KNOXVILLE, Iowa — For the past three World of Outlaws seasons, Donny Schatz and Tony Stewart Racing have struggled with consistency and results as they developed the new Ford Performance sprint car engine.
Their results have shown. Schatz won only five races in 2020, three last year and had only two victories this season entering the 61st running of the Knoxville Nationals.
But Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway was the crowning achievement for the Ford engine program and Schatz, who won the Nationals for the 11th time didn’t need to be reminded about the significance of it.
He was also quite candid about the struggles of the past three seasons.
“This is huge for everybody that has been part of this program,” Schatz said after earning the $175,000 victory. “It’s been a lot of years in the making. It’s been a lot of heartburn, a lot of swear words and a lot of things. But it’s also pretty rewarding to sit here right now and say that engine has won the Knoxville Nationals.”
Schatz dug deeper into the engine’s history.
“It’s won a few races,” he continued. “We’ve had some great runs and some wins, but to win one of the biggest races of the year, I am pretty excited about it. All of us that contributed to the downfalls of it, to start with something on paper with an idea from this guy, to whittle it out here, and then everybody’s devil was COVID.
“That changed the dynamic of where Ford got its parts made,” Schatz said. “It is pretty rewarding at this moment. We’re not going to brag about it how great it is day in and day out because we go to a lot of difference race tracks. The engine has always performed real well on bigger tracks, but it is getting to where I feel like it is good for me. That doesn’t mean it is going to be good for someone else.
“As long as we get back on the consistency wagon, which we have been. We qualified well, we can race better and like tonight we put our self back aways and we were able to come forward. It’s a fine line some nights.”
Schatz started third on Saturday night and fell back to seventh. He was sixth at the halfway break before making a charge during the final 25 laps.
“I was raised a certain way,” said Schatz, who lost his father Danny to cancer earlier this year. “My father criticized me pretty hard a lot of times. That’s how you learn.
“I made a lot of mistakes early in the race. I was I the wrong place a lot of times, but that’s also how you figure out what your race car needs or how the race track is changing and how to change what you are doing. It could have been worse. We picked those guys one by one. Brad’s not easy to get by, Marks is not easy to get by. Macedo is not easy to get by. They are all good cars. We just needed to keep digging.”
And dig he did, passing David Gravel for the lead on lap 46 and leading the final five laps.
“The one thing I have learned in 30-plus years of racing is that it is not over until the checkered flag falls,” he said. “I went by the checkered flag twice because in my old age the white flag and the checkered flag look the same. I wanted to make sure. I have done that a few times in heat races.”