Editor’s Note: National Speed Sport News is going back in time and revisiting some of the past Knoxville Nationals races ahead of the 53rd annual FVP Knoxville Nationals. This is the third installment in the seven day series.
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Donny Schatz finally got to walk down the aisle at the Knoxville Nationals.
After being a bridesmaid four times in the sprint-car racing’s crown jewel, Schatz got to stand on top of the podium Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway, earning his Parker Stores racing team the largest winner’s purse in dirt-track racing — $140,000.
“I’m as excited as I have ever been in my life,” Schatz said. “This is one of the most defining moments of my life. You put the helmet on and you block everything out, and I feel like I still have to take my helmet off to let the emotion out.
“I’m excited, but speechless. It will probably hit me in an hour.”
The North Dakota native dominated the week, earning the most points to start on the pole for the 30-lap race.
After two aborted starts, outside-front-row starter Joey Saldana blasted into the lead, with Schatz second.
Schatz ran the low line in his J&J sprinter, with Saldana up high in Kasey Kahne’s JEI. The pair ran virtually side by side for several laps. But Schatz made his move on lap 13 and pulled ahead to stay.
After a red flag on lap 21, Schatz put an exclamation point on the victory, pulling away to win by more than a straightaway.
Saldana lost second to Jason Johnson late in the race but charged under him racing off turn four on the final lap. Saldana won a drag race to the $70,000 second-place check.
“I tried as hard as I could. I just got beat,” Saldana said. “Once a year we come here, and we just didn’t do good enough. Second isn’t too bad. Hopefully, we don’t have to run second four times before we win one of these things. Schatz deserved this. He’s done a good job all year.”
Johnson, the winningest driver on the American Sprint Car Series 360-sprint-car tour this season, used a rented Don Ott engine to come home third.
Danny Lasoski, who had an eventful night, put his experience on the half-mile black-dirt oval to use, driving from 24th on the grid to finish fourth.
Jason Meyers rounded out the top five, with 12-time Nationals winner Steve Kinser romping from 19th to sixth.
Heartbreak and the Knoxville Nationals have gone hand in hand for Schatz, but not anymore.
“This is the best chapter of my life. Second literally does suck,” Schatz said. “We tried our best, and it didn’t work. I’m one step closer to doing what I really wanted to do in my life. Everytime I put the helmet on and get in the seat, that is my time.”
And now he’s a Knoxville Nationals champion.