10-time Outlaws champion Donny Schatz itches to return to racing

Tony Stewart Racing

Time off isn’t something sprint car racers ever really have to endure.

During the winter, there is always some place to race: Arizona, Florida or indoor venues such as the Chili Bowl. If they find an ambitious sponsor, there is always Australia or New Zealand.

But for Donny Schatz and the other stars of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, the choice about whether to race has been made for them.

Until racing resumes in the United States, and with fans in the stands, it will be difficult to re-create a comprehensive schedule.

And given the still shifting sands of local and state regulations, plus the uncertain trajectory of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, that could take a while.

“(The World of Outlaws) have definitely thrown every idea and scenario out there to get back going,” Schatz told NBCSports.com. “I think right now, it’s day by day to see what happens. At the end of the day, the World of Outlaws is a series that travels nationally just like NASCAR.

“But NASCAR could function, possibly, without fans in the stands because of television. We cannot. Our pay and everything is based on putting people in the stands. They’ve reached out to me and thrown a lot of ideas, some that are about as crazy as you can imagine. They’re putting forth the effort to try to get things going as soon and safe as possible.”

The volume of their calendar, the size of the markets they visit and the time of day they race can make dirt track racing challenging for a national network. Currently, the best way to watch the entire schedule is through the series’ online streaming service, DIRTVision.

And there are plenty of races in a typical season, which creates a critical mass. More than 85 races were scheduled before the COVID-19 outbreak pushed the pause button on racing.

Teams were on their way to Cotton Bowl Speedway, near Austin, Texas, when the dominoes began to fall. Since that first event was postponed, 19 races have been canceled or postponed, including the entire spring West Coast schedule.

Donny Schatz and Logan Schuchart battled for the win at Volusia Speedway Park in February (Tony Stewart Racing).

At the time, series director Carlton Reimers described the chaos involved with trying to continue racing with conflicting information from tracks, as well as from local and state authorities.

It has not gotten much better as states struggle to implement orders that will allow businesses to return while balancing the need for social distancing.

The next scheduled events are a three-race swing May 13-16 through Pennsylvania that includes one of the series’ most prestigious races, the Morgan Cup at Williams Grove Speedway. The current stay-at-home order for Pennsylvania is set to expire on May 8.

While NASCAR has attempted to stay resolute in its desire to race the entire schedule of 36 races, the Outlaws won’t be able to do that. There are simply too many races, and too many pieces of the puzzle already have fallen off the table with cancellations.

“It’s an unfortunate thing obviously,” Schatz said. “We have zero control over when it’s up. It’s just something that nobody ever looked at. … I hope that we get back going, and things get back to normal, and obviously there will be some build-up to that just like anything else. It puts everyone in a position where they appreciate all the freedoms that we have and forces a different perspective. As far as it affecting us, yeah we’re going to have less races.

“What does that do to our whole season? It’s yet to be determined so I can’t put too much emphasis on it one way or another.”

Donny Schatz sits in staging at Volusia, waiting to race (Tony Stewart Racing).

The break in action will change the arc of the season. The schedule always has been crowded. That won’t change. Dirt track sprint car racing will continue to be grueling. And winter weather provides a natural end point that can’t be pushed much further.

But there also will be fewer races to overcome a deficit. Or conversely, there will be less time to lose a lead.

Schatz doesn’t believe that will make much of a difference for a team with the resources of Tony Stewart Racing.

“I don’t know if it puts any more pressure on us,” Schatz said. “I race with a great organization that has nothing to prove. We love being competitive. It makes us appreciate some of the things that we take for granted some days. There’s really no pressure there. We have great partners.

“The people at Ford Advance put their money on us, and they expect results, and we know we will give them to them. It’s just unfortunate that we can’t be racing right now, but I think it is definitely going to set the tone for everyone. Everyone is rested up, they’re itching to get going, and hopefully, we can do that sooner rather than later.”

Of far greater concern for Schatz has been an increase in parity among the top five contenders.

The 10-time champion is accustomed to leading the points. Since he won his first title in 2006, only three other drivers have scored championships. Jason Meyers won in 2010 and 2011 before retiring in 2012. Daryn Pittman won in 2013 while running for Kasey Kahne Racing.

Schatz won five consecutive championships from 2014-18.

In 2019, Brad Sweet earned another title for Kahne, denying Schatz the opportunity to tie Steve Kinser’s record of six consecutive championships from 1983-88.

“There’s no question that it’s been more competitive in the top five,” Schatz said. “Why is that? I don’t know. Is it because we’ve slipped a little bit or because everyone else has gotten better? I don’t know the answer to that. I know that we haven’t had the stats the last couple of years that we would like to have had.

“If you take last season, for instance, I feel like it was one of our worst years in the last 10, and we missed out on a championship by four points. Two positions on the racetrack on one night. Is it really that bad? No.

“There’s a lot of guys that have stepped up their game a little bit, and I think some of that comes off of feeding off some of the things that we’ve done. Some of the precedence that Tony Stewart Racing has set. There’s been a lot more parity in the top five, and all we can do is keep working like those guys always have and try to be on the better spectrum of it.”

Currently, five of the top seven teams in the points have a NASCAR affiliation.

Donny Schatz (center) won the opening race at Volusia, followed by Logan Schuchart (left) and Brad Sweet (right). Schuchart and Sweet won the next two events (Tony Stewart Racing).

And while it would seem those teams have a distinct advantage, Logan Schuchart’s win for Shark Racing at Volusia and Pittman’s third-place standing with Roth Motorsports underscore the strength of the field.

“We don’t operate any differently than the other teams,” Schatz said. “Sometimes there’s a lot more pressure that goes on the NASCAR owner and the NASCAR-affiliated teams because they have more requirements, more commitments and more events that they have to be a part of. It has to be a shiny bus 24/7/365, and I think that wears on the crew guys a little bit instead of it just being simple and homegrown. But it’s great to have the involvement.

“It brings different fans to the sport, and it’s grown the popularity of dirt racing on their platform as well as ours.”

There have been three winners in the first three Outlaws races. Schatz got off to a great start by winning the opening night of a three-race stand at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida. But a sixth-place finish in Night 2 and a seventh in Night 3 has him 14 points out of the lead.

Is that bad? Certainly not, and whenever the series gets back to action, there is still a lot of racing to be done.

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Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s