friday, Schatz is set to do something he’s never done before in his 25-plus year career; compete in a NASCAR-sanctioned event.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series makes its debut at Knoxville Raceway at 8 p.m. Friday. A half-mile dirt oval on the Marion County Fairgrounds at the "Sprint Car Capital of the World," Knoxville, Iowa.
Knoxville Raceway is one of Schatz’s favorite tracks. He is a 10-time winner of the Knoxville Nationals, the crown jewel event in sprint car racing, but Schatz said he’s looking forward to a new challenge in racing a NASCAR truck at Knoxville.
“I’m super excited. It’s something completely different,” he said. “It’s a different type of race car, or race truck, than what I’m used to. Knoxville Raceway is a place I hold near and dear to my heart. Some of my greatest memories come from there. With it being my first time racing in a NASCAR event, there is a lot to look forward to. It’s always fun to venture into a new territory and do something different. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Schatz’s winged sprint car weighs in at 1,425 pounds and has about 900 horsepower. The David Gilliland Racing truck Schatz will be racing is much bulkier at 3,200 pounds with around 750 horsepower.
Schatz has driven Silver Crown sprint cars in the past and runs his dirt late model regularly at local tracks, but he said neither will be anything like what he’ll experience in the truck.
“With how the suspension of the trucks work, how the truck is built and NASCAR’s rule, I think it’s going to be something completely different for me,” Schatz said. “The goal is to get all four tires working together to make the quickest lap possible. It’s unique to see how much different they are, how the bodies of the trucks work and the different team dynamic. It’s very exciting on all fronts and I’m pretty new to it. Hopefully I can adapt well and I think the dirt will allow for that.”
In recent years, NASCAR has made an effort to be more “grassroots.” In doing so, it has been holding more events at dirt tracks. The Camping World Truck Series competed at the Eldora Speedway — a dirt half-mile oval in Rossburg, Ohio — for several years. In March, the NASCAR Cup Series competed at a dirt covered Bristol Motor Speedway. It was the first time NASCAR’s premier series raced on dirt since 1970.
“In general, I think it’s a love/hate relationship,” said Schatz of the general opinion of NASCAR’s racers having to run on dirt. “The guys that like it, love it and the guys that don’t love it, hate the dirt racing. I think it’s great for NASCAR to venture out into the dirt tracks and attract dirt racing fans. I think a lot of it is attributed to Kyle Larson (current NASCAR Cup Series driver for Hendrick Motorsports) spending a lot of time last year racing on dirt.”
Larson won at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo last August with the World of Outlaws.
"NASCAR fans went to dirt tracks to watch him. It’s really been great on both fronts, whether you’re a NASCAR fan or a dirt track fan," Schatz said. "I think it was a wise decision on NASCAR’s part to venture to dirt tracks, but they are also going to premier dirt track facilities. They have gone to Bristol Motor Speedway when it was covered in dirt, they’ve gone to Eldora Speedway and now they are going to Knoxville. It’s really showcasing some of dirt racing’s premier facilities along the way. It’s a great opportunity for everybody in motorsports to broaden their horizons."
Win or lose, Schatz said Friday’s NASCAR event will be a milestone in his career.
“It’ll be something I look back on and if I were to not take this opportunity or never compete in NASCAR, I would probably regret it,” he said. “But this opportunity is sitting here right in front of me. NASCAR is a premier racing series and it’s fun to compete with those at the highest level. I think my dirt background and racing with the World of Outlaws has kind of groomed me for an event like this. I’m going to take it and make the most of it. Is it going to be a win? That would be great, but you just never know. There are a lot of great racers in the truck series and a lot of them have dirt experience too.”
On the World of Outlaws side, Schatz currently sits sixth in the point standings, roughly halfway through the 80-race season. Schatz collected his 300th career win at Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway in Iowa on June 18th.