Outlaw Sprints - Tony Stewart Racing Drivers Battle for Prestigious National Open Victory
INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 28, 2011: As a competitor, it’s fun to have added incentive to come out on top. No matter what the sport is, being able to win has special meaning. Maybe it’s the trophy. Often it’s the competition. Sometimes it’s both. In the grueling World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series, where the driver’s race more than 70 nights each year, there are a handful of nights where the winner becomes part of history. Saturday night will be one of those nights. The Outlaws will race to raise the Morgan Hughes National Open championship trophy and immediately join an elite group of drivers who have won the prestigious race.
Tony Stewart Racing’s (TSR) Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz hope to be making history on Saturday night at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Both will try to become the first driver to win five National Opens. Kinser, who pilots the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/JD Byrider Maxim, earned National Open wins in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 2003, while Schatz, driver of the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevrolet J&J, scored the 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2007 National Open victories.
In Sprint car racing, the season’s schedule is sprinkled with marquee events. The Kings Royal at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway annually kicks off the “Month of Money” and includes not only added prestige, but also a significantly higher payoff. The Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals take center stage in August and the Gold Cup Race of Champions in California is a September staple. In early October, the focus turns to the National Open, which has become the biggest Sprint car race on the East Coast. This year’s 49th annual event will attract the best contingent of cars from central Pennsylvania and offers the Outlaws a chance to regain control of the Outlaws vs. Pennsylvania Posse rivalry. From the first National Open in 1963, which was won by an outsider from Michigan named Gordon Johncock, to last year’s 40-lap thriller won by Sprint car legend Sammy Swindell, the race has become one filled with tradition and one every Sprint car driver wants to win.
For Kinser, the race is an opportunity to put previous disappointments behind him. The 20-time WoO champion has slipped to third in this year’s standings and, with only seven nights of racing remaining, he’ll need help if he is going to earn WoO title number 21. The results at the big races this year haven’t been “King-like” either. He smacked the wall early in the Kings Royal to dash any chances he had of becoming the first driver to win consecutive Kings Royals. The Knoxville Nationals finale saw him drop in the field instead of advancing forward and challenging for a 13th triumph in the sport’s biggest race. And, a fast racing surface in the Gold Cup didn’t warrant much passing and Kinser wasn’t able to contend for the victory.
The good news is that “The King of the Outlaws” has been on a tear since the Knoxville Nationals. He has won three times, including his 570th career WoO A-Feature victory on Sept. 12 at Antioch (Calif.) Speedway, and he has seen qualifying times in the top-five much more regularly and, in his last visit to Williams Grove, he led feature laps and earned a pair of finishes inside the top-six. Kinser has a history of succeeding at Williams Grove. During his career, he has won 37 WoO A-Feature events and four of those have been National Open triumphs. He scored his first Open in 1990, and then repeated in 1992 and 1994. His most recent National Open victory came in 2003 when he led the final six laps en route to his 495th career WoO A-Feature victory.
Schatz has also seen his chances at the 2011 WoO title take a hit in the last month, so the focus now turns to picking up another big win. The four-time WoO champion scored a memorable victory at the Knoxville Nationals, charging from 13th to first in the 50-lap race. The win was his fifth Nationals title and he’s hoping to make it five National Open victories on Saturday night, as well. Since winning his first National Open in 2000, the Fargo, N.D., racer has won 15 times at the half-mile dirt oval. His 2007 National Open victory concluded a season in which he won five of seven WoO A-Features at the track. His third-place finish in his most recent race at the track in July’s Summer Nationals was his best finish since he came home second in the 2009 National Open.
Schatz finished second in last Saturday night’s Commonwealth Clash at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. He ranks second in the 2011 WoO championship standings, trailing Jason Meyers by 147 points. He has won six A-Features, has 29 top-fives and 48 top-10s in 58 WoO starts this season. Kinser holds third, 165 points back. The Bloomington, Ind., racer has won nine A-Features, has 28 top-fives and 45 top-10s.
Friday and Saturday at Williams Grove, the pit gates will open at 3 p.m. EDT with the grandstands opening at 6 p.m. Racing is scheduled to begin at 7:45 p.m. For more details and ticket information, call the track at (717) 679-5000 or visit www.williamsgrove.com.
Race fans unable to attend this weekend’s races can catch all of the action on DIRTVision.com. Fans can listen live as Johnny Gibson, “Voice of the Outlaws,” calls the action. Go to www.DIRTVision.com for more information on all the site features, including updated results from each night of racing, as well as a chat room to interact with other race fans.
Steve Kinser, Driver of the No. 11 TSR/Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet Maxim:
With your history of success in the big races, you have to be looking forward to this week’s National Open. Talk about that.
“I don’t know that anything that has happened in the past is going to help us this weekend, but we’re excited. It’s a race that everyone wants to win. The competition out in Pennsylvania is extremely tough, so anytime you can win one against those guys, you know you’ve accomplished something. That’s a race that brings out everyone’s best. Kind of like Knoxville. You want to have a chance to win, so you have to have everything go your way early in the night. I’ve been fortunate to win the race a few times and you just never know. The biggest thing is that you have to be around at the end of the race. It’s 40 laps and a lot can happen during those final 10 laps.”
You have admitted your disappointment about how things went at the Knoxville Nationals. Would a win on Saturday night help ease the pain of that performance?
“I’d say it would help, but those are races you only get once a year. You don’t get a Mulligan. We wanted to win the Kings Royal. We wanted to win the Knoxville Nationals. We wanted to win the Gold Cup. We didn’t win any of them and, actually, weren’t a factor in any of them. We know we’re only going to get one shot at the National Open and we’re going to do the best we can. The Bass Pro Shops team (Scott Gerkin, Gary DuBois and Mikey Kuemper) is working hard this week to get us ready to have our best car and motor ready for two nights of action. We’ve had a good season but had a couple of bad nights that have hurt us. A good weekend at Williams Grove might really help us finish off the way we started the year and really give us a lot of momentum heading into next year.”
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR/STP/Armor All/Chevrolet J&J:
This is your third trip to Williams Grove this season. What are your thoughts heading back there this time?
“I can’t wait to get back to there. It’s one of those places where we’ve had some success in the past and one where I feel really comfortable. We haven’t won there in a long time and I’d really like to do that this weekend. I’ve really enjoyed the rivalry of the Outlaws versus the Posse over the years at Williams Grove. They have a great group of racers out there and they give us all we can handle. It’s been fun through my career getting to race against those guys and getting to know some of the fans and people out there. We’ve made a lot of friends. My crew chief (Rick Warner) is from out there and it’s always nice to race in front of family and friends. We’re looking forward to a great weekend.”
The National Open is last “big race” of the season. Is it more than just another race?
“The National Open is a really big race for a lot of reasons. It’s a $50,000-to-win show and we only have a couple of them, but it’s also a race that has been around for a long time. There have been a lot of guys who’ve won it, and a lot of them had pretty incredible careers, so to be part of that group is pretty cool. I actually have the chance this weekend to win my fifth National Open, which nobody else has been able to do. Steve (Kinser) has four and he’ll be trying like heck to get number five, I’m sure. If we are able to get number five and do something that neither Steve nor Doug Wolfgang has been able to do, I’d say that would be something pretty special. I don’t think I would have believed anyone if they told me when I started racing that one day I’d be mentioned with those two guys.”