FARGO -- For the 24th time since 2007, the World of Outlaws will race at River Cities Speedway tonight -- a track regarded as one of the more entertaining racing venues the Outlaws visit each season.
The high-banked, quarter-mile bullring usually produces 40-lap features that aren’t decided until the final lap or corner.
And no driver has dominated The Bullring like Donny Schatz, the 10-time WoO champion from Fargo. Schatz has won nine of the past 11 WoO features at RCS and has captured 10 RCS wins in all.
Again, he’ll be the heavy favorite Friday night.
However, this WoO season has been perhaps more competitive than previous years. There have been 14 different winners in the 24 WoO features completed so far this season. Six of those feature winners are not traveling full time with the Outlaws, meaning there may be stiffer competition on the circuit this season.
Schatz has won three features so far and and leads the points race, holding a 38-point advantage on Brad Sweet.
Schatz has been the country’s top driver the past decade. At age 42, he still enjoys the sport and his competitive drive remains in high gear.
He sat down for an interview earlier this week in his shop in West Fargo.
Q. After rain claimed a handful of features earlier this season, the WoO season now seems to be in high gear. Has your race team found its groove 24 races into the season?
A. I think we’re on the right track. We’ve been very consistent all year. At the beginning of the season, we changed a few things amongst manufacturers that, I don’t know if it set us back, but we couldn’t quite find that sweet spot that we wanted to be in. But we’re starting to get into that consistency groove. We don’t have the wins we’d like to have. But it’s like anything else. Before you walk you have to be able to crawl. And before you run, you have to be able to walk so we have to take things in stride. Our our guys are doing a great job; they’re getting really consistent cars.
Q. Is it harder racing at home, considering all of the distractions and demands on your time?
A. It’s not harder. Actually, it’s pretty rewarding when you can come to the place where you cut your teeth growing up and where people supported you end to end. You feel like when you go to Victory Lane, they (fans) go to Victory Lane. It’s a good way to give something back to the people that have stood behind you. It’s very gratifying.”
Q. It’s really hard to win a World of Outlaws feature. But how hard is it to continually win Outlaw features like you’ve done throughout your career?
A. That is a very good point. I’ve managed to sneak in 10 championships and a couple of seconds in the last 12, 13, 14, whatever, seasons. But you know, we see things like (Tuesday night) when (NASCAR driver) Kyle Larson comes in and beat us (in Illinois). Kyle is a great talent, no question. But it’s different. When you show up like Kyle does, he can go for broke every night. It doesn’t matter. He’s not going to race with us next week. He doesn’t have to think about the ramifications of points. So, if he doesn’t have a good night, he goes home and hits the reset button. The thing about the Outlaws is that you never have that opportunity. The guys that didn’t have a good night last night are trying to figure out what they need to do differently. So it really takes its toll mentally on a lot of drivers and a lot of teams. You just have to find ways around that. You have to be able to deal with nights you’re not going to win. I always say championships aren’t won on what you win. It’s won on what you don’t win because, obviously, there are a lot more of those nights. We try to do it the best we can and hopefully it works out for us.
Q. You won at RCS last August, holding off fan favorite Mark Dobmeier at the end. What were your thoughts on that race, considering Dobmeier charged from 17th to second in the closing laps?
A. I was happy to see Mark up there. But I probably wouldn’t have been as happy if went right on by me. You know, we’ve had a good run at Grand Forks. It’s just the competitive nature of that track. He was excited. I was excited. It’s hard for that to wear off. We’ll see what happens this time.
Q. You’ve won WoO features at RCS every year since 2014. Why have you been so successful at RCS?
A. I enjoy coming to Grand Forks. We’ve got a good record there. But I know just because we’ve won races there doesn’t mean I’m going to go in there Friday night and make it look easy. It’s going to have to be earned.
Q. You’ve been full time with the Outlaws since 1998; you’ve won nearly 300 features. How long will you continue to race?
A. You know, there are days I’ve asked myself that. And then I answer myself about as quick as I asked that. I still love the racing. When I came out of the circuit, I just wanted to race with Ted Johnson’s World of Outlaws. That was where it was at. If you wanted to be somebody in sprint car racing, you had to go and race against Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang and Dave Blaney. Obviously, the names have changed over the years but what Ted started -- putting on the ultimate show every night -- was real. None of it was manufactured. It was all realistic. And that’s what it’s all about. That’s what keeps me going. If we get in scenarios where we see things that are manufactured -- and I think we’ve seen some of that in other forms of motorsports -- I’ll be the first person gone. But I love what I do. It’s what I dreamed about doing and I’m still here doing it. So, I’m going to do it until it’s no fun.