CONCORD, N.C. – Saturday night’s conclusion to the World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am at The Dirt Track at Charlotte was capped off by championship coronations that carried a distinct wave of emotions long into the night.
Donny Schatz, Mike Marlar and Matt Sheppard were crowned World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series, World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series and Super DIRTcar Series champions, respectively, after all three divisions wrapped up their seasons at the four-tenths-mile dirt track.
For Schatz and Sheppard, the feeling is one that has been going on a while. Schatz’s 10th championship overall was his fifth in a row, while Sheppard soaked in his seventh overall and fourth consecutive title.
Marlar, meanwhile, was new to the title stage. In his first season following a major touring series for points, the Winfield, Tenn., native used consistency and grit to capture the season championship.
Schatz closed out the season just as he did two years prior, by winning the final feature aboard the No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance J&J for Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing. The Fargo, N.D., native earned 22 wins, 52 top-five and 66 top-10 finishes in 71 starts en route to the crown, beating runner-up Brad Sweet by 286 points in the final tally.
In winning his 10th title, Schatz becomes only the second driver in World of Outlaws history to reach the double-digit threshold in terms of championships.
He joins his hero and former teammate, 20-time Outlaw champion Steve Kinser, on that exclusive list.
“Hats off to my guys, because they have worked their butts off all season. I’m the hardest guy in the pits to work for because if it’s not perfect, I’m not happy,” Schatz said. “These guys do an excellent job night in and night out and it’s a point of pride for all of us to be standing here as champions once again.
“It hasn’t really set in yet, so it’s hard to put it in perspective,” added Schatz about his 10th title. “You set out just dreaming of winning one, and when that happens you feel so accomplished, but after that you feel like you have to start all over and do it again. That’s the fun part about this sport is that you’re always learning, and I feel like we continue to do that even as we accomplish these goals as a team.”
The rookie of the bunch, Marlar capped his first title with a raucous celebration just prior to turn one, climbing atop his Ronnie Delk-owned No. 157 Rocket Chassis car and letting out a jubilant cheer after contending for the victory in the season’s last race and earning the title with a sixth-place finish.
Marlar scored five wins, 29 top-five and 36 top-10 finishes in 40 starts, defeating defending champion Brandon Sheppard by just 28 points – or 14 positions on the race track – in the end.
“First off, running with the World of Outlaws this year has just been a pleasure,” Marlar said. “Win, lose or draw, it’s been great all year. We went to some awesome race tracks … and it was humbling to me to see the reception we had all year out on the road.
“My team was always experienced in traveling; we just never raced a series for points,” he continued. “We always money-raced. So, running 60 or 70 shows a year wasn’t new this year, it was just that we finally had a plan to follow. I’m so humbled, though. This is an awesome feeling and to pull it off … it was a lot of work and a lot of effort, but it’s given us a moment that we’ll remember for a long time.”
Sheppard’s legacy continued to grow by leaps and bounds with his seventh Super DIRTcar big-block modified title. He moves to within one championship of all-time wins and titles leader Brett Hearn.
Despite the crowning accomplishment, Sheppard endured his fair share of misfortune during the year. He battled a myriad of tire issues, many while leading, but sill scored four wins, 15 top-fives and 20 top-10s in 24 starts. Sheppard defeated title runner-up Erick Rudolph by 130 points.
“Last season, everything went right for us. We couldn’t do anything wrong. It was really a dream season. This year was one of those years that we still had the speed, but didn’t have the luck we had in the past year,” noted Sheppard. “Hopefully we got it out of our system … and we were still able to pull the championship out, so that’s a great feeling. We’ll be working hard and getting ready for next season.”
Asked about the potential of tying Hearn’s record next year, Sheppard grinned and chose to soak in the moment.
“I don’t know what I would say if we’re standing here talking about that (in 2019), so let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Brett’s the best ever in this series and even to be compared to him … it’s a huge honor and extremely humbling.”