This Day in Dirt: Donny Schatz Sets Off Volusia Fireworks After Runner-Up Finish

Winning Moment: Ryan Gustin kept Tyler Erb at bay on a restart with two laps to go to complete a wire-to-wire win at East Bay Raceway Park Wednesday night (Feb. 8), his first career Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory.

The win marked the third straight victory at East Bay for Rocket Chassis and came on a night that Longhorn Chassis’ fleet of heavy hitters all were racing.

Dramatic Moment: After a banzai charge to win his heat race earlier in the evening, Donny Schatz used a ridiculous run down the backstretch to take the race lead from Carson Macedo in the All-Star Circuit of Champions feature… only to have crash damage incurred in an earlier exchange with Anthony Macri come back to bite. 

The damaged front wing popped up on his racecar as soon as he passed Macedo, allowing Macedo to take the race lead and the win. Schatz held on for second and absolutely opened fire in his post-race interview.

In a Nutshell: Late models, sprint cars and big blocks all racing within a few hours of each other. Florida is awful dirty this time of year.

What They’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

Rocket Chassis has now won three super late model races in a row after watching Longhorn cars win more than a dozen features in a row. Gustin’s win on Wednesday was different. Every one of Longhorn’s big guns (Jonathan Davenport, Ricky Thornton Jr., Tim McCreadie, etc.) were in the field this Wednesday night, yet that didn’t stop the feature from being dominated up front by the Rockets of Gustin and Kyle Bronson. Parity, thy name is East Bay, and we love you both.

There’s a reason Schatz has won 10 World of Outlaws championships in his career and that was on full display in Wednesday night’s entire ASCoC program at Volusia. His heat race win was as authoritative a display of sprint car driving as fans are likely to see in 2023.

But, we’ve seen this movie before. Let’s not forget that last year Schatz won arguably the race of the year for the WoO tour at Volusia during Speedweeks, only to fade from being any sort of title contender over the course of the full season. Schatz is still an extremely talented driver that’s capable of scoring an 11th crown, but Volusia’s not going to tell that tale, be it racing with ASCoC or WoO.

On paper, Stewart Friesen turned the season opener for the Short Track Super Series into an academic exercise, as he led all 40 laps to win the Sunshine Swing race at All-Tech. But it turned into an absolute nailbiter when Friesen’s engine began smoking heavily with nine laps to go.

Though the engine lasted through the feature, Friesen sounded concerned in his post-race interview, as did fellow competitor Matt Sheppard, as both drivers are scheduled to run all four nights of the Sunshine Swing this week. This ain’t NASCAR folks… losing engines is no small deal for dirt racing teams.

The STSS feature at All-Tech Raceway went green at 8:45 p.m. local time. The entire program was finished shortly after 9:30. Brett Dayo’s signature series continues to set the national standard for efficiency, all the while drawing healthy car counts everywhere they go. If it can be done with the northeast modifieds, it can be done with any class of car anywhere in the country. Promoters, take note.

I won’t lie, if I was president of dirt racing there would be no kids under the age of 18 racing in an open-engine class anywhere in the country. Having said that, I will absolutely tip my cap to Belton, Ky.’s 16-year-old Charlie Mefford for giving as genuine a victory lane interview as one will see at any level. 

Hero of the Day

With Schatz’s exploits this Wednesday night well documented, this shout goes to New Jersey’s Billy Pauch Jr. A 12th-place finish at All-Tech in the STSS feature will not go down as a highlight in the veteran’s career, but it was significant in that it marked his return to the cockpit for the first time after being involved in the most violent wreck I saw in person last season, at the Georgetown Speedway in Delaware.

And a 26th to 12th run in any feature is nothing to bat an eye at.

Victim of the Night

Zanesville, Ohio’s Todd Brennan’s rough Winternationals continued at East Bay Wednesday, first failing to finish his hot laps session after folding the right-front nose of his car in. Buried in a B-main, Brennan then had nowhere to go when Jensen Ford went spinning in turn 2. The situation was compounded by Brennan’s already being a backup car before enduring these incidents.

Numbers Game

5

Dirt tracks that ran oval track racing programs Wednesday night in the U.S.

124

Nation’s largest car count Wednesday, the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia.

$7,000

The nation’s largest purse awarded this weekend, to the winner of the LOLMDS feature at East Bay Wednesday night.

Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Friday morning (Feb. 8) with continued coverage of the third night of the DIRTcar Nationals from Volusia Speedway Park, the late model Winternationals from East Bay Raceway Park and the Short Track Super Series Sunshine Swing at All-Tech Raceway. Streaming coverage can be found on DirtVision and Flo Racing, respectively.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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