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TDN Driver of the Year

The votes have been tallied, and our DoY is ready to be named. This will probably mark the closest process in any one year of this type of thing in our history. Never before has there been this many truly deserving drivers in one season without throwing a weak sister in the mix just to say that all three divisions are represented. These three drivers more than earned the right to be in the discussion. We do our best at TDN with this, to try and find ways to develop reasoning for and against any finalist. In the end, the difference between Jonathan Davenport’s and Donny Schatz’s 2015’s in terms of dominance is probably less than 1 %. And it’s truly a shame that one or the other was not voted in. 

We could have just thrown it all in and awarded “co drivers of the year” but it would have been an easy way out.  What we ask, is that you read the responses below, the rationale that was used to try to highlight one driver over another. There was a lot going on in each of our contributor’s selections and they were very well thought out with great points! Please be sure to read them.  This was truly not a division vs division decision. We have no one favorite division here, nor does get one get significantly more time on the page. We’re a DIRT Network, and pay attention to DIRT racing. We made an attempt  

So with that being said, we’d like to announce that this year’s Driver of the Year as voted by the staff at TDN…is Mr. Donny Schatz!

And now, here is the award. It is a major award as described in the motion picture “A Christmas Story” and should Mr. Schatz contact us with his information, we’ll send it out directly! Honestly, who wouldn’t want one of these! 

And when the dust settled on the 2015 season, there were three. And they all dominated a division in a way they haven’t been dominated in quite some time. Donny Schatz, Jonathan Davenport and Stewart Friesen deserve consideration in our annual driver of the year designation, and then some. So this year, we’re adding a new twist. We’re going to put out the stats, and let our own contributors submit who they think should win our driver of the year award. 

So gentlemen and lady on the board of TDN..I put the question to you. Who had the best year in relative terms to the division they compete in?

The Finalists

Pat Miller Photo

Donny Schatz

He’s going to be awfully tough to beat here, make no mistake, this was an assualt on the top series of sprint car racing the likes of which haven’t been seen since Steve Kinser 20-30 years ago. In 2015, Schatz started in 75 World of Outlaw races, garnering 31 wins and yet another victory in the Knoxville Nationals. The only thing missing from the resume, is perhaps another crown jewel or two. But, there’s a bit less of them in sprint world than in late model land too. Other than the win total, his consistency will be hard to beat, as he basically suffered no dnf’s. To get that amount of wins, without putting the car at risk due to over aggressiveness is astounding! But then again, it’s Schatz, what do you expect. But if you focus on total wins, just remember he is now only one of two drivers to ever win over 30 World of Outlaw features in a season. 

Vital Stats:

  • Won 41% of races with World of Outlaws
  • Finished in the top 10- 93% of the time (70 of 75 events)
  • Finished with $798,000 in total earnings in 2015.

Jonathan Davenport

As far as historical documentation goes, things can be touch and go. But almost every knowledgeable late model observer has come to one conclusion in 2015.  That  Jonathan Davenport had the most dominant late model season in history as we know it. He took home 23 checkered flags and a Lucas Oil Series championship against probably the best touring collection of drivers which included Jimmy Owens and Scott Bloomquist. But even more impressive was his crown jewel record. That’s right, we said record. As in a stick and ball team record. Davenport went 8 wins and 5 losses for a ridiculous winning percentage. If they’re lucky, a dominant driver may win two or three  100 lap events paying $20,000 or more in year. Davenport not only went well beyond that, his World 100 win was every bit of a challenge and was as convincing as Schatz’s.  Mr. Schatz may have an edge in consistency here, but Mr. Davenport has an undeniable edge here in being at his best, when the big money is on the line, and also when there’s an amazing top echelon driver turnout and it speaks volumes!

Vital Stats

  • Won 46% of 50 races entered. (23 of 50)
  • Won 62% of all Crown Jewel races entered (100 laps/$20,000 or more to win)
  • Nearly $700,000 in winnings in 2015

Stewart Friesen

Okay, for this finalist, you have to keep in mind two things. He spends his Friday and Saturday nights at a weekly show, as all of northeast modified racing bases itself one way or another off of a home track system. And secondly, he put the car on the track 92 times in 2015! That said, Friesen was like Davenport, money in the bank when the big money was on the line! And with as many races as he ran, the stats will look a little bit skewed. But make no mistake, Friesen deserves consideration! He won not only the 200 lap portion of Super Dirt Week, the last one on the Moody Mile, but also Mr Dirt Track USA in Brett Hearn’s backyard so to speak. Sure there were some breaks here and there, but also some moments when he didn’t have luck and he still won an astounding 27 races, and was lights out in the specials. His driving style can be high risk/high reward, so he’s sometimes prone to a dnf, but when the big money is on the line, it makes up for it in a big way. Oh, and his sprint car performances both 410 and 360 should be taken into account here. 

Vital Stats

  • Won 28 % of 42 special event races including SDS, STSS and RoC seres races
  • Also won a World of Outlaw Sprint race in 2015
  • Collected 5 ESS sprint tour wins in 2015
  • Led all modified drivers in winnings with point fund money from hometracks included.
  • Won the last Syracuse 200 at the Moody Mile

And now, let us deliberate! 


Daylon– I am voting for Stewart Friesen. It’s a tough call to pick someone that didn’t tour nationally, but before you look off my vote hear me out. The big block modifieds are nothing like the sprint cars or late models. From suspension, to weight, to driving style, they really are unique. The beasts from the northeast really are exactly that, beasts. It takes a lot to throw the car in sideways, and Stewart Friesen is one of the best at it. This takes me back to Saturday of Super Dirt Week. Stewie jumped into a USAC Silver Crown car for the Salt City 78 on the mile. He finished 5th in unfamiliar equipment in a car that he had only run 4 or 5 laps of practice with at the mile. After this race, he jumped into his small block for the Salute to the Troops 150, which ended up being 152 miles. He finished 7th.  Stewart Friesen was the points leader of the Short Track Super Series, but we didn’t believe he was going to be able to maintain the lead if he didn’t show to I-88 after running all day in Syracuse. Fourty-five minutes after my father and I had left Syracuse is when the 150 got over.

 I said there was no way Stewie could make it to Afton, and even if he could, that’s a lot of racing to do in one day. Sure enough, for the last modifed consolation, here comes Stewart Friesen rolling onto the track in his 44 small block. Just a start and park in the consi, because he had a provisional. Feature time came, and he rolled out again, and started in the back. I figured a start and park, as thats all he needed to clinch. Boy was I wrong. He moseyed  around in the back for 25-30 laps, then turned on the after burners. He drove his way up and was in contention for the win, but ended up falling to 6th. He raced 280+ laps in one day counting for over 250 miles, plus the trip from Syracuse to Afton. The man is feared every time he shows up to the track, as he was always a threat to win. Everyone wants to be faster and better than him. Modified competition is so much closer than sprint car and late model competition is in my opinion. And even when Stew got the chance to get on the track with the World of Outlaws, he bested them in Canada. He beat Donny Schatz at his own game. If I could afford to put one driver into a sprint car for a WoO tour, it would be Mr. Freeze himself. Stewart won the few crown jewel races that the northeast has. The Jumpin’ Jack Johnson Tribute race, the Syracuse 200, the Mr. Dirtcar USA race at Lebanon Valley, the Alex Friesen Summer Nationals at Ransomville, and he won a race at Volusia.

He is the definition of clutch, coming up big when there are big rewards. Donny Schatz and Jonathan Davenport are two fantastic race car drivers, and I am not taking anything away from their talents, but, in my opinion, if they were to flip flop rides for the year, neither Davenport nor Schatz could have done what Stewart did this year in the modifed ranks. I also believe that given the opportunity, Stewart Frisen could put up really good numbers in the 410 and LM ranks. Not necessarily as big of numbers as the other two, but solid enough numbers to be considered a superstar in the respective class. I would thoroughly enjoy watching the swap if it ever could occur.

Kyle – My vote goes to Donny Schatz.  It’s a very hard choice between the three because you can make a legitimate argument for all three of them.  Stewart Friesen was by far the best Modified driver this season, and Jonathan Davenport had possibly the greatest season a Late Model driver has ever had, but I am going with Schatz because unlike Davenport, he was dominant from start to finish.  From the point the season started until the end of the year you knew that the man to beat in the pit area at any sprint car race he was at was Donny Schatz.  It also didn’t hurt that he came dangerously close to winning a World of Outlaws Late Model Series event at River Cities this season as well.  Schatz recorded top 10 finishes in 93% of the World of Outlaws races this season.  He also was dominant leading all 50 laps in the Knoxville Nationals this season.  Because of his utter dominance every time he unloaded this season I have to go with Schatz for Driver of the Year.

Dobie – I spent way too much time trying to find something wrong with Donny Schatz season. He was near flawless and as consistent a dirt racing team that has ever raced. But when a driver like Jonathan Davenport turns the sport on its ear with performance after performance at the largest races in the country, it earns my vote. Davenport went head to head on a weekly basis with Scott Blomquist, Jimmy Owens, Don O’neal and the rest of the Lucas Oil dirt series stars. Beating the quality of competition he did from start to finish, winning a Lucas championship, and making Longhorn Chassis a major player in the chassis building game is an amazing accomplishment. Congrats to all three drivers that were nominated, this season is one for the ages and may never be duplicated again. Bring on 2016!

Josh – I gotta go with Davenport. I’m not taking anything away from Schatz or Friesen, as both had fantastic seasons for sure. Schatz was as dominant as he’s ever been, but he’s been the gold standard for winged 410 racing in the country for at least the last five years, probably more. He’s also a pretty decent late model driver in limited starts. Friesen had a fantastic year himself, and proved he’s one to watch behind the wheel of a sprint car, but he wasn’t head and shoulders above his competition nearly as much as Schatz or Davenport. I mean, he didn’t even win the point championship on his division’s biggest tour, Matt Sheppard did (and Matt won damn near as many races as Stew over the course of the year).

What Davenport did was amazing, though. He was known as a good regional driver who could possibly make it on a national tour. When he tried the first time, a few years back with CBR, it was an epic failure. People even soured on him as a driver some (including me), claiming his “potential” was all based on one really good weekend at VMS five years ago.

Then he hooked up with the Rumleys, who redesigned the Longhorn chassis to make it more forgiving and adjustable. The results since then have been nothing short of mind boggling. He became the biggest threat at every race he showed up to. He followed through on that threat most of the time. He got even tougher when the competition got deeper. It had the rest of dirt late model racing scrambling to close the gap. I know, I know, Kevin Rumley gets a ton of the credit there too, but somebody still has to drive the car, and Superman did that at a level nobody had ever dreamed of.

Aaron – Donny Schatz is my vote for Driver of the Year. While I know this may seem like an obvious or boring choice, his dominance in 2015 is impossible to ignore. 

Jonathan Davenport had arguably one of the best Dirt Late Model seasons in history and his winning percentage in the big money “crown jewel” events was nothing short of impressive. However, I think Donny’s season, including his continued domination of the most prestigious Winged Sprint Car race in the world, is more impressive!

I also want to acknowledge Stewart Friesen’s success this year, as it’s very impressive that he started nearly 100 features! Admittedly, my knowledge of big block Modified racing is minimal, being that I’m from the Southwest part of the country. However, I think Donny’s 2015 résumé, competing against some of the world’s best Winged Sprint Car drivers every week, is more impressive!

While we may disagree about which driver is deserving of the 2015 Driver of the Year title, one thing we can agree on, is that all 3 drivers had outstanding seasons. Seasons which likely won’t be repeated any time soon!

Tyler – I have to go with Schatz on this one. All three had incredible years, but the things Schatz does on a consistent basis is amazing. I’ll factor in the types of cars to my decision. Plain and simple, it’s just harder to pass in a sprint car, and that’s part of the reason we see more follow-the-leader racing than the other divisions. Also, sprint races are generally much shorter. Only a couple of 50-lap races through the course of the year, where the majority of national touring series late model races are a minimum of 50 laps.

When you take into account the nature of the cars and the length of the races, Schatz’s constant charges through the field become that much more impressive. Want me to charge from 20th to 1st at Eldora in 100 laps with cautions? Do-able. How about 17th to 2nd on a quarter-mile bullring in 35 laps? That’s when you feel the pressure.

With that being said, we all know that not a single driver in the world would turn away any of the seasons that Schatz, Davenport, and Friesen accomplished this year.

Gary– This was so hard it wasn’t funny and I flip flopped on a daily basis for a week. I love all three divisions, and gravitate a little more towards modifieds and late models. So the heart said Jonathan Davenport all the way, score one for the late model guys! How can I deny that?  Then my brain kicked in. And at the end of the day, Schatz’s consistency, and more to the point, dominant consistency throughout a greater number of races tips the scales just a little bit to one side, where Davenport was stacked on the same scales with big money wins. It was not much of anything Davenport didn’t do, it was that Schatz just tipped the scales 1/16th of an inch on his side. Had Schatz not won at Knoxville, or had he won less races than he did, or had been just a little more inconsistent, my vote would have gone to Davenport without dispute. 



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