15 Schatz & 19 Marks
Donny Schatz (15) battles Brent Marks in World of Outlaws competition at Volusia Speedway Park. (Frank Smith photo)

Decision Time: Outlaws Or High Limit?

When Kyle Larson and Brad Sweet purchased the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car series from Tony Stewart and blended it into their High Limit Racing series, owners and drivers had to decide whether they would follow the World of Outlaws trail, run the High Limit races or execute a “pick-and-choose” schedule.

While many drivers had input into the decision, the bottom line for most was that their car owner understandably had the last word.

Some were still thinking about what to do when the season kicked off in Florida, but for others, the decision was a no-brainer. Teams balanced numerous factors before plans were announced and when the dust settled, both series had impressive rosters.

“I’ve been running my team with a pick-and-choose schedule and we enjoyed the freedom to take a break once in a while,” offered owner/driver Brent Marks. “When we ran with the Outlaws it was February to November. That’s hard on a team because you have no life whatsoever outside racing.

“For me, the High Limit structure makes sense. They don’t have 90 races on their schedule and you have some weeks off. You can go race elsewhere or stay home while the Outlaws only give you four outside races a year, so your choices are limited. In the long run, I think this will help us survive financially.

“As an owner, I think the franchise idea is great, as it will help build value in my team. It’ll be like other major sports.”

When asked if he sees the High Limit Racing program bringing major change to the WoO series, Marks hesitated. “Not much in the short term but maybe long term. It did force their hand to give the teams more money, which is good because our costs have skyrocketed. If High Limit succeeds, there will obviously be pressure for even more changes.”

2024 02 08 Volusia Woo Sam Hafertepe Jr Brenham Crouch Brad Sweet Donny Schatz Paul Arch Photo Dsc 0525 (9)a
Brad Sweet (49), Brenham Crouch (1), Donny Schatz (15) and David Gravel mix it up at Volusia Speedway Park. (Paul Arch photo)

Logan Schuchart, on the other hand, is a World of Outlaws racer through and through.

“For me, the attraction is the prestige of winning a World of Outlaws title. It’s a more challenging series with the best owners and drivers. As far as money, both series are close,” Schuchart said.

“That’s why our decision with Shark Racing was to split up to see if Jacob (Allen) and I can both win big money.

“The charter system High Limit is talking about might be good and may entice a few teams to run there. But maybe the Outlaws can do something similar in the future, too. They’ve already changed win money from $10,000 to $12,000 and tow money has gone up,” Schuchart added.

“There’s a lot of bigger races too, so it’s a good time to be a part of sprint car racing. By this time next year my opinion might change but for now, my sponsors want me on the WoO tour and that’s where we’ll be.”

Rico Abreu, on the other hand, brands his High Limit choice as a “no-brainer” based on a single factor.

“Money,” Abreu said. “Less races for more money and we can still run the big shows. I wanted to support people who are passionate and transparent about the sport, plus Kyle and Brad are friends from California and we always like to support our friends.

“I don’t really consider the High Limit schedule to be a full-time deal, because they’re races we would’ve run anyway. I like flexibility and for what it costs to run sprint cars now, I don’t want to be under anyone’s thumb. Another attraction is the charter deal. I see potential for growth there. And I think pay-for-view TV will continue to grow and benefit us all in the long run.”

Spencer Bayston agreed, saying “High Limit is a new opportunity with lots of upside potential. They have two racers at the head of the company and I think they understand our needs and desires, both logistical and financial,” Bayston said. “Their schedule has 20 less races, some big purse events that don’t conflict with Outlaws shows and the freedom to run both.

“With the WoO, you only get four mulligans and you have to give up your benefits if you run more outside races or don’t do the whole schedule. Right now, there’s no sure-fire way to know if one is better than the other but High Limit felt good to us.”

Brock Zearfoss, on the other hand, sees the same facts and gets an entirely different answer.

“I feel like the World of Outlaws has the best product at the moment. The benefit package we get is good and outweighs any negatives,” he explained. “High Limit has some big-dollar shows but there can only be one winner. For us, the season-long WoO point fund seems like a better deal. We’re committed to the Outlaws and we’ll run where they want.”

“We thought about High Limit, but there are too many good shows near home in Pennsylvania to be hauling out to California and Washington,” offered Anthony Macri. “We plan on splitting time between the Outlaws, High Limit and racing back home, maybe spending a month at home, then going out on the road for a while, picking and choosing.

“But if we did go full time with someone, I think the High Limit deal would be more appealing than the WoO.”

California racers Cory Eliason and Corey Day both tip that their allegiance to the High Limit series was a decision of their respective owners, Ridge and Sons Racing and two-time WoO champion Jason Meyers.

“I think the key factors were scheduling and the freedom to race where you want outside the series,” tipped Eliason. “You can race more if you want but you can also take some time off and stay home if everyone is burned out. Either way, you’re going to be racing against good cars and teams. Today, everybody spends money and has a good motor program.”

“Jason is a businessman and he’s looking to the charter system,” explained Day. “We want to be in on the ground floor. Personally, I think the High Limit deal is cool. Different guys are running it and I think they’ll see things from a driver’s perspective. And we’ll still run a bunch of Outlaws races, just like everyone else.”

Chris Windom, a very successful USAC shoe establishing himself with the winged cars, said: “We were 50/50 on the deal for a long while, but High Limit pushed us hard. And I think their early season schedule made more sense for us. Now we don’t have to go to Texas. We plan around 20 Outlaws races too, so we’ll still have to travel, but being based in Indianapolis makes it easier.”

Two-time All Star champion Tyler Courtney also alludes to a team decision after much thought, saying, “The bottom line is that it made sense to us to run the High Limit deal because of the things they’re doing to help the owners. We’ll still run the same number of races because we’ll fill our schedule with 20 or 30 Outlaws shows.

“I don’t think either sanction will hold it against us for running both series. They all need the other guys to have full fields of quality cars. Nothing in sprint car racing is easy now because the top cars are so equal. California, Pennsylvania, the tours – they’re all tough.”

2024 02 12 East Bay High Limit Brad Sweet Parker Price Miller Paul Arch Photo (777)a
Brad Sweet (49) races under Parker Price-Miller during High Limit Racing’s opening night at East Bay Raceway Park. (Paul Arch photo)

Carson Macedo echoes Schuchart, saying he has “always had the goal of winning the WoO championship, plus our sponsors are excited about the Outlaws program and have the same dreams. We’re all still working off Jason Johnson’s dream of a title and want to do it for him as well.

“We knew guys would go both ways but I love racing history and I want to build a résumé based on the Outlaws and their heroes. As far as competition, I expect some of the guys going to High Limit will rise to the occasion, and we’ll be racing even more good cars at shows that draw from both groups.

“If you go with them and win big races, you’ll be happy but winning the title there will be like with the Outlaws. Consistent finishes will matter. I think winning the WoO title and the point money that goes with it will make someone really happy too.”

Ten-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz has made a great deal of history himself.

He offered a well thought out perspective on the changing sprint car world.

“I think they forgot the past. When you wanted to grow up and be a professional sprint car driver, the World of Outlaws was always the goal,” Schatz said. “I’m tired of hearing that the new deal is ‘for the good of the sport.’ That’s BS!

“What gets overshadowed is that guys always think we should all get more money. World Racing Group has increased that already and we have a lot of high-dollar events on the schedule. But only one guy can win them. It’s never going to make sense for everyone to make a lot of money. They know the money and commitment it takes to succeed anywhere.

“People talk about how the other splits didn’t work and everybody came back to the Outlaws. But it was different because there was no streaming money then,” Schatz noted. “Still, there is only so much money to go around and it all comes out of the fans’ pockets one way or the other.”

The conversation naturally turns to WoO founder Ted Johnson.

“This platform is here today because of Ted and Steve Kinser,” declared Schatz. “I got to see and be a part of the growth and they drove it. To me, it’s sort of a slap in the face to see what they’re doing with the High Limit deal. We didn’t make a wrong turn and the whole deal looks scary to me in the long run. I’m involved in a lot of businesses and this is not the best of times to start something new.

“If discretionary income shrinks the whole deal could go the other way in a hurry.

“People aren’t looking far enough down the road when they make their decisions. They should think five and 10 years,” Schatz continued. “And the big thing is a franchise for your team. There’s no guarantee that will even happen or that the bigger purses they’re talking about will last. If I went to my bank and tried to get money on the strength of a charter, they’d just laugh at me.

“The key will be the people who end up actually doing the work at High Limit, because Kyle is really busy and Brad will be racing,” Schatz said. “In any business, success is built on good people. Tony’s staff could stand on their own two feet but I’m not sure yet about the High Limit crew.”

Perhaps the best summary of the situation comes from famed crew chief Ricky Warner, who was a major part of Schatz’s WoO success over the years and now oversees Abreu’s operation.

“Everybody needs to give it some time to see how it all works out,” Warner said. “There’s lots of money to be raced for and, hopefully, it will be good for everybody. It’s not like the last split because High Limit’s backing is different. It will take a lot of funding, which they appear to have, and they’re trying to make it so it makes sense for the professional teams to race with them.

“One thing the change did was wake the World of Outlaws up. Everyone will have to watch and see what they do for their guys and go from there.”