By Alex Nieten
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars are readying for an uncharacteristic springtime visit to “The Sprint Car Capital of the World.”
The iconic Knoxville Raceway is the target of The Greatest Show on Dirt as the 2023 campaign rolls on. The half mile will host the Xtream Powered by Mediacom Showdown this weekend (April 21-22). The two nights will be the first of eight for the World of Outlaws at Knoxville in 2023 with another pair of evenings set for June 9-10 and the 62nd NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals (August 9-12).
This weekend will mark the first time the Series has raced at the Marion County facility in the month of April since 2012.
Let’s look at some of the weekend’s top storylines.
SCHATZVILLE: The early trip to Knoxville may be a welcome shift in the schedule for Donny Schatz.
The 10-time Series champion has been combating some early struggles this season, but his success at Knoxville can’t be overstated. Schatz has mastered the black zook clay. The Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing pilot picked up his 11th Knoxville Nationals title last season – second only to Steve Kinser’s 12. The driver out of Fargo, ND has remained solid in recent years at Knoxville with finishes of fourth or better in seven of his last eight starts.
Coming off a nasty tumble in Pevely, Knoxville presents a prime opportunity for Schatz to rebound in strong fashion.
MULTI-TIME WINNERS: Outside of Schatz, a handful of fellow full-time competitors have been stout at Knoxville. The trio of David Gravel, Brad Sweet, and Carson Macedo have all topped multiple Series races at the half mile.
Gravel and Sweet lead the way with four victories apiece.
Among Gravel’s triumphs is the 2019 Knoxville Nationals and a pair of wins in 2020. The wheelman of the Big Game Motorsports #2 made all four of his trips to Victory Lane over an 11 race stretch from June of 2018 to August of 2020.
Sweet’s success is slightly more spread out. “The Big Cat” first claimed a Knoxville World of Outlaws checkered flag in 2014, then had to wait through nine more visits until another win in June of 2017. The Grass Valley, CA native also owns a Knoxville Nationals crown, topping “The Granddaddy of ‘Em All” in 2018.
Macedo hasn’t found Knoxville glory as often as Gravel or Sweet, but he has more recently. In 2021, the 26 year old swept the June weekend at Knoxville. Macedo looks to pad his point lead with another strong Iowa outing.
SHARKS’ SUCCESS: Last August at Knoxville, the Shark Racing duo of Logan Schuchart and Jacob Allen flexed their muscle.
Before the Knoxville Nationals commenced, Schuchart began the week by topping the Capitani Classic. He followed that up by winning his Nationals prelim on Wednesday. During Saturday’s finale Schuchart finished third after starting 17th – his second podium in the last three editions of the sport’s most prestigious race.
The night after Schuchart claimed his prelim, Allen came out on top of Thursday’s preliminary action for his first Knoxville win. Then on Saturday he joined his teammate in the top five by wheeling the #1A from 11th to fifth in the 50-lap main event.
IOWA TRANSPLANT: This weekend serves somewhat of a home game for Gio Scelzi.
The 21 year old is originally from Fresno, CA but recently relocated to “The Hawkeye State” as he’s behind the wheel of the Iowa-based KCP Racing #18.
The Californian has adapted nicely to Knoxville. He and KCP won the 2021 Knoxville 360 Nationals. Then during the following week, they earned the pole for the 410 Nationals and finished a strong fourth.
ZEARFOSS’ ZONE: After spending much of the early season having to charge forward in the Feature, Brock Zearfoss has improved his qualifying and Heat Race performance in recent weeks.
The Jonestown, PA native didn’t make a Toyota Dash through the first 10 events of the season, but now he’s made the last three. The improvement helped lead to his first top five of the season at U.S. 36 Raceway.
Zearfoss now heads to Knoxville where he’s a former top-five finisher in the 360 Nationals (’20) and a top five finisher in the 410 Nationals Hard Knox Night (’21).
KNOXVILLE LOCALS: “The Sprint Car Capital of the World” is home to some of the country’s strongest local challengers, and much of the contingent will be in action this weekend looking to upset the World of Outlaws.
Brian Brown always stands out as one of the favorites to stand in Victory Lane whenever the World of Outlaws invade Knoxville, IA. The five-time Knoxville track champion is currently tied for second on the all-time track win list – trailing only Danny Lasoski. Brown is a two-time winner in World of Outlaws competition at Knoxville (’19 &’21).
Austin McCarl is another who could make some noise. At last year’s Knoxville Nationals, the Altoona, IA native experienced one of his most emotional career moments by earning the pole for the Saturday finale. The 2018 track champion continues to seek his first World of Outlaws victory.
Knoxville’s very own Riley Goodno is one of the sport’s rising stars. Last year, in only his seventh career World of Outlaws Feature start, Goodno led laps and podiumed at Huset’s Speedway.
More drivers local to or with ties to the area including Tasker Phillips, Ayrton Gennetten, Brandon Wimmer, Ian Madsen, and more are expected to be in action.
INVADERS: This weekend’s roster is expected to have some added star power with more big names making the trip.
A pair of drivers with World of Outlaws wins already under their belt this year, Rico Abreu and Buddy Kofoid, have Knoxville on their calendar.
Tyler Courtney also has the weekend on his schedule with Clauson Marshall Racing. Last year, “Sunshine” led the most laps in Knoxville Nationals main event before finishing fourth.
A fellow Hoosier in the form of Justin Peck will also be making his way to Knoxville. Last year, the Monrovia, IN native qualified for the Knoxville Nationals aboard the Buch Motorsports #13 and finished a personal-best 12th.
Pennsylvania standout Anthony Macri plans to be in attendance. The Dillsburg, PA native has finished in the top five in each of the last two Hard Knox Nights including a runner-up in 2021 that transferred him into his first Knoxville Nationals finale.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all the action on DIRTVision.
CURRENT CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (13/83 Races)
41 – Carson Macedo (1826PTS) 2. 49 – Brad Sweet (-12PTS) 3. 2 – David Gravel (-20PTS) 4. 1S – Logan Schuchart (-56PTS) 5. 11 – Michael Kofoid (-72PTS) 6. 17 – Sheldon Haudenschild (-108PTS) 7. 83 – James McFadden (-134PTS) 8. 5 – Spencer Bayston (-148PTS) 9. 15 – Donny Schatz (-162PTS) 10. 18 – Gio Scelzi (-172PTS)