OCALA, Fla. — Donny Schatz survived a wild finish to Thursday night’s Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions opener at Bubba Raceway Park, moving from third to first in the final two laps to clinch his 14th-career All Stars victory.
The eight-time and defending World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion started seventh in the caution-free 30 lap feature, but was running third coming to the white flag when then-race leader Kerry Madsen ducked pit-side with a flat right rear tire.
As Madsen fell by the wayside, Schatz was able to pounce, working over Pennsylvania Posse mainstay Tim Shaffer on the final circuit to score a $5,000 payday.
Shaffer held on to finish second, followed by Kraig Kinser, Ian Madsen and Caleb Armstrong.
“Oh man, that was crazy,” said Schatz. “I started to notice Kerry’s [Madsen] tire was really beginning to get low; almost down to the chords. I knew that I didn’t want to be above him at that point because when the right rear tire goes flat, the car tends to drift up the race track. When it blew, we just went to work on Shaffer.”
“I didn’t have a lot of time, but he was racing a little too protective and I was able to set him up and get around him. I never give up and I never count us out, no matter where we are at on the race track.”
Schatz started his run to the front of the field from the drop of the initial green flag, working forward from the inside of row four to a podium position by the 30-lap feature’s halfway point. By the time Schatz solidified himself in third, Kerry Madsen was already in control, tailed closely by Shaffer as lap traffic loomed.
All three drivers navigated traffic nose-to-nail for nearly 10 laps, each utilizing the bottom groove of the racing surface. Shaffer was strong enough to periodically make a bid for the top spot, but each time, his advance was blocked.
Unfortunately for Madsen, who had led from lap 13 on, his tire disaster struck courtesy of the rubbered-up racing surface that started to build along the bottom edge of the track. Without bringing out a caution, Madsen exited the speedway, surrendering the top spot to Shaffer.
Despite Shaffer’s attempt to race conservatively and protect the rubbered-up racing groove, Schatz continued to apply pressure, ultimately working around the Aliquippa, Pennsylvania native for a big win in the end — his first with the support of new partners in Arctic Cat and Ford Performance.
“It feels really good to get it done here tonight, especially with Arctic Cat playing such a big role in our program now,” Schatz added. “They are big supporters of the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions, and obviously big supporters of Tony Stewart Racing, so to win right out of the gate with this new deal is very special. Hopefully we can do this a few more times this weekend.”
Of note, three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart transferred through one of the night’s two B-Mains and finished 17th in his return to winged sprint car racing.
The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions continues the Bubba Army Winter Nationals on Friday night, with another complete program headlined by a 30-lap feature event.
Full results can be viewed on the next page…