The only reason Donny Schatz left Minot was to pursue his dream of racing sprint cars.
The dream-turned-reality brings the four-time points champion home, where he'll participate in tonight's World of Outlaws tour event at Nodak Speedway, his first time back at the track since third- and seventh-place finishes in a two-day event in 2010.
Schatz, 35, is on a serious roll, having won at the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals on August 11 and at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., on Tuesday. He took second in Grand Forks on Friday.
Donny Schatz celebrates after a season-opening win in February at Volusia Speedway Park in Volusia, Fla.
Tonight's race in a familiar setting may prove pivotal in his chase for a fifth title in seven seasons.
"This is one of the biggest races of the year for me," he said.
Schatz won Outlaws points championships every year from 2006-09. But each of the previous two years he finished in second behind Jason Meyers.
Meyers retired as a full-time driver, but Schatz sits in second place again this year, 26 points behind Craig Dollansky with 24 races remaining.
"After winning a championship you expect to be at that level and competing for more race wins," Schatz said. "We're definitely putting up a good fight, but we still need to be better."
Schatz has finished in victory lane six times this year. In 51 starts, he's compiled 21 top-five finishes and 40 top 10s.
He's also earned the respect of other drivers for his abilities to race fairly and avoid taking out his opponents. He's failed to finish just one time in 2012.
"He's extremely clean," Minot driver Todd Mickelson said. "I haven't seen him bump or push on anybody that (wasn't) fair."
Schatz resides in Fargo, where he moved to be 300 miles closer to most Outlaws races. There, he is the president of Fastlane Car Wash & Coffee Express when he isn't racing.
But when he is driving, he's masterful. A string of good finishes has diminished the gap between him and Dollansky. Schatz has finished in the top five at each of the last six Outlaws stops, winning three races in that span after failing to win in his prior 33 races.
"He's on a big roll. ... He's looking like the car to beat when he shows up to the race track," said Kraig Kinser, a former teammate of Schatz with Tony Stewart Racing in 2008 and 2009.
IMCA Stock Car races will also run tonight. Nathan Burke has a 13-point lead over fellow Minot driver Kelly Henderson.