KNOXVILLE, Iowa — After Donny Schatz won the Knoxville Nationals for the 11th time, the 45-year-old did an extra lap to make sure he won at the Knoxville Raceway.
“In my old age, the white and checkered look the same! I’ve done that a few times, actually,” Schatz said.
The Fargo, North Dakota native’s eyesight was perfect when he passed David Gravel for the lead late in Saturday Night’s A-Main. It was Schat’z first Knoxville Nationals victory since 2017, but it wasn’t easy for the 10-time World of Outlaws Series champion.
Schatz started third and his car’s engine billowed smoke early in the race. The smoke was attributed to a new fuel nozzle configuration on the Ford 410 cu. in. sprint car engine that Tony Stewart Racing has been developing since 2019.
Schatz ran a different fuel nozzle configuration on Saturday than in his Wednesday night preliminary program. That night, Schatz finished second in the feature.
“I had a lot more trouble getting the tires caught up on the exit of the corner,” Schatz said in the post-race press conference. “So naturally when we stopped and I lost 5, 6, 7 spots, that’s where I was frustrated. I told the guys I feel like we made the wrong move with the nozzles. But it came back around the other way at the end of the race, so I guess I just had to kind of bide my time.”
The weight of a larger amount of fuel combined with the new nozzles caused the car to blow excess oil out of the engine, hence the smoke.
“It’s a give and take situation,” Schatz said. “There was no issues with it and it’s just the way they work. We’ve got everything up on the fine line on the edge and it isn’t going to hurt us for sure.”
Early in the race, the No. 15 machine seemed to have some handling difficulties, particularly with the right rear of the car. Under the halfway break, the crew changed the car’s shocks for the race’s second half.
“The thing about this race is, the shocks change over the course of 25 laps,” Schatz said. “So we didn’t want to have our best stuff on there. It’s hard to make two (shocks) the same, so we didn’t want to have our best stuff on there for the first part. We wanted it on the second part and that’s a crew chief call and Scuba (crew chief Steve Swenson) did a great job.”
Schatz started the race’s second half in sixth place and moved quickly. With 23 laps to go, Schatz passed Brent Marks for fifth place. Two laps later, Schatz passed Carson Macedo for fourth and then got third from polesitter Austin McCarl a few laps later.
Schatz passed outside polesitter Tyler Courtney for second place on a late restart. After battling with Courtney on another late restart, Schatz chased after Gravel for the lead.
Gravel ran high in Turns 3-4, so Schatz went low to snatch the lead coming to four laps to go. Schatz never relinquished the lead and won over Gravel, Logan Schuchart, Courtney and Jacob Allen.
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This win was very special for Schatz. His father Danny Schatz died on June 27th at 74 years old. The elder Schatz owned the car Donny drove to multiple World of Outlaws championships. The younger Schatz reflected a little bit more on his achievement given the recent events.
“You need to enjoy every day as if it’s the last,” Schatz said. “You never know if it’s my last opportunity, my last one, you just don’t know. I think when you get out here and you race with the World of Outlaws, we’re all fierce competitors.
“We get caught up in that, and sometimes we take everything else for granted. Nothing else matters other than what we do trying to get here. And that perspective has changed in my life a little bit.
“You know, I’m no different than anybody else. We’re all going to lose family members. We’re all going to lose the people close to us, but it’s just opened my eyes. So, just enjoy everything for the moment, enjoy it for what it is today. Because man, you never know if or when it’s the last time you’re going to get that opportunity.”