A thread throughout Donny Schatz’ career is rising to the occasion. When the lights are brightest, Schatz never shies away from the stage. Instead, he summons the greatest of his talents.
That fearlessness of the moment continued on Saturday night at Eldora Speedway. The 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car champion put together at perfect drive in the 40th edition of the coveted Kings Royal. Schatz led every single circuit of the 40-lap Feature on his way to a comfortable win.
Royal Sovereign Bobby Allen presided over the coronation as Schatz was crowned for the sixth time in his illustrious career. The 46-year-old is now only a single Crown away from matching “The King” himself – Steve Kiner’s – record count of seven Kings Royal triumphs. The victory also brought him $175,000 worth of spoils – equaling the largest payday he’s earned behind the wheel. Another noteworthy number is 13, which is now how many six-digit paychecks the Fargo, ND has collected in his career.
For Schatz and his Tony Stewart/Curb Agajanian Racing team who’ve combatted struggles as of late, the win was especially rewarding and made the emotion swell for Schatz.
“I think it’s the adversity lately” said a choked up Schatz when discussing what felt different about this Crown. “We’re not performing the way we want, and tonight we did. These guys brought a car down from upstairs with a two-year-old motor there. Obviously, it runs pretty damn good. We tried a lot of different stuff this week. We came here in May, and we were really good, but the racetrack is different. It just takes everything you can get. These guys just kept digging. There isn’t anybody in this pit area that wants to run seventh, eighth, twelfth, sixteenth, but we’ve done that. Tonight, I don’t know what you say. I guess the stars lined up.”
The stars most certainly did align throughout the entire evening at “The Big E.” A 24th-place Qualifying effort positioned him third in the lineup for the sixth Heat Race. At the start of the Heat, he immediately moved into second. But Schatz knew he needed more as winning the 10-lap bout would put him on the pole of the Feature, and running second would’ve slotted him 12th. Schatz secured the pole by muscling around Aaron Reutzel for the top spot on lap one.
The Feature went about as smooth as possible for the 10-time World of Outlaws champion. Schatz grabbed the lead when the green flag flew and hardly even faced a challenge. The only potential obstacle to confront was the way the day’s weather impacted the track with morning and afternoon rain providing plenty of moisture and a lightning-fast surface.
“I don’t remember a race even being that pace,” Schatz said. “That was wide open for 40 laps. I just told Scuba (crew chief, Steve Swenson) I don’t know if there’s much left there. I used every bit of it. Normally that’s not the case here, but we got that rain, and it’s been a little bit choppy in spots all week. I don’t think it was as bad as it is, but when you get behind someone in dirty air, and you hit that stuff, I mean I did it last night. That’s why I wasn’t going to try to tear the car up. You don’t want to try to do that. We want to race for championships. Tonight doesn’t really count for that, but it sure does count for a $175,000 payday and this pretty damn cool crown.”
Donny Schatz was in control of the entire 40th running of the Kings Royal (Trent Gower Photo)
Even with the tricky conditions, Schatz wasn’t impacted as he survived a bevy of restarts and sliced through traffic throughout the entire race. Early runner-up – David Gravel – showed him a nose on a couple restarts but ultimately couldn’t make a move to truly challenge the Carquest #15. Schatz took the checkered flag with a nearly four-second advantage.
“When you get in a race car and you go out and hot lap when you put your foot down, you kind of know if you’re going to be in the game or you’re not going to be in the game,” Schatz said. “The last three days, I don’t feel like I’ve been in the game. When we hot lapped tonight and qualified tonight, I could tell there was a little something there that we hadn’t had in the car that made the car roll around there different. This is my 28th Kings Royal, so I’ve got a little bit of experience. You kind of feel like you know what you’re doing.”
Finishing a spot behind Schatz with a valiant charge to the runner-up position was Brent Marks. In his quest for back-to-back Kings Royal titles, the pilot of the Murray-Marks #19 started 11th and wheeled his way forward to second. Oddly enough, the only driver to ever earn consecutive Kings Royal Crowns – Schatz – was the one who prevented Marks from becoming the second. Winning is always preferred, but after battling some struggles of his own throughout the week, Marks came away with his head held high.
“We had a really good race car tonight,” Marks said. “We just didn’t have enough speed to catch Donny there at the end, but this whole Murray-Marks Motorsports team just did a phenomenal job all night long and all week, really. We just made huge gains and had some adversity to overcome this week. It’s just been a tough week, so to finish second tonight is just an amazing feeling.”
Rounding out the top three to equal his career-best Kings Royal finish was David Gravel. The Big Game Motorsports driver stayed in contention all race but couldn’t find the speed necessary to get by Schatz and then slipped to third when Marks moved around him. The Watertown, CT native narrowly missed out on the final leg of Sprint Car racing’s Triple Crown that he needs.
“Track position was huge there, and it just wasn’t in my cards tonight,” Gravel said. “I had one opportunity on that one restart to get by him and couldn’t clear him, and after that he was gone. I didn’t even see him at the end. He definitely was the dominant car tonight and it showed, and the fastest car won.”
Sheldon Haudenschild and Kyle Larson completed the top five.
KSE Racing Hard Charger honors went to Rico Abreu as he wheeled his #24 from 20th to sixth.
In Low-E Insulation Qualifying, Justin Peck claimed his first Simpson Performance Products QuickTime of the season and the third of his career.
CASE No.1 Engine Oil Heat One went to Kerry Madsen (192nd Heat Race win of career). NOS Energy Drink Heats Two through Six were topped by Lance Dewease (52nd of career), David Gravel (230th of career), Sheldon Haudenschild (92nd of career), Parker Price-Miller (21st of career), and Donny Schatz (517th of career).
Carson Macedo claimed the Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown.
The Smith Titanium Brake Systems “Break of the Race” went to Hunter Schuerenberg as he transferred to the Feature but engine issues prevented him from truly competing.
Heat #1 – (10)Laps – Top 3 Transfer
1. 55-Kerry Madsen; 2. 71-Shane Stewart; 3. 83JR-Michael Kofoid; 4. 13-Justin Peck; 5. 41-Carson Macedo; 6. 19L-C.J. Leary; 7. 26-Zeb Wise; 8. 11N-Harli White; 9. 20G-Noah Gass; 10. 6-Bill Rose; 11. 4X-Bradley Ashford
Heat #2 – (10)Laps – Top 3 Transfer
1. 39M-Lance Dewease; 2. 9-Kasey Kahne; 3. 21H-Brady Bacon; 4. 42-Sye Lynch; 5. 24-Rico Abreu; 6. 25-Lachlan McHugh; 7. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 8. 5T-Travis Philo; 9. 19W-Trent Pigdon; 10. 4-Chris Windom
Heat #3 – (10)Laps – Top 3 Transfer
1. 2-David Gravel; 2. 1M-Landon Myers; 3. 57-Kyle Larson; 4. 55T-McKenna Haase; 5. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 6. 21T-Cole Macedo; 7. 35-Zach Hampton; 8. 5C-Dylan Cisney; 9. 52-Blake Hahn; 10. W20-Greg Wilson
Heat #4 – (10)Laps – Top 3 Transfer
1. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 2. 39-Hunter Schuerenberg; 3. 83-James McFadden; 4. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 5. 45-Tim Shaffer; 6. 5-Spencer Bayston; 7. 67-Justin Whittall; 8. 11K-Kraig Kinser; 9. 25R-Jordan Ryan; 10. 46-Michael Bauer
Heat #5 – (10)Laps – Top 3 Transfer
1. 9P-Parker Price-Miller; 2. 19-Brent Marks; 3. 11-Cory Eliason; 4. 49-Brad Sweet; 5. 21-Brian Brown; 6. 35B-Austin Bishop; 7. 20B-Cody Bova; 8. 11T-T.J. Stutts; 9. 2MD-Conner Morrell; 10. 6X-Frank Rodgers
Heat #6 – (10)Laps – Top 3 Transfer
1. 15-Donny Schatz; 2. 8-Aaron Reutzel; 3. 7S-Robbie Price; 4. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 5. 55P-Daryn Pittman; 6. 1A-Jacob Allen; 7. 101-Cody Maroske; 8. 99-Skylar Gee; 9. 56R-Ryan Myers; 10. 91-Kyle Reinhardt
C-Feature – (12)Laps- Top 6 Transfer
1. 35-Zach Hampton; 2. 67-Justin Whittall; 3. 20G-Noah Gass; 4. 11N-Harli White; 5. 20B-Cody Bova; 6. 11T-T.J. Stutts; 7. 5C-Dylan Cisney; 8. 25R-Jordan Ryan; 9. 46-Michael Bauer; 10. 2MD-Conner Morrell; 11. 19W-Trent Pigdon; 12. 56R-Ryan Myers; 13. 11K-Kraig Kinser; 14. 6-Bill Rose; 15. 6X-Frank Rodgers; 16. W20-Greg Wilson
B-Feature – (15)Laps – Top 4 Transfer
1. 41-Carson Macedo; 2. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 3. 42-Sye Lynch; 4. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 5. 49-Brad Sweet; 6. 45-Tim Shaffer; 7. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 8. 25-Lachlan McHugh; 9. 55T-McKenna Haase; 10. 21-Brian Brown; 11. 21T-Cole Macedo; 12. 55P-Daryn Pittman; 13. 11T-T.J. Stutts; 14. 67-Justin Whittall; 15. 26-Zeb Wise; 16. 20B-Cody Bova; 17. 20G-Noah Gass; 18. 5-Spencer Bayston; 19. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 20. 35-Zach Hampton; 21. 11N-Harli White; 22. 35B-Austin Bishop; 23. 19L-C.J. Leary; 24. 1A-Jacob Allen
A-Feature – (30)Laps
1. 15-Donny Schatz; 2. 19-Brent Marks; 3. 2-David Gravel; 4. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 5. 57-Kyle Larson; 6. 24-Rico Abreu; 7. 83-James McFadden; 8. 41-Carson Macedo; 9. 9-Kasey Kahne; 10. 83JR-Michael Kofoid; 11. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 12. 7S-Robbie Price; 13. 42-Sye Lynch; 14. 11-Cory Eliason; 15. 9P-Parker Price-Miller; 16. 71-Shane Stewart; 17. 55-Kerry Madsen; 18. 39M-Lance Dewease; 19. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 20. 21H-Brady Bacon; 21. 8-Aaron Reutzel; 22. 1M-Landon Myers; 23. 13-Justin Peck; 24. 39-Hunter Schuerenberg
Photos by Mike Campbell