KNOXVILLE, Iowa — They booed no more.
For decades it seems the crowd during the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals at Knoxville Raceway booed Donny Schatz.
Late in Saturday night’s 61st running of the annual event, those boos became emphatic cheers as the 10-time World of Outlaws champion made a late charge to win the most-prestigious event in all of sprint car racing for the 11th time.
It was his first victory in the Nationals since 2017, and it’s his first since the death of his father, Danny, earlier this year.
The triumph earned him $175,000 from a purse of more than $1 million for the epic four-day event.
“I didn’t drive like I should have at the beginning there,” Schatz said. “I could hear him tell me to settle down and it worked.”
Schatz was sixth at the halfway break in the 50-lap race and appeared out of contention. But he committed himself to the bottom and steadily moved his way to the front.
Schatz drove his Ford-powered Tony Stewart Racing No. 15 to the bottom of the track and took second from Tyler Courtney, who led the first 26 laps, on a lap-38 restart.
Then, it was all about chasing down leader David Gravel.
With Gravel and the Big Game Motorsports up against the wall, Schatz ran the lowest line on the race track and quickly chipped into Gravel’s lead. He was there by lap 44 and on lap 46 blasted under Gravel entering turn three and came out with the lead.
“I just kept searching around the traffic until I found something that worked for me,” Schatz said. “That hurt me in the beginning of the race, but that is what helped me at the end of the race.”
With the sold-out Knoxville Raceway crowd roaring its approval, Schatz drove away for his 11th Nationals triumph, bringing him to within one victory of all-time leader Steve Kinser, who topped the Nationals 12 times.
Schatz said the victory felt as good as his first Knoxville Nationals conquest back in 2006, which came with his dad as car owner. He also said he has more perspective these days.
“Perspective of it is to enjoy every day as if it is the last. You just don’t know. We are all fierce competitors and we get caught up in that and sometimes nothing else matters,” Schatz said. “That perspective has changed a bit for me.
“I’m no different than anyone else. We are all going to lose family members, we are all going to lose people close to us. It has opened my eyes to enjoy the moment,” said Schatz, who celebrated his 45th birthday on Aug. 10. “Enjoy it for what it is today because you never know when or if it is the last time you are going to get that opportunity. I am very lucky and very blessed and get to do what I love to do. Probably enjoying it as much now as I ever have.”
For Gravel, meanwhile, it was a story of what could have been as the 2019 Nationals winner finished a disappointing second.
“I didn’t win,” Gravel said. “We’re confident. We’re going to hang our heads head. When you are leading with four to go and you don’t win, that is never something you want to happen. There is still a lot to look forward in this season.”
Meanwhile, while the battle waged at the front Logan Schuchart romped through the field from 17th starting position after he won the B main, to finish third.
Schuchart won his preliminary feature and the Capitani Classic earlier in the week, while his Shark Racing teammate won Thursday’s preliminary feature and finished fifth on Saturday night.
“We’re happy to start 17th and finish third, getting a win in the Capitani and on our qualifying night,” Schuchart said. “I’m just excited for our team. Jacob ran fifth, his best finish in the Nationals and he won his preliminary night. I feel like we are learning still.”
Courtney, who started outside the front row in the Stenhouse Marshall Racing No. 17, finished fourth.
Defending race winner Kyle Larson cut a tire early in the race but charged back through the field to finish seventh.
Buddy Kofoid came home 12th and was named rookie of the year for the Nationals.
The dramatic finish overshadowed a race that was plagued by yellow flags, including a wild crash on the start that involved J.J. Hickle and Parker Price-Miller. Price-Miller was transported to a local hospital for observation.
E Main (10 laps): Dylan Westbrook, Jake Bubak, Bobby Mincer, Greg Wilson, Harli White, Chris Windom, Jordan Goldesberry, Carson Short, Derek Hagar, Bill Rose, Matt Wasmund, Dustin Selvage, Tyler Drueke, Kevin Ingle, Alan Gilbertson, T.J. Stutts, Skylar Prochaska.
D Main (12 laps): Blake Hahn, Davey Heskin, Rusty Hickman, Lachlan McHugh, Sammy Swindell, Chris Martin, Ryan Roberts, Robbie Price, Jake Bubak, Chris Windom, Josh Schneiderman, Tanner Carrick, Skylar Gee, Chad Kemenah, Jordan Goldesberry, Greg Wilson, Harli White, Bobby Mincer, Scott Bogucki, Colby Copeland, Dylan Westbrook, Carson McCarl, Roger Crockett, Clint Garner.
C Main (15 laps): Kyle Reinhardt, Cory Eliason, Hunter Schuerenberg, McKenna Haase, Marcus Dumesny, Logan Wagner, Shane Golobic, Sye Lynch, Sam Hafertepe Jr., Brandon Wimmer, Riley Goodno, Cale Thomas, Mark Dobmeier, Rusty Hickman, Blake Hahn, Davey Heskin, Bill Balog, Lachlan McHugh, Don Droud Jr., Mike Wagner, Scotty Thiel, Sammy Swindell, Ayrton Gennetten, Noah Gass.
B Main (22 laps): Logan Schuchart, Giovanni Scelzi, Justin Peck, James McFadden, Lynton Jeffrey, Tim Kaeding, Cole Macedo, Zeb Wise, Kasey Kahne, Brady Bacon, Anthony Macri, Brock Zearfoss, Terry McCarl, Cory Eliason, Ian Madsen, Brooke Tatnell, Hunter Schuerenberg, Spencer Bayston, Kyle Reinhardt, McKenna Haase, Dylan Cisney, Corey Day, Sawyer Phillips.
Feature (50 laps): Donny Schatz, David Gravel, Logan Schuchart, Tyler Courtney, Jacob Allen, Kyle Larson, Brent Marks, Sheldon Haudenschild, Brad Sweet, Daryn Pittman, Buddy Kofoid, Rico Abreu, Aaron Reutzel, Kerry Madsen, Austin McCarl, Carson Macedo, Tasker Phillips, James McFadden, Brian Brown, Justin Sanders, Gio Scelzi, J.J. Hickle, Parker Price-Miller, Justin Peck.