View from the Stands (5/14/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
For the past decade the Mayor of Knoxville Raceway has been Donny Schatz, and he showed again this past Saturday that to win at Knoxville, you have to go through him. Believe it or not, Schatz’ win was only his sixth career World of Outlaws feature win at the historic half-mile. He has been nearly perfect at the Nationals over the past decade, but hasn’t parked his #15 in victory lane for a WoO win at Knoxville since May 2, 2009.
Just when it looked like a Knoxville Regular, Brian Brown might win his first World of Outlaws feature on Saturday night, Schatz proved he is the man to beat win the chips are down. It was a great effort by Brown, but Schatz was lurking the whole race, biding his time, and pounced at the end to win by a straightaway. Craig Dollanksy proved he will be a force to reckon with as well at Knoxville this coming August, as he took the lead from Brown on lap nine but couldn’t hold off Schatz in the end. On lap seventeen, Schatz made his move in traffic to get by Dollansky for the lead and the win.
Donny Schatz is sooo good right now. I never thought I would see another Steve Kinser, but Schatz might be the guy to break a few of the King’s records before his career is done. The only man who could compete with Schatz over the past five years was Jason Meyers, and now that Meyers is no longer a full-time driver, it’s like Steve racing without Sammy in the 80’s and 90’s. We have salt but no pepper. Schatz went from a 9.3 average finish in his first ten WoO features to a 6.7 average in his second ten, and then won at Knoxville in race number twenty-one. That spells bad news for the rest of the field as it seems Schatz and crew chief Ricky Warner have the new Hoosier tires dialed in.
Steve Kinser needs help. Not only is his car not performing well, but his car is ugly. I miss the green and white #11. The King qualified forty-first out of fifty-one cars, sixth in his heat, drove from eighteenth to sixth in the B main, and had to use a provisional to start the feature where he finished seventeenth. A humiliating performance to say the least. Kinser (and car owner Tony Stewart) has a tough decision to make in my opinion. Does he fire Scott Gerkin, his long-time trusted mechanic and engine builder? Does he toss away years of engine research and change to a new engine supplier? Or does he hire a new and dedicated engine builder to stay in the shop? Does he reduce the role of Gerkin to stay home in the shop and build engines with a new crew chief on the road? Or dare I say…. retire? I know the King is approaching his 59th birthday, but he hasn’t forgotten how to drive. Gerkin’s talents are worn too thin being on the road and trying to build engines at home in-between road trips. Bottom line is the #11 is not able to keep up. But to see the King not competitive at Knoxville for three consecutive years now is heartbreaking. He hasn’t won a race at Knoxville since…. gulp… April 30, 2005. And he hasn’t won a race at the Nationals since his preliminary night in 2003, that’s ten years ago!
Craig Dollansky is starting to get fast again after not adapting as quickly as some other teams with the new tire early in the season. Look for the #7 to make a big push in the standings in the coming weeks.
Daryn Pittman is a good driver, but seventh at Knoxville won’t cut it, especially in August. Maybe a WoO title will keep his seat in the #9, but expectations are high, and second wasn’t good enough for his predecessor.
Kerry Madsen has six top ten’s in his last eight races. They have found something that works.
Cody Darrah looked better than he ever has at Knoxville, and has three top ten finishes in a row with the Outlaws. Keep an eye on the #4. His back is against the wall, and he desperately needs to win races to keep his seat.
Kyle Larson timed thirty-ninth, but he sure put on a show coming from sixteenth to third in the B, then twenty-fourth to eighth in the A. If it would have been a forty lap race, I think he had something for Schatz, and I’m not just saying that for shock value, I’m serious. I hope we get to see “Yung Money” again this season.
Tim Kaeding might have been able to challenge Schatz and Dollansky for the win, but a flat tire cost him while running third. Next to Schatz, “TK” might be the best driver in the country in my opinion. He is tied for the most WoO feature wins so far this season and has only raced in 76% (16 of 21) of the events.
Sammy Swindell set quick time, and then we didn’t hear his name again until he was involved in an incident in the feature and had to change the nose wing. Sammy is averaging a tenth place finish so far this season.
Double file restarts are dumb, and I would like to lobby for the World of Outlaws to do away with them. Lucas Wolfe, Mark Dobmeier, and Davey Heskin all have torn up race cars to prove it, due to a restart with seven laps to go. Chad Kemenah already missed two races due to injury from a double file start. Other drivers have missed months at a time in the past couple of seasons. Just do away with them. I would rather see a safe race and teams not have to spend more money so they can continue to race throughout the season, than this rule to try to add artificial passing to make a stat look good at the end of the year.
In no other form of dirt racing does a driver dominate its sport like Kinser and Schatz have done. In dirt late models you have probably heard of Scott Bloomquist and Billy Moyer, but they have never dominated for years and years like Schatz or Kinser has.
The Dunkin family track prep crew did an awesome job this week. It’s an art to get the right amount of moisture in the surface, and on a sunny, windy day, their artwork exceeded all expectations!
I look forward to seeing how the Outlaws perform against the PA Posse this weekend.
The Knoxville Regulars made a decent showing against the Outlaws. Brown was third, but disappointed. Dusty Zomer was good with a ninth place finish after qualifying through the B main and starting at the back. Terry McCarl was fourteenth, Mark Dobmeier nineteenth, Ian Madsen twentieth, Davey Heskin, Rager Phillips, and Wayne Johnson also made the feature. I think Zomer, Heskin, and Madsen will be the guys to run up front with McCarl if they continue to qualify well.
The 360 class was a good show as well with Tony Shilling getting his second career win and holding off a charge from Clint Garner. I feel for the drivers who drew an early spot in the hot lap/group qualifying order. They were at a clear disadvantage with the racing surface only being scratched slightly with two laps of “hot laps” after they finished wheel packing. Barring strange circumstances, Garner has the track championship within his grasp. I will focus on the race for second with Russ Hall, Matt Moro, Joe Beaver, Nate Van Haaften, Jamie Ball, Tyler Groenendyk, and Shilling.
I saw a decent amount of complaints from race fans over Facebook and Twitter about the $30 ticket prices this week. First of all, $30 is the going rate for a general admission ticket at any WoO event, not just at Knoxville. You get to see the best drivers on the planet, plus the regulars. The races were great this past Saturday, and the WoO heat formats of inverting four and the top two advancing to the dash is an awesome format! That is better than a weekly 410 format, in my opinion, where most weeks the invert is six and then six transfer to the feature. But compare a $30 ticket to say a $50-$80 ticket at a racetrack not too far away where you will see less passing. Take a family of four to a movie, a concert, a broadway musical in Des Moines, or to a college football game. I dare anyone to compare that entertainment with what Knoxville offers, and at a lower cost. The World of Outlaws is a two-time per year special EVENT! A more affordable option is buying the PPV at home with live video through DirtVision. Hooking up a laptop with a HDMI connection to your 1080pi screen is nice. I’ve tested it out recently myself during the Modified and Stock Car Shootout. But nothing compares to being at Knoxville in person if you ask me. At the races, the colder weather always seems more tolerable, and yes I do sit in the stands, not in a suite or the press box. I love the stands!
*Eric can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.