GRAND FORKS, N.D. – One of Donny Schatz’s most proud performances in his career is a third-place run with the World of Outlaws at River Cities Speedway in his home state of North Dakota.
Not with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, though. With the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series.
When the 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion isn’t spending his weeks chasing another title, he trades his winged chariot for a fendered rocket. Which is exactly his plan this weekend.
With the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series’ next race not until July 21 at Lernerville Speedway for the $25,000-to-win Don Martin Memorial, Schatz, of Fargo, ND, is breaking out his self-owned No. 15 Rocket Chassis Late Model to run with the World of Outlaws Late Models at River Cities Speedways in Grand Forks, N.D., on July 17 and at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo, N.D., on July 18.
“It’s really hard for me to go around home and go to local races during the week or off time and race a sprint car and say it is for fun, even though it is for fun, when you do it professionally,” Schatz said. “To do a late model is a completely different animal. I don’t do it professionally. I do it for fun. I do it on the side. It makes a lot more sense. It allows me to stay more connected to my local tracks here in North Dakota and Minnesota. It’s fun to stay connected to the local scene for me.”
Late models were originally never on Schatz’s radar. However, his father was intrigued by them and had told Schatz he should drive one to broaden his horizon. His passion for the cars didn’t come until 2012 when he got the opportunity to run the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway.
Running one of Darrell Lanigan’s cars, Schatz beat the likes of 20-time World of Outlaws Sprint Car champion Steve Kinser, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Bill Elliott to finish fourth in the special event. From then on, he was hooked on late model racing.
“It was a really fun event,” Schatz said. “It was huge for our sport to have myself and Steve Kinser there and be a part of the big race. If you ever do something that you had a great time at but weren’t really good at, you feel like you want to give it another go.”
Since running the Prelude, Schatz has started more than 60 sanctioned late model features – 19 of them World of Outlaws Late Model events.
Of his World of Outlaws starts, he’s collected one top-five and five top-10 finishes – his most recent top-10 coming in February during the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park.
He’s also collected two wins in the Can-Am Western Late Model Series and nine wins in the Northern Late Model Racing Ass’n – one at Red River Valley Speedway and five at River Cities Speedway.
Winning in a late model is “very rewarding,” Schatz said, and he attributes the success he’s had to an all-star list of friends.
“Most of the time I thank all of that success to (iconic team owner and chassis builder) Mark Richards for giving me a running start,” Schatz said. “I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of guys – including (four-time World of Outlaws Late Model champion) Josh Richards and (two-time and defending World of Outlaws Late Model champion) Brandon Sheppard.
“So many people over the years have helped. It’s like cutting corners. If you can cut a corner somewhere and it helps out, that’s a good thing. It’s rewarding I can tell you that. Maybe someday I’ll win at least one (World of Outlaws) Late Model show. But you just never know.”
In comparison to his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing No. 15 Sprint Car, Schatz said the closet thing it and his Late Model have in common are he still puts the tear offs on his helmet the same way.