WORLD number one Donny Schatz will end a seven-year absence from the Lucas Oil Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic in a fortnight, headlining a record 117 entries for the historic three-night event at Premier Speedway.
Schatz, from Fargo, North Dakota, flew home to his American base after dominating the Australian Open in Brisbane last weekend, seemingly ending hopes he would make a tilt at a third Classic.
But yesterday Schatz confirmed his speed was not only confined to the track, stitching up a deal in 48 hours to return for the Classic.
He will join the Western Australian-based Monte Motorsport team, the same outfit which helped him to his Classic triumphs in 2001 and 2002.
Schatz yesterday said he had one goal.
“I haven’t been to the Classic in quite a few years,” he said.
“Honestly with my schedule, I am not sure when I’ll get to run it again, so we’re heading there with one goal in mind and that’s to win it.”
Schatz said the deal to drive with Monte Motorsport only came about after his success in Queensland with the team and sponsors.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity to race in the Classic,’’ he said.
“This deal came together quickly.
‘‘We had the chance to work with the people from Crimsafe at the Australian Open and were able to come out on top both nights with them on our car.
‘‘Hopefully we can do the same in Warrnambool.”
Schatz is looking forward to the first three-night Classic.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” he said.
“Every time you hit the track you have to be on your game.
‘‘I enjoy that part of it.
‘‘The Monte Motorsport guys are pumped up and all of us are really looking forward to this unique opportunity.”
Schatz is regarded as the sport’s best driver.
He has won seven of the past eight Knoxville Nationals, the unofficial world championship.
He won the 2013 nationals after starting from position 21, having qualified from the B main.
He is also a five-time World of Outlaws series champion and last year claimed 23 feature wins without winning the overall crown.
He headlines a star-studded field that includes 21 Americans — the biggest overseas contingent in the 42-year history of the Classic, surpassing last year’s 17.
Reigning World of Outlaws champion Daryn Pittman, Knoxville National’s third placegetter Justin Henderson, two-time World of Outlaws champion Jason Meyers, Outlaws rookie of the year Dave Gravel, multiple Chili Bowl winner Kevin Swindell, former Classic winner Shane Stewart and six-time Classic winner Danny Smith head the impressive American party.
Premier Speedway general manager David Mills said yesterday the club’s decision to expand the Classic from two to three nights had been vindicated with the massive field.
Under the club’s revised format, the field will be split for qualifying on the Friday and Saturday nights, with the top 108 qualifying for the Sunday night.
Mills said the huge number of entries meant the club would need to add an extra feature race on the Sunday night.
The quality of the field was unrivalled in Australia, he said.
Mills revealed crowd favourite Max Dumesny, who grew up at Nullawarre, will be joined on the track by his son Matthew for his first Classic.
A string of entries were received yesterday, including Warrnambool’s Tim Van Ginneken.