The Red River Kart Club has been in the news a lot this week – for good reasons. Club members Amelia and Laela Eisenschenk along with their Uncle, Donny Schatz, were featured in the Fargo Forum and WDAY-TV Sports. On Saturday, Donny scored his 9th Knoxville Nationals victory in the World Of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. In case you missed it, here are those stories:
The stop at West Fargo’s Red River Valley Fairgrounds—where nearly 50 kids were eager to race their go-karts—gave Schatz a chance to reflect on where it all started for him as a 10-year-old racing go-karts in Minot.
“You look back on that now and you remember how excited you used to get when the vehicle left the house and you had everything loaded and how nervous you got when you pulled into the track,” said the 38-year-old Schatz. “Everything you did was an absolute blast. Some days you wish this level of racing (Outlaws) was a little bit more like that. But it’s a little bit different when you get money involved.”
The money involved last weekend at the Knoxville Nationals was a $150,000 paycheck. Schatz, who is in good position to win his seventh World of Outlaws points championship, won at Knoxville for the ninth time in 10 years. It was his fifth straight Knoxville title, tying Outlaws legend Steve Kinser for the longest such streak in the 55-year history of the event.
As his niece, Laela, simply described it: “He started on the pole … he just won.”
And Schatz, who now calls West Fargo home, just keeps winning.
He started racing sprint cars at the age of 14. The 1995 Minot High School graduate joined the World of Outlaws tour at the age of 18. He was the rookie of the year in 1997. He has won Outlaws championships in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014.
With a commanding lead in the Outlaws points standings, Schatz has won 23 A-Feature events this season, including a five-race win streak. He also had a string of races where he finished first or second 19 consecutive times.
Schatz is also closing in on 200 career Outlaws A-Feature wins. Only two drivers in the 38-year history of the Outlaws have ever won more than 200 races: the aforementioned Kinser and Sammy Swindell.
“I remember getting beat every night by the Steve Kinsers and Sammy Swindells, drivers who were just incredible,” Schatz said. “I got beat by great guys, and eventually you learn how to do the beating. What I grew up in was I think a little bit better era than what it is today. I just feel bad for some of the younger generation that doesn’t get to race against guys like that on a daily basis.”
Then again, those younger drivers are probably cherishing the chances to compete against Schatz. The really young drivers—like the Eisenschenk twins of Kindred who are daughters of Schatz’s sister Deanne—have certainly cherished their uncle coming to most of their Monday night races this summer.
What kind of advice does Uncle Donny give them?
“Well, when you go around the corner you kind of have to slow down,” Laela said. “And you just got to get back on the gas when you go on the straightaway.”
Like their uncle, the twins have visions of racing when they get older. But Schatz says he hopes they don’t get too serious about it.
“Believe me, racing is a lot of fun, but it’s not for everybody,” Schatz said. “It’s something that takes its toll on you. If you are going to beat up and down the road like I have my whole life, you miss out on a lot of things.
“I’ve got a daughter that turned 18 last Friday. When you focus on trying to be good at racing and you’re traveling, you pretty much miss out on everything. It’s not like you can just call in sick to work one day. If you miss a race, you miss out on a chance of winning a World of Outlaws championship.
“I don’t have any regrets, but I’m just saying I don’t wish this on these guys. I just hope they are able to do something a little bit different than I did for the betterment of themselves.”
In the meantime, Schatz is more than willing to show up every Monday night and strap the racing helmets on his nieces. He’s hoping they can avoid injuries or crashes like he has. Amazingly, Schatz has finished 159 straight races—dating back to September of 2013—without crashing.
As long as that kind of safety continues, Schatz says he can see himself racing sprint cars for many more years—much like Kinser and Swindell, who are nearing retirement. Plus, a much-slimmer Schatz has been watching his diet and working out more.
“As long as a guy is having fun and you are competitive, yeah, you see yourself doing this for a long time,” said Schatz, who is noticeably proud of his nieces. “They are pretty sharp. They race hard. They have a lot of fun. They know they can get banged up and get hurt. That’s probably the most important thing to realize … it doesn’t matter what you do, you can get hurt. When you get on the race track, anything can happen.”