After five years away from the top step, Donny Schatz finally returned to glory at Knoxville Raceway, winning the 61st annual Knoxville Nationals in Iowa on Aug. 13.
Rallying late in the running, the Fargo, North Dakota, superstar found another gear on the bottom side and drove by David Gravel on the 46th lap to put his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, Ford Performance, Carquest Auto Parts No. 15 in command.
While a sold-out crowd of 20,000-plus fans erupted for the 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion, the 45-year-old kept his cool and thought about his late father, Danny Schatz. He aced the final five laps and kept Gravel at bay, driving away to earn his 11th title at the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores.
“There are no words for this,” Schatz said. “I could hear my dad telling me to gather it up and settle down, and it worked.”
Schatz’s victory brings him within one from tying Steve Kinser for the most titles (12) in the history of the Knoxville Nationals. It was even more rewarding considering the fact Schatz fell as far back as seventh in the early running. The Tony Stewart Racing/Curb-Agajanian Racing crew — led by Steve Swenson, Todd Devnich and Ayrton Olson — aced the halfway break and gave Schatz a car capable of winning. From there, it was up to the champ.
He restarted in sixth and promptly drove by everyone in his sight as he returned to the mountaintop.
“I didn’t drive like I should at the beginning,” Schatz said. “We were decent both nights but took a big swing at it and tried something new with the motor tonight. I didn’t know if we were going to get there after I fell as far back as I did. I just couldn’t control the wheel spin.”
The halfway break at Lap 25 allowed his crew to go to work, and it paid dividends. They gave him the car capable of winning, and Donny did what Donny does best.
“Scuba (Steve Swenson) could read me like a book and knew when I didn’t say anything that he should throw the 911 at it,” Schatz said of his crew. “These guys did an incredible job. It was do or die on the bottom. I kept getting better and better there at the end. This one feels like the first time, really.”
After leading laps 27 through 45, Gravel fell short of Schatz by 0.747 seconds at the checkered flag. The Big Game Motorsports No. 2 was stout on the highline, but the TSR No. 15 proved to be too dominant rolling the bottom. The Watertown, Connecticut, native banked $80,000 for his runner-up result but will have to wait another year to try and chase his second Knoxville Nationals title.
“Sometimes, it’s better to be running second,” Gravel said after missing out on his second nationals title. “We had a great car, and I was aggressive early, but I just didn’t want to get off the top. I heard Donny coming, and in hindsight, I should’ve tried running down. It’s just hard to change it up when you’re leading and feeling good up top. It’s a bummer for sure. I want to win of these for Tod Quiring. I’m only 30 years old, and I’ll have plenty of more chances, but it still stings.”
Rounding out the podium was Logan Schuchart with a phenomenal 17th-to-third run in the Shark Racing, DuraMAX Oil, Drydene Performance Products #1S. The Hanover, Pennsylvania, native collected a season-best $40,000 for his efforts.
“I’m thrilled with what this team has accomplished,” Schuchart said after a stellar week. “I’m proud of every single person at Shark Racing, and it starts with what my grandfather started. We’re just a family-owned team competing for wins on the biggest stage in the world. I honestly felt like I was gaining on them through the last five laps, but we just didn’t start far enough forward. Starting 17th and finishing third is pretty amazing.”
After leading laps 2 to 26, Tyler Courtney finished fourth for a career-best Knoxville Nationals effort worth $26,000 aboard his Clauson-Marshall Racing, NOS Energy Drink #7BC. Jacob Allen concluded a sensational week in Iowa by driving from 11th to fifth in his Shark Racing No. 1A, banking $21,000 for his run.
Davenport takes North-South 100
Jonathan Davenport rolled to his second career victory in the Sunoco Race Fuels North-South 100 presented by Lucas Oil on Aug. 13 at Florence Speedway in Union, Kentucky.
Davenport earned an event record $75,000 for the win to go along with his victory in 2015 in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned event.
Defending race winner Brandon Overton tried to make it close in the last five laps, coming to within two car lengths of Davenport, but Davenport prevailed by 1.017 seconds ahead of Overton, who was attempting to become the first back-to-back winner of the crown jewel event since Don O’Neal did it in 2012 and 2013.
Dale McDowell ran second for several laps and wound up third behind his fellow Georgians. Ricky Thornton Jr. was fourth, and Mike Marlar completed the top five drivers.
Davenport and Chris Madden, who entered the weekend as the first- and second-ranked dirt late model drivers in the country, started on the front row of the event held before a packed grandstand. But Madden’s night ended before a lap was even scored as a broken J-bar entering Turn 4 eliminated him from the race.
When the race went green again, Davenport cruised out to a commanding lead, but lapped traffic started to play into McDowell, chasing him down before a caution on Lap 56 cleared out traffic for the race leader. On the restart, Overton was able to get by McDowell for second, but Davenport was already starting to pull away from the field.
The race went green the remainder of the way, and Overton and McDowell slowly started to reel in Davenport as the leader was encountering heavy traffic. The duo was able to slice into Davenport’s lead as the laps wound down. Overton started to diamond off of Turn 2 and close the gap down the backstretch.
In the last few laps, Overton appeared to have a shot at stealing the win from Davenport as the crowd rose in anticipation of a close finish, but Davenport was able to hold his line and crossed his line for his second straight LOLMDS crown jewel event in four weeks after winning last month’s I-80 Silver Dollar Nationals.
Brownstown racing tonight
After being off last weekend, Brownstown Speedway will resume tonight with the pro late models, modifieds, super stocks, pure stocks and hornets on the racing program. For information, visit brownstownspeedway.com.
Lawrenceburg on for tonight
Lawrenceburg Speedway will be back in action tonight with the Dick Gaines Memorial for sprints.
Also on the schedule will be modifieds, pure stocks and hornets. For information, visit lawrenceburgspeedway.com.
This week in racing history
From 50 years ago this weekend in 1972 at Brownstown, Ira Bastin won the late model feature over John Davis and Paul Crockett.
Also from 1972, at Twin Cities, the track ran a Friday and Saturday night program. On Friday night, Hillbilly Ogle won the feature over Russ Petro, Darrell Arthur, Tom Sterrett and Bud Seymour. On Saturday, Johnny Robbins won the feature over Randy Spry, Ed Donnell, Bill Cummings and Dee Kramer.
From 1972, the winners for the Columbus Kart Club were Bob Runner, David Murray, Charlie Steigerwalt, Pat Floyd, Dennis O’Neal and Mike Tobias.
From 1972 at Haubstadt, Larry Miller won the sprint car feature over Jim Hirsch and Mike Johnson. Ira Bastin won the late model feature over Tom Helfrich and Don Turpen.
Also from 50 years ago, at Paragon, Larry Miller won the sprint car feature over Danny Bowlen, Butch Wilkerson, Rex Mitchell and Mike Waltz. Glen Sheeks won the stock car feature over Ernie Barrow, Ronnie Rhodes, Earl Skinner and Larry Dayhuff.
From 50 years ago at Whitewater Valley Speedway in Liberty, Floyd Gilbert won the Indiana Dirt Track Championship late model feature over Gene Petro, Pat Patrick and Butterball Wooldridge.
From 40 years ago in 1982 at Brownstown, Russ Petro won the Jackson 100 over Steve Barnett, Jim Curry, Roger Absher and Gerald Dixon. Troy Burton won the street stock feature over Mark Elzey, Chuck Winders, Gregg Lyle and Randy Knapp.
From 1982 at Twin Cities, Steve Boley won the limited late model feature over Jim Moore, Larry Detmer, Lee Fleetwood and Jim Ruddick. Bill Franks took the street stock feature over Don Walp, Clyde James, Willie Sallee and Howard Montgomery.
From 30 years ago in 1992 at Paragon, Brad Marvel won the sprint car feature over Tray House, Larry Bland, Kevin Thomas and Bill Rose. Albert Webb Jr. won the street stock feature over Denny Campbell, Danny Carmichael, Vince McClure and Regis Scaggs.
From 1992 at Bloomington, Todd Shields won the sprint car feature over Kerry Norris, Kevin Briscoe and Tim Engler. Steve Barnett won the late model feature over Lee Fleetwood, Marty O’Neal and Don O’Neal.
James Essex writes a motorsports notebook for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]