FARMER CITY — Four-time World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz put his racing experience and wisdom firmly in gear Wednesday night at Farmer City Raceway, proving that patience is indeed a virtue and discretion is absolutely the better part of valor.
Schatz inherited the lead by barely avoiding a four-car incident near the halfway point of the feature that eliminated the early frontrunners from competition and went on to post his 116th career World of Outlaws victory.
“(The early leaders) were three and four wide at some points when we got to lapped traffic and a couple of the (lapped cars) were kind of holding the other two up,” Schatz said. “You have to stay out of that hornet’s nest and that we did.”
Schatz got temptingly close to the nest by quickly moving to the front from his eighth-place starting spot and zeroing in on the leaders.
“I pushed at the start and we motored up through there, but when they got four-wide I said ‘I’m going to wait here and bide my time,’” he said. “It’s 40 laps and my car’s coming around getting better and better. When those guys get mixing it up that bad, you’re not going to have four and five wide for the lead that often without having some major melee.”
With 15 years experience and at least one win in all of sprint car racing’s major events, it was more than a hunch for Schatz.
Leaders Kerry Madsen and Daryn Pittman tangled in turn one, also collecting Sammy Swindell and Craig Dollansky who were running third and fourth, respectively.
That opened the door for Schatz, who maneuvered around the mishap and led the rest of the way.
Brad Sweet, splitting time this season between the World of Outlaws sprints and NASCAR’s Nationwide series, finished a half-second behind Schatz in second after safely following him through the accident.
“I was just trying to hit my marks on the bottom (of the track) and I saw a commotion, so I just tried to lift and get out of the way of it,” Sweet said. “So, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I would say it’s just really tight racing with a couple of guys that were really getting after it at the front. It took those four guys out and gave us a shot and we were able to bring it home in second.
“I think our car was a touch better in spots, but he’s such a good veteran and he didn’t make any mistakes.”
Mistakes often occur in lapped traffic, but from the halfway point on, the event’s backmarkers weren’t a factor.
“Tonight it seemed like every time we’d get close we’d get a yellow and it would take the lapped traffic out of the picture,” Sweet said. “The key to winning on these short tracks is getting through lapped traffic and having a car that can maneuver. We didn’t get to test that very much tonight, but we were good enough to run second and we’ll take it.”
Kraig Kinser — son of World of Outlaws legend Steve Kinser — finished third, nearly a full second behind Sweet. Outlaws veteran Danny Lasoski was fourth while Brady Bacon rounded out the top five.
Steve Kinser did not have a particularly good night, qualifying only 24th fastest among the 36 cars that comprised the field and then finishing fifth in his heat race. Kinser recovered to finish seventh in the feature.
Schatz unseated Swindell as the series’ points leader. Sidelined by the mid-race incident, Swindell finished 22nd.
* Schatz’s win came with his car-owner, NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, in attendance. Dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, Stewart watched the event from the backstretch. “I’m just here to relax and watch my cars run,” said Stewart of his first visit to Farmer City Raceway. While Stewart spends most of his time in Charlotte, N.C., where his NASCAR Sprint Cup team is headquartered, he also fields World of Outlaws cars for Schatz and Steve Kinser that are maintained at a shop in Indianapolis. Stewart said he planned to “crash” at a home he owns in Indiana on Wednesday night before heading out to Richmond on Thursday to participate in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, a charity event that’s pledged $150,000 to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond.
* Like Stewart, NASCAR standout Kasey Kahne owns two World of Outlaws teams, including that of Sweet. The Kahne/Sweet partnership goes a step further, however. Sweet shares driving duties with Kahne on the Great Clips-sponsored car in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. “He’s doing 15 races and I’m doing 18,” Sweet said. Wednesday was Sweet’s first visit to Farmer City. “It’s a neat little track and tonight we were good right out of the box. We had quick time (in qualifying) and that helps at these races a lot.”
* In time trials Sweet was the fastest qualifier by circling the track in 10.61-seconds, about three-tenths slower than the track record set by Stevie Smith in 2002. “I’m trying to figure out how we went that fast back then,” Smith said. “You’re going back so far, I can’t remember that far back.” Smith was only 27th-fastest in qualifying on Wednesday. “It’s one of those nights where we didn’t have things just right and qualifying didn’t go the way we had it planned.” Neither did the rest of the night. Smith failed to make the feature.
* A handful of area sprint car drivers attempted to make the race, to no avail. The fastest was 23-year-old Ben Wagoner of Emden who was 31st quickest among the 36 cars and packed up for the night after finishing eighth in his nine-car heat and 10th in the B-Main, a last chance at making the feature. It was still a “special night,” according to Wagoner. “The very first time I ever saw a sprint car race, it was an Outlaws show here,” he said. “It’s kind of cool, looking back, that now we’re running with them just a few years later.”
* Clint DeMoss won Wednesday’s modified feature while Jeff Semmons took the checkered flag first in the street stock class. Racing resumes tonight at Farmer City with competition in all stock car classes, as does racing at Lincoln Speedway.
* Saturday night is opening night at Fairbury’s American Legion Speedway. Hot laps are slated for 5:50 with qualifying at 6:30 and racing to follow. Bloomington’s Eric Smith is the defending late model track champion. Tickets are $10 with kids 12 and under admitted free.
w Modified driver Mark Tulis continues to recover from serious injuries he suffered when his car flipped during a race at Farmer City on April 20.