KILGORE, Tex. – March 3, 2017 – There is a crater wrapped around turns one and two of LoneStar Speedway – now a reinvented third-mile dirt course. Shortened from a 3/8-mile oval since the last time the World of Outlaws Craftsman® Sprint Car Series visited there in 2010, the “Greatest Show on Dirt” competed on the equally as fast bullring Friday night for the first time at the new length. Wheel-to-wheel with 23 other cars, Donny Schatz avoided the expected dangers of short-track racing and took the checkered flag without a hitch.
Schatz led all 35 laps in his victory, taking home not only the trophy but also a gold-toned Limited Edition Craftsman wrench set for the company’s 90th anniversary. Though Schatz established his dominance throughout the program – setting the night’s quick-time, and winning his heat and the Craftsman Club Dash – it did not come as easily as it seemed on paper. From an assumingly unlikely challenger – in terms of their resumes – the eight-time series champion was challenged by Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year contender Sheldon Haudenschild throughout the night.
“[Sheldon] was there from the start and did everything he needed to do,” Schatz said. “It’s an experience thing. Obviously he is a good, young driver. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. But we try not to focus on what someone else is doing. We have to focus on our own stuff to try to stay ahead of these young guys.”
Haudenschild, 23, was less than a tenth of a second off Schatz’s quick-time, and he also won his way into the dash. The two started on the front row of the feature, where the son of the “Wild Child” Jac Haudenschild would have his chance to make his own name in the series. He wasted no time.
“I had a good starting spot, but it was just difficult to pass,” Haudenschild said. “I tried to make it happen early when I slid [Donny] twice, but just didn’t have the speed in the corners to do it. I just need to be there in the end. I’m happy with the performance. To get a good run early in the season is a confidence-booster, and we’ll try to carry that momentum. I know I have a really great car and crew. Getting in these dashes is a big part of it.”
Haudenschild, starting to the right of Schatz’s No. 15 Tony Stewart-Curb/Agajanian Racing machine, dipped under him once the green flag dropped. He challenged Schatz on the bottom, but the top proved to be the quickest route to shutting down Haudenschild’s advances. Schatz and Haudenschild tangoed briefly, but the defending champion quickly opened-up his lead to a 1.345-second margin.
Thereon, Haudenschild was sandwiched in-between two drivers that have wins in 2017 – Schatz and 2016 Knoxville Nationals Champion Jason Johnson. Haudenschild’s No. 93 Southern Pacific Farms/ Rico Abreu Racing car escaped Johnson’s challenge for second with 20 laps remaining. Haudenschild distanced himself from Johnson, gaining more than a one-second advantage over his No. 41 Priority Aviation/ Mesilla Valley Transportation racecar.
The race’s first caution five laps later regrouped the field; Johnson took advantage. Barreling out of turn four, Johnson overtook Haudenschild. By this time, the top-five was all series regulars – Schatz, Johnson, Haudenschild, Brad Sweet and David Gravel respectively. Through two more cautions in the feature, Johnson managed to close the gap between him and Schatz to as narrow as a .733-second margin. He could not capitalize.
“You’re racing the best guy in the business (Schatz),” Johnson said. “He’s not going to make any mistakes. Those guys are clicking and doing a great job. But my guys have done a great job making great, consistent Maxim cars, and we communicated over the winter with Paul Kistler about the motors we had success with in 2016. We have great communication, and I’m in the best physical shape in my life as far as racing. Mentally, I’m in a great position because of the Jason Johnson Racing- Marshall Racing merger.”
The tour concludes its first stint in Texas with the Gator Bash at Gator Motorplex on Saturday, March 4. For ticket information, visit SLS Promotions, LLC.
-World of Outlaws Press Release. Photo credit: Chris Selma