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KNOXVILLE — Donny Schatz can’t really explain his run at Knoxville Raceway in a World of Outlaws Sprint Car.
To be honest, no one can.
Because in the history of the Knoxville Nationals, no one has ever done what the Fargo, N.D. native has done in the past decade at the epicenter of Sprint Car racing. On Saturday night, in the 54th edition of the biggest Sprint Car race in the world, Schatz added to his legend by winning his eighth Knoxville Nationals in nine years and fourth in a row.
“I don’t know what it is (about Knoxville),” Schatz said following the win. “Maybe it’s just the way the surface is right now, or the way the cars are built right now — I don’t know what it is. It’s definitely suited me.
“If I knew it, I’d be able to help some young guy out and get him in a good spot to be able to race up there, too.”
Believe it or not, there was a time people wondered if Schatz was ever going to win the Nationals. His first attempt at Knoxville, in 1993, resulted in missing the main event altogether.
He finished second repeatedly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including a heartbreaker to Kraig Kinser in 2005.
But since that race, Schatz has finished no worse than second. He won four in a row from 2006-09, was second in 2010, and is on a four-win streak with this year’s victory, making it 10 straight top-two finishes at the Nationals for the Tony Stewart Racing driver.
It’s just as hard for Schatz to let that sink in as it is for the fans who yearn for a new winner and some fresh blood atop the podium.
“It’s hard to sit here and … think of it. No, it’s not really sunk in,” Schatz said. “I don’t believe I just won the Knoxville Nationals, regardless of if it’s eight times or not. The frame of mind you get in to go out on the racetrack, put your helmet on and be in your sweet spot, it’s kind of like a dream come true you don’t believe is a reality.
“It’s kind of hard to live in the moment, it just feels so unbelievable.”
Schatz got high eighth win by outdueling Brian Brown — nephew of Outlaws and Sprint Car great Danny Lasoski — to the finish in a 10-lap shootout. Brown, who won Wednesday night’s preliminary main event and last weekend’s 360 Knoxville Nationals, briefly took the lead with six laps to go, but was unable to hold on. Schatz got back by him and led the final laps to add to his historic run.
Brown flirted with happy and frustrated after the race, as the second-place finish marked the third year in a row he finished just behind Schatz for the highest honor in their form of motorsport.
Still, he wasn’t bitter, and vowed he’d get the job done eventually — just as Schatz once did.
“It’s disappointing, but we’re definitely grateful. This place doesn’t owe you a thing. I could come back here next year as a team and miss the show,” Brown said. “I’m going to get him one of these years, just don’t know when.
“It’s tough. I’d love to get up here and tell you guys I’m so happy — and I am happy — it’s just tough. To be that close to winning the Knoxville Nationals is frustrating. But we’ll come back next year. Our Knoxville Nationals starts tomorrow and we’re going to work twice as hard, and we’re going to get it one of these years.”
No one knows that feeling better than Schatz, even if it’s now a distant memory.
He heaped praise on his younger competitor, and professed he believes there’s no doubt Brown will one day reach that goal of winning the Nationals. But, he added with a joking smile, Brown will have to go through him to do it.
“Brian is going to get this race, there’s no question,” Schatz said. “When you’re able to come here and do those sorts of things, you know you can come back and do them again. So you’re over that hurdle.
“It’s an honor to run second — I know Brian probably doesn’t feel that right now — but I know when I won I appreciated those seconds a lot more than I did before that. He’s worked hard enough, I know he wants to win one. I’m going to try to stand in his way.”
Unfortunately for Schatz, the win was clouded — if only a bit — by an incident that happened with his car owner, Tony Stewart, 1,000 miles away at a different Sprint Car event in upstate New York.
Schatz was aware of the accident involving Stewart and driver Kevin Ward Jr., who died of injuries suffered in the incident, before the A-Main event Saturday night in Knoxville. Beyond that, he was understandably out of the loop.
“I was just told there was an incident involving Tony,” Schatz said. “I don’t know to what extent or what happened.”
54TH KNOXVILLE NATIONALS
1. Donny Schatz; 2. Brian Brown; 3. Kerry Madsen; 4. Craig Dollansky; 5. Justin Henderson; 6. Paul McMahon; 7. Terry McCarl; 8. Mark Dobmeier; 9. Joey Saldana; 10. Kraig Kinser; 11. Stevie Smith; 12. Cody Darrah; 13. Brad Sweet; 14. Daryn Pittman; 15. David Gravel; 16. Sam Hafertepe; 17. Bryan Clauson; 18. Clint Garner; 19. Tim Kaeding; 20. Brook Tatnell; 21. Lee Jacobs; 22. Shane Stewart; 23. Ryan Bunton; 24. TIm Shaffer; 25. Sammy Swindell.
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