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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Schatz repeats as Knoxville Nationals champion, wins easily

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Donny Schatz promised the crowd at the Knoxville Raceway that he was more ready for Saturday night's championship than anything else in his life.

Then he went out and proved it.

Schatz broke from the pack following a caution flag after the second lap and went on to repeat as champion of the world's most prestigious sprint car race, the Knoxville Nationals.

Schatz, who finished second four times before breaking into the winner's circle in 2006, took home the winning prize of $150,000. Joey Saldana finished second, a whopping 4.55 seconds behind Schatz.

Schatz has now won the four highest-paying sprint car races in the world this year. But none of those checkered flags are as sweet as a victory at Knoxville.

"We got a whale of a start," Schatz said. "I expected someone to be pushing me, and I just pushed as hard as I could."

Paul McMahon took the lead from Schatz on the first lap, but Schatz quickly maneuvered back into the front. He extended his lead coming out of the pits on lap two, and held off challenges from Terry McCarl and Saldana.

The race went off clean after a number of caution flags in the first 13 laps, and Schatz was never seriously threatened.

"Tonight was one of those exceptional nights," Schatz said.

Saldana finished behind Schatz for the second straight year. McCarl, bidding to become the first Iowan to win the nationals, finished third.

"I slid around a little too much...He's the best sprint car racer in the world right now," McCarl said of Schatz.

Craig Dollansky was fourth and McMahon finished fifth. Steve Kinser, the record 12-time winner of the event, was sixth.

Randy Hannigan, Shane Stewart, Brian Brown and Tim Kaeding earned spots in the finals by finishing in the top four of the "B'' main, the last qualifying feature before the championship race. Hannigan went wire to wire for the win, beating Stewart by 1.4 seconds.

Heavy rains washed away Wednesday's qualifying, pushing everything back and delaying the start of Saturday's finals until 11:10 p.m. Temperatures at the track climbed to as high as 97 degrees once the storm clouds left, causing trouble of an entirely different sort.

Officials had to work overtime to keep the dirt track at the world's most famous sprint car event from drying out. Water, and a cavalcade of pickup trucks circling the track almost nonstop, helped get the track in racing condition by Saturday night.

The four-day Nationals drew an estimated 100,000 people, including a near-capacity crowd of about 23,000 Saturday night, for what the public address announcer described as a "Four-Wheeled Woodstock."

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