By MIKE MALLETT
It was only fitting that on Saturday night after winning his fourth career Kings Royal Donny Schatz received his crown from the King himself, Steve Kinser. Kinser, who was named Royal Sovereign, placed the historic emblem upon the head of Schatz in an iconic moment between the two of Sprint Car racing’s greatest drivers. The significance of the event was not lost on Schatz as he sat in the media center following his dominating performance in the 40-lap affair.
“I’m just ecstatic,” said Schatz. “When I heard it was Steve (Kinser), he’s one of the fiercest competitors you ever raced with in this sport. He’s the icon. He’s the one that paved the way. He’s why we have media centers and $50,000 checks and trophies. What he’s done over the course of his 35-year career is why we all have the prestige we do today. You never know if you are going to get another one of them opportunities. I’ve not got to spend a lot of time with Steve so that was probably the best moment of the night. He let me know that he was King one. I loved that. That lets me know that he’s still got the fire; he’s still the Steve Kinser that I remember.”
Incredibly, Schatz became the first driver in the history of the Kings Royal, which dates back to 1984, to win back-to-back events. No one, not even Kinser, had accomplished that feat until Saturday night.
“To do anything that Steve Kinser hasn’t done here is pretty incredible,” mentioned Schatz. “It’s like the National Open. It’s hard to believe I’ve won five National Opens. I don’t think I’ve won one in five years. It’s something you don’t think about right now at this moment. I’m not going to get wrapped up in all the hype of records and stats and what have you. It’s just not who I am or how I am. It’s definitely going to make that trip home tonight a lot better, a little more enjoyable.”
Schatz netted $50,000 for his Tony Stewart Racing team as he easily defeated a star-studded field of 53 other drivers. It came one night after a second place finish to Christopher Bell forced to the team to find something more to get them to the end they desired. Whatever they did, it worked. Schatz won by over three second lapping into the top 15 in the field. Schatz quickly caught the lead duo of Cole Duncan and Brad Sweet. He dispatched of them in one quick move down the frontstretch and into turns one and two.
“We kind of did the same thing last night with how far we needed to go,” stated Schatz. “At the end of the race last night I felt like I was a little better than Christopher (Bell) but that was only 30-laps. You didn’t know if the track was going to stay real fast to start out, but you got to make sure you got enough tire in the end and you don’t get abusing them to bad. I tried to play it cautious but it seemed to be a little bit better than the guys in front of me. I tried to search out and find the right line. I got there (lead) fairly quick. Brad (Sweet), I didn’t know if he would keep getting better, he looked okay. We didn’t seem to slow down, we just seemed to get a little bit better in the middle of the race when the fuel come off. That comes from the three guys that work on this car. They take it with the utmost pride and passion and that sort of thing gets us in this position.”
That pride and passion gave Schatz one hell of a race car. It was good enough that he actually felt better in his No. 15 while battling in traffic than he did in clean air. Whatever the team has found has proved to be a dominant combination.
“I was better in dirty air and that is something that this race team works hard on,” commented Schatz. “It seems like I can get my car to stick when I’m behind someone else. Why that is? We don’t know, I don’t know, but I seem to be better in dirty air than I am in open air. That is a learning thing. That will change Tuesday. We’ll be at a different race track and it won’t effect it or the car won’t be effected the way that it is here. The guys work awfully hard to make your setup, your shocks and your torsion bars, your air pressures and things so you’re able to do both. We had a car that would do that tonight.”
In typical Schatz fashion, the Fargo, N.D., never let down his guard as he continued to search all over the race track as the laps clicked off. Some laps he went high, others he went low. He just kept getting better and better as the circuits clicked off. The only driver that was seemingly in his league was Bell, who started back in the 20th position. Bell cut the lead down to just under four seconds of Schatz. Needless to say, Bell took second as Schatz’s tenacity paid off with the win. He knew he had a car good as he was putting laps on drivers that are usually in contention for wins.
“When I come under the checkered flag,” stated Schatz when asked at what point he knew the race was his. “I’ve raced the same way for the last 20 years. The race isn’t over until it’s over. You can clearly be the best car some nights and force yourself into a mistake. I probably pushed the issue with a lapped car and I got myself in a spot where I could have been in the fence or whatever. You can’t make them mistakes. So it’s never over until you roll under that checkered flag, even then you got to make weight. I felt good through the middle of the race. I was just trying to keep the car underneath me, but that was getting harder and harder to do. I didn’t know if someone would be ripping the lip and able to get speed. I see some of the cars we were lapping were pretty good. We lapped Tim Shaffer, who we started next to and Kerry’s (Madsen) been really good all weekend, and he was a lap car. The five (David Gravel) car. It wasn’t like we were lapping guys that are normally lapped, we were lapping guys that don’t get lapped. I knew we were good position at that point.”
Schatz planned to enjoy the win on Saturday night but he was already looking ahead to Tuesday night’s Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup at the Lernerville Speedway. He’ll enjoy the moment for a brief period before getting down to the business of getting back in the race car and looking for wins.
“Some nights you aren’t as good as you want to be, but right now we just won the Kings Royal and that makes us feel really good,” said Schatz. “We got to forget about that, but not until Tuesday. Then, Tuesday it’s going to be all about the Silver Cup at Lernerville. That is the thing that people don’t get to see with all these teams, drivers and car owners with this World of Outlaws. A lot of teams that are going to go home tonight, tomorrow or whenever and they are going to be able to decide when they are going to race again. That’s not how the World of Outlaws works. They don’t have a reset button. You don’t get to hit that. The dedication that the teams go through, the car owners, the marketing partners and everybody to keep this pace is what makes them what they are. It also wears on them too. We got to make sure we get rested up, enjoy this too and move on.”
As he always seems to do, Schatz kicked off the “Month of Money” with a solid outing at Eldora. Schatz seemingly continues to have another level when it comes to this period that stretches from mid-July to the beginning of August and culminates with the Knoxville Nationals. If history is any indication, they won’t be the last time in the next few week’s Schatz parks his 15 in Victory Lane.