Ten-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz is still searching for his 300th series win—which could come as early as Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But Schatz could be taking on a whole new challenge when the Camping World Truck Series tackles Knoxville Raceway on July 9.
Schatz, 44, has never had the desire to race in NASCAR. But dirt? It’s a distinct possibility.
“I was asked to do it last year—at a few different events—and then COVID happened,” Schatz told RacinBoys.com. “I had agreed to do it. So we’re just in the process of get all the irons sorted out. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be in a truck at Knoxville, but until I get everything is set and done, I probably shouldn’t say too much about it.”
Schatz is expected to pilot a truck for David Gilliland Racing in the inaugural event at the iconic track. Gilliland currently provides trucks for Tanner Gray and Hailie Deegan—and occasionally climbs behind the wheel of the No. 17 Ford F-150.
“I think there’s pretty strong ties between Ford and what’s going to happen,” Schatz said with a smile. “We’ll just say I’ve spent a little bit of time at David Gilliland Racing. I had to be in Charlotte, so I stopped by and said, ‘Hi’ and met all of his people. So, we’ll see what happens."
Schatz has ten Knoxville Nationals wins. After 25 years of success in Outlaws, what will it feel like to be a rookie in a truck at the "Sprint Car Capital of the World”?
“The only reason I have interest is it is because of dirt,” said Schatz, whose 299 WoO victories rank third on the all-time win list. “From a fan standpoint, Knoxville has been very good to me over my career. I’ve been fortunate to do good there. So if I’m going to do any NASCAR events—which is the premier racing series in this country—you’re going to do it on dirt with NASCAR.
“I don’t have any desire to do pavement races or do anything to transition anything like that. It’s just not in my wheelhouse. But sometimes a guy likes to do things that take you out of your comfort zone—just like when I started doing dirt late model racing. It was really good for me to do. It helped me as a driver. It brings a new aspect to how things are. I think from a fan standpoint, it brings a lot of our fans from here probably to the NASCAR race in Knoxville—and it might send some NASCAR fans this way.
“And we have great partners in this sport that have become our best friends. They get excited about opportunities like this, and that’s what it’s all about. It makes the circles complete. It’s why we’re here. You can’t do this without the dollars it takes to do this, and you can’t do it effectively without selling people’s products and marketing them. When our partners were brought forth that there was an opportunity to do this, they were the first ones to say we want to be a part of that.”
Despite the changing complexion of Thunder Valley from when the Fargo, N.D., native raced at the inaugural Outlaws even in June of 2000, Schatz hasn’t lost his speed. He posted the fastest lap in Thursday’s practice at 14.210-seconds in the No. 15 Tony Stewart Racing sprinter.
“I think it’s quite a bit different than it was in the past—just the way they shaped the dirt,” Schatz said. “They made that flat spot down at the bottom where there’s kind of a lane down there for the water truck to get around and spray the water out. Then the banking starts 15 to 20 feet from the outside wall which makes it more banking from that point out from what we had the last time because I remember the dirt going all the way down and it made the racing surface a lot wider.
“It’s actually two complete different corners. This one and two turn is pretty forgiving. It’s wide getting in and wide getting out. Three and four is where I think you’re going to see the least amount of passing and where, if there’s going to be any issues where cars get together, it’s going to be there because it’s decent and wide getting in and it gets really funneled from the middle out in the way that the banking transitions to the straightaway. The inside looks like it’s really pushed out there.
“So it’s really easy to get your left front right on the edge to try and hold you and then when it transitions, if you overcorrect—and you don't even really have to overcorrect—it can send you clear across the race track in a quick second. If there’s anybody near you, you’re not going to be able to keep that from happening.”
Schatz is one of five drivers in the field who raced in the dirt debut two decades ago. Jac Haudenschild, Jason Sides, Paul McMahan and Tim Shaffer also competed at the .533-mile track during the WoO-run in 2000 and/or 2001.
Bristol Showdown Grand Marshall Sammy Swindell set the overall track qualifying record of 13.860-seconds in 2000. Schatz would like the opportunity to top that mark.
“There are just some things we were able to see last night (Thursday), but tonight might be completely different racing,” Schatz added. “You just don’t know. Most of the time, the mentality is to just go where someone else is not. That might not prove true here this weekend. A guy might have to wait for somebody to make a mistake—that’s big. You’re not just going to easily drive around someone like you see at some places.
“Honestly, it was a lot better than I expected. But the track was slowed down quite a bit. We weren’t going at track record speeds. We were a half-second off of it. That’s liable to change here for tonight, and that will change the whole dynamic of what we did last night.”