Donny Schatz (Paul Arch photo)

KERCHNER: Competition Drives Schatz

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Donny Schatz has looked at life from both sides now.

The 46-year-old, 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion is embarking on his 28th season of traveling the nation’s highways and byways in pursuit of success with sprint car racing’s premier series.

Along the way, he’s endured the sport’s highest highs and its lowest lows, with many of the lows coming during the past three seasons when his Tony Stewart Racing team has struggled with inconsistent performance.

And the resident of Fargo, N.D., is certainly a bit reflective in regard to what he’s been through.

“Twenty-eight years,” Schatz said recently. “I sat in the grandstands as a kid. Because of my father and the family business, I was able to race a sprint car and get to the World of Outlaws level. I have worked hard to get to the top tiers and I have been there. I feel like I have also been at the bottom, too. 

“The work ethic on both sides is the same. You work as hard to not be where you want to be, as to be where you want to be. I’ve worked hard to build the Donny Schatz brand to where it is among the fans and other racers. I feel like I have earned a level of respect from the fans and the other racers from the loyalty that I have. That’s what keeps me going.”

Another thing that keeps Schatz going is competition.

“If you want to run the Outlaws or you want to race a national series, you better be competitive,” Schatz said. “If not, you are going to learn to be competitive. You set out to win a World of Outlaws race, you do; you set out to win a championship and you do, but that doesn’t mean you are complete. You are not done. It is the competition, that is what keeps you here every day. That’s what brings you back every day. 

“That’s why when you leave the race track, whether it is a win or it is a 20th or a DNF, you are still motivated to come in the next day because of the competition,” he said. “Competition is unpredictable. That is why I am here. I don’t have anything to prove, but I want to prove I am competitive. It is what drives me. It is who I am. That’s not going to change whether I’ve won one race or 500 races.”

Schatz knows his competition is younger and faster than ever, but he believes he’s more than up to the challenge.

“It’s staying active. If you follow me around, I am an active person all the time. I acquired that from my father, but I can take the simplest project and turn it into a three-day, double throwdown sweatfest,” Schatz said. “At the end of the day the most important thing about being competitive is right here (pointing to his mind) and they don’t make a training tool for that. I wish they did. 

“I know what my father went through trying to get me going down the right path,” he continued. “If you are physically fit and you are never tired, your mind will come too. If your body is not behind, your mind won’t be either. There are guys in better shape than me, but I feel like my mind is in the best shape that it has ever been.”

As Schatz enters his 28th season and chases a potential 11th series championship, he knows the battle is as much mental as it will be physical.

“This is sprint car racing. It is go; but you have to go as hard as you can within the parameters,” he explained. “When I say that, I mean, there are going to be nights when you are running third or second, but you are half over the cushion and you are this far (holding his fingers and inch apart) from wearing it out, which could be a DNF. 

“Your mind is telling you, ‘I can win this,’ but some nights to win a championship you need to run second or you need to run 10th, some nights it may be 20th and a lap down or something. That’s the mindset It is controlling what you are doing, controlling your aggression and not doing things that are risky. You’ve gotta push, but if you can control it and push and you know exactly what you are getting out of it, you are doing it right. But if you get to the point where you don’t have control, you could put yourself in harm’s way.”

Will Schatz’s mind and body have what it takes to challenge for the World of Outlaws championship? Only time will tell.