T.J.’s Takeaways from the 40th Kings Royal

Donny Schatz (#15) being chased by David Gravel (#2). (Mike Campbell photo)

(July 16, 2023) — The 40th edition of the Kings Royal is in the books and Donny Schatz picked up the sixth crown of his illustrious career. On a very challenging night for everyone involved, here are my three takeaways.

  • In a racing event you can plan for as long as you want about every little detail, but the one thing you cannot control is the weather.

    Saturday’s Kings Royal finale was the perfect case for this as early morning showers combined with another rain shower in the afternoon made for a very narrow, heavy racetrack. This was magnified by the Kings Royal format where the top 36 cars in qualifying are inverted in the heat race and a perfect recipe was made for 13 of the top qualifiers to not transfer through their heat race.

    There are some that are quick to blame the format and want to make sweeping changes to it. While the Kings Royal format is not ideal for conditions like these, Wednesday night we saw two heat races won from eight starting position that may have been the best winged sprint car heats I have ever seen at Eldora.

    This year’s Kings Royal closely resembled the first one Sammy Swindell won in 1992. That weekend was plagued by rain and created a one lane racetrack and a feature with a lot of attrition. All these years later the format is essentially the same today as it was then.

    Much like it was in 1992, the racing was just a byproduct of the racetrack and weather. During Ohio Sprint Speedweek and the Million/Kings Royal weekend Eldora has been very fast throughout the night. During Speedweek we had unseasonably cool weather and the track didn’t widen out until towards the end of the feature. This week we had very fast, top dominant tracks with high humidity that we had not seen in quite some time at Eldora for three nights.

    I’m not in favor of a Kings Royal format change because of an isolated incident that was about weather. If there was to be a format change, I would want it to be a major one by going over to the same format used at the Eldora Million, but making it match the major events for late models with three nights of races that feature two programs of twin features and no qualifying on Saturday.

  • After having a career season in 2022 Brent Marks has found some difficulty getting the same speed since the changes to the new Hooiser tires for 2023. While Marks and his race team never put together a full night of everything going well, Marks’ had several moments with great speed including when it counted on Saturday during the Kings Royal feature.

    Marks was one of the few drivers that could maneuver the surface and pass cars charging from 11th starting position to second.

    It will be interesting to follow Marks progress as the World of Outlaws head back to Marks backyard in Central Pennsylvania this week to see how he fares. If Marks can avoid some of the pitfalls he found throughout the weekend that he found himself having to dig out of at times, he could be a contender to win some races during this Outlaw swing through his home turf.

  • The tricky conditions on Saturday one would think would be for the young and brave. Saturday showed experience paid off more with Donny Schatz putting on a driving clinic on how to be smooth as silk on a highly technical racetrack.

    Much like his win at the Knoxville Nationals last year, Schatz was emotional in victory lane and very engaging in the post-race press conference on Saturday after his Kings Royal victory. It was the first time he had spoken to the media as a feature winner since May 19-20 when he doubled up at Attica Raceway Park and Sharon Speedway with feature victories. Since that weekend Schatz had only appeared on the podium four times in the previous 21 races.

    For some that would be acceptable, but not for Schatz. He pushes himself and everyone around him from crew members, management, and vendors to get better. It probably can be maddening at times, but even as Schatz gains more perspective as he gets older that drive to win burns just as hot as it did when he would dominate the sprint car world.

    When I suggested that Saturday could be the start of a run like 2022 that eventually led to a Knoxville Nationals win, Schatz dismissed that notion.

    “I don’t know that I would go and say that,” said Schatz. “I mean, I just told you how we came about getting here tonight. It worked here tonight. But does that mean it’s going to work when we leave here tonight and go Wednesday to BAPS and Williams Grove Friday and Saturday? Everything we’ve done for the last month I can’t get out of my own way. It’s a combination of the direction we’ve gone with some of the engine stuff and in the changes in the tire. So does this help? Yeah, this gives us a little bit of maybe we went the wrong direction and we got to start revisiting some of the things that we’ve already done. It’s a lot easier said than done.”

    It is too early to tell if this is another magical run to Knoxville in August, but it is at least worth keeping an eye on to see if Schatz has fully kicked the recent slump.