The opportunity and timing finally worked out in Donny Schatz’s favor.
“I was asked a year ago if I was interested in running a truck on dirt, and I said I would give anything a try,” Schatz said. “All those races, it never really got any traction. It’s nothing I set out to do; once I was asked and analyzed whether it was something I was interested in, I feel like it’s a great opportunity.”
A 10-time sprint car champion with the World of Outlaws, Schatz has been committed to dirt racing for over 20 years, and that makes it hard to slot other events onto his schedule. But July 9 was open, and Schatz will get to make his Camping World Truck Series debut competing for David Gilliland in the No. 17 Little Giant Ford F-150 at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway.
“(It’s) just a perfect opportunity at Knoxville with David Gilliland Racing,” said Schatz. “We have some of our marketing partners that are coming with us, and we have the opportunity to present everyone to the dirt world and the NASCAR world at the same time, so it’s something I’m excited about.”
💥 SCHATZ! SCHATZ! SCHATZ! 💥
— David Gilliland Racing (@dgr_racing) June 2, 2021
Schatz has 27 wins at Knoxville, which includes 10 wins in the prestigious Knoxville Nationals. It is a place Schatz admitted feels like home.
“It’s just one of those places that’s near and dear to me,” Schatz said. “I’ve had some of the worst things happen in my career there, and I’ve had some of my best. It’s one of those places that you forever respect, and I have a lot of history there.”
Schatz understands a truck will be hard to drive, but other than that, he isn’t sure what to expect or what his biggest hurdle will be. He does believe his background suits him for long truck races, as well as the way dirt racing changes throughout an event. Schatz plans to exhaust every avenue to prepare for his debut and admitted there is a lot of homework to be done after talking to Todd Bodine this week. He also plans on talking to fellow dirt drivers like Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader.
The event will be the first time the Truck Series has competed at Knoxville. Earlier this year, the series ran on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway, and the series previously competed at Eldora Speedway from 2013-19.
“I’ve actually watched a lot of the truck races from Eldora, and I watched the race from Bristol,” said Schatz. “Knoxville is going to be a completely different dynamic. If you’ve never been to Knoxville, it’s a really flat surface compared to what Bristol or Eldora is. That’s what makes it unique when we go there with the sprint cars, is the track prep.
“But I think the completely different shape and the fact there is very little banking at Knoxville is going to make it very, very tricky and very unique. Especially for something as simple as tire wear and being able to make consistent laps for that long a race is going to make drastically different dynamic than what you’ve seen at Bristol or Eldora.”
Schatz is not setting any expectations for himself until he gets on track and logs some laps. With Knoxville being a new venue for the Truck Series, there will be practice and qualifying that weekend.
“I think it’s not accurate for me to say, ‘Yeah, I’m looking for a top-five or looking for a top-10,’” said Schatz. “It’s ultimately impossible to try to answer that until I physically see what it’s like when you first get in. It might be something that you adapt to incredibly quick and be right up there in the speed charts where you want to be, or it might be a real struggle to get used to the braking and the steering and all the things that are different than what we’re accustomed to.
“I don’t have any expectations. Ultimately, it’s going to be having this great opportunity, and you’ve got to make the best of it. In racing, every day, we try to have the most amount of fun, and I’m going to have fun even if it’s a bad day. But we definitely don’t want it to be that way, so until I make some laps, it’s hard for me to say.”