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Bullring Blitz: Another big crowd expected Friday night for the World of Outlaws at River Cities Speedway

The World of Outlaws race before a large crowd at River Cities Speedway in 2016. The Outlaw return tonight at RCS for their second race this season. Photo/Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
The west grandstand at River Cities Speedway was full last season when the World of Outlaws made their second visit of the season to Grand Forks. The Outlaws are scheduled to race in Grand Forks again Friday night. Photo/Joshua Komer, Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

The World of Outlaws is in the home stretch of its 40th season. The country’s best sprint car circuit has been been coming to North Dakota since 1981 when it began racing at the Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo.

At that time, it was believed Grand Forks couldn’t support a visit by the Outlaws. But that thought eventually eroded and in 2007 the managing partners at River Cities Speedway decided to take the risk and book the Outlaws.

It was the right move as the Outlaws now consider RCS as one of their top stops on the tour.

Tonight, for the 23rd time since their 2007 debut, the Outlaws will race again at The Bullring -- a quarter-mile, high-banked track that draws thousands of fans each season due to its continuous action.

Again, another near sellout is expected. RCS can seat more than 6,000 fans and the turnout for the June visit by the WoO was estimated at 6,000. Since the 2007 debut, WoO crowds have generally ranged between 5,000 and 6,000.

Here are a handful of storylines to follow when the green flag drops tonight:

  • Can Donny Schatz continue his amazing domination at RCS? The top WoO driver has won 10 times at RCS since 2007 and has captured six of the past seven features in Grand Forks. Amazingly, Schatz is 22-for-22 in top-10 finishes at RCS. And 20 of those were top-five finishes. The Fargo driver, who is chasing his 10th WoO title, has finished no lower than seventh at The Bullring.
  • Brad Sweet is on a roll. Will he ride that momentum to a win in Grand Forks? The California driver captured last week’s Knoxville Nationals, edging Schatz at the stripe to take home $150,000 in the biggest sprint car race of the season. Sweet is in second place behind Schatz in season points. Last week in Knoxville, Sweet was the driver to beat throughout the weekend as he also won Friday night’s preliminary feature.
  • David Gravel is the only WoO driver to beat Schatz at RCS since August of 2014. Can he do it again? Gravel won the June 2017 race. The high-banked bullring, he admits, can be a handful for drivers. “It’s definitely a tough track,” said Gravel. “It’s a demanding 40 laps and very action-packed. The surface changes several times throughout the A-main. As a driver, you have to be very focused and stay on top of everything. You turn a lot more at Grand Forks and you kind of go off your instincts. Everything happens in a hurry, so you always have to be on your toes and ready for anything.”
  • Will this be Mark Dobmeier’s night? The career wins leader at RCS has been knocking on the door during the WoO visits to RCS but is looking for his first win. He’s won WoO features in the past at other tracks but to win at his home track would be the ultimate win for him. He’s competitive every time he races with the Outlaws and has had numerous top 10 finishes at RCS with the best drivers in the country. Last week, he finished ninth in the B main at the Nationals, where he has one preliminary win to his credit. “We’re loaded up and we’re ready to go,” said Dobmeier.

Track officials have been working on the race surface at RCS throughout the week.

RCS officials and SLS Promotions late Thursday said they were pleased with the week’s preparation. Ticket sales, they said, have been brisk.

Also tonight, the NLRA late models will complement the Outlaws. Schatz again is expected to compete with the NLRA.

Past winners
  • 2007 -- Joey Saldana
  • 2008 -- Donny Schatz
  • 2009 -- Donny Schatz, Craig Dollansky
  • 2010 -- Steve Kinser, Joey Saldana
  • 2011 -- Craig Dollansky (2), Steve Kinser
  • 2012 -- Kraig Kinser, Sammy Swindell
  • 2013 -- Cody Darrah, Donny Schatz
  • 2014 -- Donny Schatz, Daryn Pittman
  • 2015 -- Donny Schatz (2)
  • 2016 -- Donny Schatz (2)
  • 2017 -- David Gravel, Donny Schatz
  • 2018 -- Donny Schatz
Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268