Sunday night at Lebanon Valley Speedway (NY), it looked as though that World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series points leader Donny Schatz would have to wait another race to collect his 21st win of the 2015 season. But on this night, it wasn’t necessarily another competitor that would stand in Schatz’s way. Instead it was racing’s worst enemy: Mother Nature.
Rain first began pouring down on the “Valley of Speed” just after warm-ups forcing post time to be pushed back by two hours. When cars did get on the track, Schatz started off modestly, coming third in time trials behind Kerry Madsen who set a new track record, and second behind Paul McMahan in the third qualifying heat race.
But in the night’s second half, the Minot, North Dakota driver rose to the top. Schatz mastered the tricky racing surface to win the Dash race to start on pole, and then led wire-to-wire in the 25-lap A-Main feature, outrunning Brad Sweet and Joey Saldana by a long Lebanon Valley straightaway.
“Track was pretty fast,” Schatz said after the race. “(The track) was pretty wet before, but it had been pretty tough to pass guys. You look at the mud stuck to this thing, that’s pretty odd for Lebanon Valley. Normally she’s pretty slick and you do a lot of sliding around. But the cars were pretty locked down; you just had to be cautious. You didn’t want to do something silly, keep yourself out of trouble.”
This victory marks the 21st victory for Schatz and the No. 15 Tony Stewart Racing team in 2015, but also broke one of the longest dry spells that Schatz has experienced this season between wins. Prior to Sunday’s win, Schatz had gone eight races and 15 days without a win. His last win came on July 11 during Race #1 of the Cedar Lake Outlaw Sprint Car Showdown in Wisconsin.
Most Outlaw drivers would be grateful to have two wins in that time period. But for the six-time World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion, the wait felt a lot longer.
“It has felt like an eternity, we’ve led a lot of races, but we have not capitalized on wins. You’re going to have that if you running second for two weeks, every night is struggling, I guess it is really not that bad, but it does feel good to get back to victory lane and get a win under your belt,” Schatz told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
Overall, Schatz has been pleased with how 2015 has gone his way and the consistently fast cars his team has been giving him, but it’s nothing he’s ready to celebrate yet. Despite an enormous 350 points advantage over Shane Stewart in the championship standings coupled with his series leading 21 wins, Schatz’s emotions are well in check, and he is not planning to look back on his struggles or accomplishments for long.
His focus is on learning and moving forward to the next race.
“Season has been really good. We’ve got the wins we’ve been looking for. Nowhere near the end of where we want to be obviously. We’ve let a lot of races slip away the last two weeks. We’re not going to dwell on that, just like we’re not going to dwell on winning tonight, we’re going to go on to Tuesday at Ohsweken (ON). It’s a place we really enjoy going to, we run well at, and try to get ourselves another win there, try to make things even better. A lot of good races coming up the next couple of weeks, hopefully we can get our fair share of wins at them.”
Schatz looks to end a crowded 10-race stretch on a high note with a three event swing through Eastern Canada beginning at Ohswekan Speedway on Tuesday, before the series takes a short break to return to the Midwest for some of the most prestigious events on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Mike Petrucci