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AUTO RACING: Once again, Fargo’s Donny Schatz leads the Outlaws

GRAND FORKS HERALD FILE PHOTO: Sprint car professional Donny Schatz wins the 2014 WoO feature at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks. (Luke Franke/ Grand Forks Herald)

The season may not have started the best for Donny Schatz. But his familiar No.15 sprint is getting faster and faster as the World of Outlaws' season is nearing the halfway point.

"This season didn't get started the way we had hoped, but it's been a big learning process," said Schatz, who will headline the World of Outlaws' appearance at River Cities Speedway on Friday night. "Sometimes, it felt like we'd take one step forward, but two steps back. All the things we've tried have pushed us to a spot where we hopefully are getting better each race."

It may have been a slow start for Schatz, but the Fargo driver now sits atop the WoO standings as the circuit raced in Sauk Centre, Minn., on Wednesday night.

Through 36 races, Schatz has nine feature wins, 24 top-five finishes and 34 top-10 finishes. With his win in Knoxville, Iowa., last Saturday, Schatz moved into first place in the season points race, passing Brad Sweet.

Schatz, the WoO seven-time champion, has dominated RCS the past few seasons. He swept last year's RCS races and has won four of the past six events at high-banked Bullring.

His ability to come on strong late in races sets him apart from the rest of the field.

During the August, 2015, WoO feature at RCS, Schatz trailed leader Paul McMahan for 30 laps. With seven laps to go, Schatz rocketed past McMahan on the back straightaway and cruised the win, beating McMahan to the finish line by 2.971 seconds. And he went faster as the race progressed. His fastest time (11.252 seconds, 95.983 mph) came on Lap 31 of the 40-lap feature..

"Our goal is to win races, and being stronger at then of the race is really important," said Schatz. "You know Friday night so many things can change during those last 10 laps of the race. We want to be in a position to win the race and have our car getting better and better as the laps wind down."

Lapped traffic the key

Daryn Pittman won the August, 2014, WoO feature at RCS. The Oklahoma driver leads the circuit in laps led this season with 192. And he has four wins.

Like most WoO regulars, Pittman said RCS has its challenges because of its small size.

"Even though we won there, it's still a challenging track for me," said Pittman. "I struggled there a little bit last year. I've always enjoyed racing there, I just haven't had a lot of success there. Obviously we did get the one win and we go there each time looking to improve. It's a fun track and a racy joint. It is 40 laps of non-stop action and you have to be able to wheel the car for the entire 40 laps. I always look forward to going there. They get a great crowd up there and the fans are fantastic."

Leading a race at RCS doesn't mean much if you can't handle the lapped traffic, which leaders usual hit five or so laps into the feature.

"It doesn't matter if you have the fastest car in open track, because you are not going to be there very long," said Pittman. "You are in traffic a lot and have to be able to move around. As a driver you have to make really good, smart decisions to put yourself in the right position when you are going through lapped cars and get through there pretty clean. If you don't, someone will be there to take the spot. Lapped traffic is huge there and you have to have a car that is maneuverable."

Ticket sales strong

Ticket sales for Friday night's event have been strong, said Linus Mack, one of RCS managing partners.

The past few seasons, the number of tickets sold for the June appearance by the Outlaws have ranged between 5,300 and 5,700. More than 6,000 fans have turned out for some of the shows.

The Outlaws have raced in Grand Forks since 2007 and Friday's show will be the circuit's 18th appearance at RCS.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268
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