California has long been the destination for those seeking fortune and fame. This weekend, the Golden State welcomes two of the most decorated racers in short-track history. Tony Stewart Racing’s(TSR) Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz will lead the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series into battle as they embark on a month-long tour of California, beginning with Saturday night’s Mini Gold Cup at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico. The quarter-mile dirt track has been a gold mine over the years for Kinser, who has won 22 WoO races at the track, and Schatz, who was triumphant last September during the annual Gold Cup festivities.
Both drivers are looking to build on their performances in last week’s Las Vegas World of Outlaws Nationals presented by J.D. Byrider.
Kinser has dominated the early portion of the 2011 WoO campaign. He’s raced the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevy Maxim to victory four times in the first seven A-Features. “The King of the Outlaws” led all 30 laps last Thursday night to claim the finale at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, continuing one of the most successful starts in the 33-year history of the Outlaws. Coincidentally, Kinser’s start to the 1991 season, when he won six of the first seven events, and the 2004 WoO campaign, when he won seven of the first 10 events, each ultimately led to a WoO title.
The 20-time champion began this season by winning the first two events at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., and then was victorious two weeks later at Pike County Speedway in Magnolia, Miss.
The Bloomington, Ind., native has always been a threat to win an Outlaw race at Silver Dollar, one of California’s most famous dirt tracks. The small layout is notorious for providing some of the best racing annually as the 1,300-pound, 900-plus-horsepower cars battle around the bullring for 40 laps. Three of Kinser’s 22 Silver Dollar Speedway triumphs came in the Outlaws’ first three visits to the track in 1979 and 1980. He earned the first of his 12 Gold Cup Race of Champion crowns in the fall of 1983 and scored his first Mini Gold Cup title in March 1992. Last season, Silver Dollar Speedway was where Kinser feels he let the 2010 WoO championship get away. During the opening-night feature event, he raced into the lead and, one lap later, a right-rear wheel center broke and he crashed out of the event. More trouble followed the next night as he was involved in a late race accident and was scored 19th. Kinser rebounded in the 40-lap finale of the Gold Cup the following night by racing from 18th to finish second. It was his 42nd career top-five finish in 65 starts at the track.
Second has been the best finish for Schatz in the 2011 WoO campaign. The four-time WoO champion and driver of the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevy J&J raced from 17th to finish second behind Kinser in the Outlaws’ second event at Volusia on Feb. 12. Last week at Las Vegas, Schatz completed a consistent two nights of action by charging from 12th to third in the 30-lap A-Feature. The finish followed a strong opening night at Las Vegas, which included the Fargo, N.D., racer’s first fast qualifier award of the season, a runner-up finish in the dash and a third-place finish in the A-Feature. In 2009, Schatz had a Kinseresque type of start, winning two races at Volusia and a triumph at Las Vegas, and recent results are indications that the STP team is poised to duplicate its 2010 Chico performance.
Schatz won a thrilling battle over Paul McMahan in the second night of last year’s Gold Cup Race of Champions. The win was his third career victory at the track. His first two came in September 2004, when he led every lap of the preliminary feature and all 40 laps in the Gold Cup Race of Champions event. He has made 30 previous starts at the track and earned five consecutive top-five finishes, including a fifth-place run in last year’s Gold Cup finale.
Through seven of 67 WoO races, Kinser leads the 2011 WoO championship standings with 1,018 points. His four wins and six top-fives have helped him build a 35-point advantage over Joey Saldana in the standings. Schatz, who has three top-five runs, ranks sixth with 925 points, 93 behind Kinser.
For Saturday’s Mini Gold Cup, the pit gates open at 2 p.m. PST, and the grandstands open at 5 p.m. Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. For tickets, visit www.silverdollarspeedway.com or call the track at (530) 350-7275.
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 as he does at all WoO Sprint Series events on the DIRTVision.com cybercast, as well as on the DIRT Radio Network. 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/Chevy/J.D. Byrider
The incredible start to 2011 continues for you and the Tony Stewart Racing Bass Pro Shops team. Is this something you think about, or do you just concentrate on the next race?
“We’ve started off the season really well, maybe the best I ever have.
We’ve only had a couple of bad nights, but the other nights have been really good. The Bass Pro Shops guys (crew chief Scott Gerkin, and crewmen Gary DuBois and Mikey Kuemper) have done a great job giving me a fast car every night. It seems like every time we’ve unloaded this year, the car has been on a rail.
“I’ve said it a few times already this year, but those guys working on the car are the real key to why we’ve started off so well. The time they spent working this winter is really paying off. Just look at what happened last week in Las Vegas as an example. We hurt a car the first night and had to bring out a new one for the second night. We went out and set fast time, finished second in the dash and led all 30 laps of the feature. The best thing I can do is keep winning races so they know how much I appreciate all of their hard work.”
Silver Dollar Speedway is one of the premiere tracks in the west. What are your thoughts on racing there heading into this weekend’s Mini Gold Cup?
“Chico is a bit of a bullring, so it will be a challenge. It seems like we are either really good there or not quite so good. I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of races there in my career, but it’s been more than five years (September 2005) since I won a race there. Last year, we had a tough start to the weekend and it probably cost us a shot at being closer to winning the championship. The final night, we really had a good car and, maybe if the race was a few laps longer, we might have gotten (eventual winner) Jason (Meyers). We have another chance this weekend to go out and see if we can get one spot better out there.”
Donny Schatz, Driver of the No. 15 TSR/STP/Armor All/Chevy J&J:
After struggling through the first five nights of the 2011 WoO season, it looks like things turned around in Las Vegas. Would you say the results from Las Vegas are something this team can build on?
“We have high expectations. And it’s no secret we weren’t happy with the way things started this season. The STP team (crew chief Rick Warner and crewmen Steve Swenson and Bob Curtis) worked hard to give me a good racecar in Las Vegas. It was important for us to come out and have some better finishes. Las Vegas has always been a good track for us in the past, and to be able to start the event off by being the fast qualifier was a good start. We moved forward in the dash and got better as the feature went on that first night. That’s what we expect to do every night. The second night, the track was still coming in when we went out to qualify, so we had to come from 12th in the feature. The car was really good, and we worked our way back to the podium. The key now is to continue building on what we learned and keep improving each night.”
This week’s Mini Gold Cup kicks off a five-race run through California. Last year, you returned to victory lane at Silver Dollar Speedway. With that in mind, you have to be excited about getting back to the Golden State.
“We’re always excited to be racing, and happy that we’ll get to run quite a bit in California. When I first started with the Outlaws in 1997, we would spend at least a month racing all around the state. San Jose Speedway, Santa Maria, Hanford, Calistoga and Chico were all tracks we’d race at.
This year, we’re going back to Hanford and Calistoga, so I’m looking forward to that.
“During the second half of last year, we were able to get our short-track program going really well. We made some changes and they really helped us.
In the past, we have been decent in Chico but, last year, we were really good. The first night, we had a problem in our heat race, but every other time we were on the track, we moved forward. We’d certainly like to get our first win of the season this weekend and head to Hanford and Tulare with more momentum. It’s going to be tough. Those California guys are really good on their home turf, so we’ll be in for a battle, that’s for sure.”