By T.J. Buffenbarger
- After several nights of rain, it was nice to get winged sprint car racing underway in Florida with the season opening event for the World of Outlaws sprint car series. Here are my takeaways from the opening night a Volusia Speedway Park
If anyone needs a reminder of how good the drivers are with the World of Outlaws sprint car series are, Thursday at Volusia Speedway Park was an excellent reminder. Competing in track conditions that were less than idea, 36 sprint cars bounced their way around the high-speed Volusia Speedway Park with little to no incidents other than some mechanical wear and tear from the racing surface.
Not only were there no major incidents during the rodeo like affair, but the feature also ended up being much better than I anticipated with a compelling race for the lead between Kyle Larson and Donny Schatz. Larson, who mentioned in the post-race interview that he enjoys rough racetracks, bounced his way from sixth to the lead for a moment before Donny Schatz drove back by him for the lead.
All 36 drivers involved deserve a hat tip for the excellent performances while all the crews will have some longer maintenance doing extra bolt checks after the rock and roll affair.
- “Old man game” is a term used frequently in basketball that used to describe a player that is has crafty moves that involves misdirection, angles, and leverage. While at age 44 Schatz is hardly old, he used craftiness to top the field on Thursday at Volusia Speedway Park.
Rather than dive through the holes, Schatz drove around them on the top side of the track. Schatz was able to carry much more speed around the top than some of the other drivers that were rim riding the track. Yet, when it came time to counter Larson’s challenge late in the event, Schatz ran through the rough stuff enough to dispose of Larson before going back to the top side.
After the race Larson mentioned during the post-race interview that he has let his fitness slip a bit, but you wouldn’t know it looking at him after that rough and tumble 25-lap affair.
While Schatz is best known for making his car run through the middle of slick race tracks, he is still more than capable of winning on any race track in any conditions at this stage in his career, which he proved on Thursday.
- Who would have put money on a Ford and Toyota powered car finishing 1-2 Thursday at Volusia Speedway Park under rough track conditions?
Toyota could not have asked for a better first outing Thursday with Aaron Reutzel and the RSR team by setting fast time, winning their heat race and the dash, and coming up one spot short of a feature victory. The Toyota sprint car engine program was slowed considerably by COVID and didn’t see the track until last season.
I’m sure Andy Graves and the rest of the group at Toyota had to be over the moon with the result but knowing how Toyota has operated in other motorsports disciplines that moral victory will not last for long. It will be interesting to see how the Toyota engine performs on short tracks and in the slick, but if they are even close Reutzel with crew chief Tyler Swank will be a threat to win around the country this year.
Meanwhile in the Ford camp, as mentioned early Schatz looked very comfortable up-front driving around the top of the racetrack. The development of the Ford engine has been a lot of work for the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian racing team, but that work appears to be paying off based on the end of last season and first race this year.
This could be an interesting development for the Outlaws as three engine manufacturers have not been involved while they were in their peak performance. As Mopar was coming on in the late 90’s/early 2000’s Ford’s performance had diminished, but having Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota engines at the top of their game is a very interesting storyline to keep track off.
- Right before the opening event of the World of Outlaws began it was announced that Kendra Jacobs, Marketing Director at Knoxville Raceway, had left Knoxville and Spire Sports and Entertainment for a job with Floracing.
While Knoxville Raceway has one of the best staffs in the country, the loss for that facility and Spire is huge. It will be difficult to find someone else with the work ethic, talent, and passion for the sport of sprint car racing Jacobs brought to the position.
I could see Spire utilizing multiple people to fill that role, as Jacobs is one of the people that has the “it” factor for that type of position, which is likely while Flosports made a success run at bringing her into their organization.
On the FloSports side, it will be interesting to see what Jacobs role looks like and how that organization will continue to grow. Over the past two years FloRacing has been growing at a tremendous pace. Jacobs will join a tremendously talented staff that is producing a tremendous amount of content to work with, which will give her plenty to work with on the marketing side.