Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: Donny Schatz Crowned King of Rough & Tumble Kings Royal

Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: Donny Schatz put a literal crown on what had been a disappointing 2023 season to date, leading all 40 laps of a wreck-filled Kings Royal to score his sixth career win in the crown-jewel sprint car race at Eldora Speedway Saturday night (July 15).

Schatz went unchallenged for the entirety of the feature after starting on the pole, able to set his own pace and thus keep to a minimum the challenges of a rain-soaked Eldora surface that proved choppy all night long. Eldora’s racing surface also proved narrow for the preliminary part of the night, meaning that the track’s invert format for this event saw more than half of the top-15 qualifying cars fail to make the A-main.


Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment: The 40th running of the Kings Royal will sadly be remembered for the wrecks more than for anything that transpired on the track, and no wreck on the weekend will have a greater impact on sprint car racing than the one that occurred early in the “Knight Before” feature Friday night, a lap 3 flip that saw current All-Star Circuit of Champions points leader Tyler Courtney suffer a back injury.

The injury not only left the former Kings Royal champion out of Saturday’s competition, but also could have ramifications for the ASCoC points tour given that the tour is scheduled to resume Tuesday at Lernerville. Courtney has a comfortable lead over second-place Chris Windom but any extended absence that will have Courtney only banking medical exemption points will leave Windom an opportunity to close the gap.

What Dirt Racing Fans’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

Saturday’s Kings Royal was a true worst-case scenario for Eldora Speedway. The track can’t stop the rain that ultimately left the racing surface choppy and narrow, creating a mess of a race program that tore up loads of equipment and saw drivers ultimately penalized for going fast in time trials, as the invert buried fast cars in heat races where passing was at a premium. 

The drivers didn’t blame Eldora. I don’t blame Eldora. Having said that, I don’t care that this is the way it’s always been done for the Kings Royal. The practice of a fixed invert for heat races has got to go away after seeing Saturday play out. 

Where to start, besides the very obvious argument that drivers should never be penalized for going fast during time trials. This is a crown-jewel race, period. If there is ever an event where the fast cars and drivers should be up front and rewarded for being the fast cars and drivers, it’s a crown-jewel race.

Much of racing is based around the worst-case scenario. There’s a reason safety equipment is mandated on these machines, regardless of the obvious expense it poses.

And what the worst-case scenario did at Eldora was demonstrate that, despite having one of the best track prep crews in the nation working on the racing surface, weather conditions do not always allow for a racing surface that is conducive to burying the fastest cars in heat races simply for the perceived good of the show. Both from a competition perspective and a show perspective (the heat races were not better for the invert).

It begs the question why this program even bothers with qualifying. I touched on my frustrations with this type of format earlier in the week writing about what I found to be a laborious Eldora Million program and it’s worth noting that Saturday’s Kings Royal ran in roughly the same amount of time as the Million despite suffering through two rain delays (though a drop in car count from 82 to 61 may have played a role in that). 

See also
This Day in Dirt: Mid-Race Break Ruins Marathon Eldora Million for Everyone but Logan Schuchart

So rather than framing my argument around saving time in the racing program, look at it a different way. If the show is more important than straight-up competition, I don’t see why Eldora doesn’t just adopt the Short Track Super Series format of doing pill draws for heat races. That just as effectively buries fast cars in heat races without having the teams competing at the track put time and miles on their equipment for the sake of a glorified second set of hot laps.

Talk about crashing back to Earth. After winning the Eldora Million Thursday, Shark Racing saw only their part-time entry (Landon Myers) qualify for the King’s Royal A-main (and he wrecked on lap 2). Between Myers’s destroyed car and having both Logan Schuchart and Jacob Allen fail to qualify, the team must feel like they’re re-enacting Brewster’s Millions burning through that check.

I’m also not going to fault Eldora for track conditions that necessitated a scheduled open-red stop during Saturday’s 40-lap feature that DirtVision reported had the sprint cars burning more than a gallon of fuel a lap; with a sprint car tail tank carrying 28 gallons, there was no way for the cars to run the full feature without a fuel stop.

BUT, now that both of Eldora’s major races had to be stopped for de facto pit stops, I’d definitely argue that people that joked Thursday about slapping Silver Crown-sized tail tanks on these cars at Eldora need to be taken seriously.

And spare me the arguments about safety. The 28-gallon fuel cells didn’t stop Carson Macedo from dealing with fire at Knoxville earlier this year. Besides, if the larger cells are truly that dangerous, it would follow that the the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora would need to be canceled. And there’s no one in their right mind making that argument.

I’ve been rough on Eldora the last few days, so let’s give them some props. The decision to forego driver introductions Saturday night to keep the program going was absolutely the right call.

Despite Flo Racing and DirtVision streaming the last four days of sprint car competition from Eldora and weather threatening on Saturday, Eldora drew massive crowds. So another compliment to the track. Doing things right (reasonable concession prices, clean facilities, purses that draw car count) will bring the fans out, even if they could just watch it on TV.

On that same thread though, if I read one more post or hear one more comment celebrating how this year’s Kings Royal was the biggest crowd in Eldora Speedway history I’m going to pull my hair out. Largest crowd ever is an objective measure. It can’t be evaluated without numbers for a basis of comparison. Otherwise, besides claims of the track itself, the only way to evaluate this claim is to look at picture of the crowd.

Yes, Eldora was absolutely freaking packed on Saturday. Just like it was in 2022. And in 2021. And in 2019. The crowd was legitimately huge. There’s no reason for Eldora to go all NASCAR and make claims that sound hyperbolic without numbers to back them up.

The Ford guy in me LOVED seeing Schatz put a hurting on the field up front Saturday. I don’t for one second believe that seeing Schatz and Tony Stewart Racing prove dominant on a narrow, choppy racetrack is a sign of any larger trend. 

Dirt Racing’s Hero of the Day

Given just how treacherous the track conditions were for Saturday’s feature, Rico Abreu gets the shoutout here for being the hard charger of the race, improving from 20th to sixth over the 40 laps.

Abreu unfortunately was not the contender many expected him to be after his red-hot spring saw him score multiple Outlaw victories and an Ohio Speedweek win at Eldora with the ASCoC tour, but improving 14 positions under Saturday’s circumstances was an accomplishment.

Dirt Racing’s Victim(s) of the Night

We’ve already discussed Courtney’s unfortunate injury and Myers, Justin Peck and Brady Bacon all endured hard crashes during Saturday’s feature at Eldora. But I’m going to take this one a different direction and cite the Macri Motorsports No. 39M sprint car team as the biggest victim of the week, as a well-publicized split between the father/son owner/driver combination days before the Million saw Pennsylvania veteran Lance Dewease thrown into the seat.

This was costly to the field and race fans in that Anthony Macri, one of the rising stars in sprint car racing (he won more 410 features than any driver in America year ago), didn’t contest either of Elder’s crown-jewel events. But it was also costly to the No. 39M team in that they had to throw Dewease in the car so quickly. Because while he was a non-factor in the Million, by Saturday Dewease won a heat race and secured his first-ever Kings Royal feature start.

Had this split happened a week or two earlier and allowed for Dewease to potentially get a few spot starts in the Macri car, imagine what could have been. 

Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Wednesday morning (July 19) with coverage of the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup from the Lernerville Speedway in Pennsylvania. Coverage can be found on Flo Racing.

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via