By T.J. Buffenbarger
(August 13, 2022) — After seeing one the greatest sprint car drivers of all time work his magic at the Knoxville Raceway, here are three takeaways as I depart the Marion County Fairgrounds.
- Saturday night we witnessed the Donny Schatz of old when looking at how he operated on the racetrack. The Donny Schatz we have in the sport right now is in a much different place than the man that won the previous 10 titles. There were times where Schatz came to the media center after winning at the Nationals very machine like, ready to move on to the next race, and not wanting to savor the moment.
Middle aged Donny Schatz was enjoying the moment on Saturday. Winning a Nationals in honor of his father is a story we will talk about for decades. The fan opinion on him is starting to turn as well as the cheers were more prevalent to boos. Part of it is fans starting to understand Schatz and some of it is the fans are starting to see person we often see in one-on-one situations when he is one of the most compelling people to interact with in the sport.
Schatz has been through a lot the past few years with the Ford engine development, his father passing away after a long fight with cancer, and other things that would be difficult for anyone to deal with. Schatz has steadily improved since Kings Royal weekend to the point where I considered him a favorite to win coming in her before the Nationals started.
At 45 years old though I don’t feel Donny Schatz is done winning these crown jewel races. We have the Jackson Nationals next week, the Williams Grove National Open, and other races coming up where I feel Schatz can get another victory. On top of that I it’s realistic that Schatz could win another Nationals title or two.
Saturday night we got to see one of the greatest drivers to sit in a sprint car put on a amazing performance, and with Schatz having more years behind him than he has in front of him in his driving career it was something I appreciated witnessing.
- If Logan Schuchart starts in the first three rows in the Knoxville Nationals in the next couple of seasons it will be the most boring 50-lap race ever because Schuchart may run away with it. Schuchart made an amazing charge again transferring out of the B-Main and running to the podium.
Saturday’s performance with both Shark Racing entries landing top five finishes in the Nationals finale after sweeping the preliminary programs is that team taking the next step towards being one of the elite teams in the sprint car world.
While we expect Schuchart to have that kind of performance, Jacob Allen’s run this weekend was completely unexpected. I don’t think we are far from coming to Knoxville and considering both Shark Racing entries the favorites to win the Nationals.
- I must eat some crow about the format of the Knoxville Nationals A-Main format. Since the announcement for the 50th Nationals I’ve been lukewarm to the idea of having a stop near the halfway point of the event. Being an old school sprint car guy, I wanted to see 40 laps or the traditional 30 lap distance to finish off the Nationals week.
With the sample size we have now I am 100% in favor of the current Saturday format for the Nationals. From exciting finish of the 50th Nationals, Schatz coming from the B-Main to win the Nationals, Jason Johnson’s thrilling victory, and Schatz’s 11th the modern Saturday A-Main format has produced some compelling racing. Forcing the crew chiefs to decide on changes midway through that race is an interesting twist.
Saturday’s 50 lap feature was a rollercoaster ride from start to finish that left me emotionally exhausted just from watching it. Schatz running down Gravel for the win, Schuchart’s charge from the B-Main to the podium, and the thrilling racing we saw for position is proof that Knoxville Raceway nailed this idea against conventional wisdom.
Would I want to see this program elsewhere? Not a chance. I think we should do this ONLY at the Knoxville Nationals. If we start doing this 50-lap format with a halfway stop everywhere it will stop being special.
The Knoxville Nationals is still the greatest sprint car event on the planet. I tell people all the time I wish they could see the Nationals through my eyes so they can see why I enjoy it so very much. Hopefully through my writing you were able get some sense of that and I can’t wait to do it next season.