Joey Saldana sat down with us at World Finals this year to discuss the 5 toughest drivers he competes against.
Donny Schatz is the toughest guy I race by far. His track record speaks for itself. He doesn’t get as much credit as Steve Kinser but I think over time he’s going to. Donny races clean and he wins really without ruffling any feathers. You never hear anybody complaining that Donny Schatz ran over them. He races very methodically and has really stepped up to become the Michael Jordan of our sport. You have to give credit where credit is due and that’s why I have Donny at number one on my list.
I’ve said this before to Donny Schatz and I think he probably got pissed off at me for saying it but to me when all of us started racing we started as trophy racers. We did this because we love the sport and we just wanted to win that trophy. Donny is fortunate in that he comes from money, he flies around to all of these races in a jet and there’re not many people that can do that. Though he has that money, he still has the drive.
Donny could sit at home all day and count his money but he has such a passion for this sport and he wants to be successful. I think he’s the racer that all of us wanted to be as kids. He’s still a trophy racer which is something a lot of us have lost. I know myself, when you get to The World of Outlaws level it becomes a money situation and you have to provide for your family. You know you have to perform or you’re not going to have a job. Donny Schatz doesn’t have those struggles in life. Donny’s struggle is to be a better racer than he was the last race. We have to worry about car payments and mortgages and Donny doesn’t have that.
Donny doesn’t do this because he has to, he does it because he loves it and that’s his strength. He has a drive to win, he hasn’t lost it and he’s still that trophy racer that all of us kids wanted to be.
I think Daryn Pittman is a clean racer and he’s done a tremendous job over at KKR. He’s a guy that is going to be a solid top 5 runner every night and you know he’s someone you’re going to have to deal with to win these Outlaw races.
Daryn was a fixture with The World of Outlaws for many years and he was successful but he wasn’t as successful as he is now. He lost his Outlaw ride and had to work to get back out here. I think going to PA gave him a little more drive and ambition to be even better. He’s gotten better and better and better and it’s showing. His trials and tribulations throughout his racing career have helped him improve so much as a driver.
Daryn has also gotten a little older and a little more wise and that has also contributed to him getting better and better.
People may think I’m a little crazy here but I really believe that Greg Hodnett is number three on my list. I know this won’t be a popular thing to say to PA Posse fans because they claim him as a PA Posse member but I claim him as a World of Outlaws driver. I do so because when I started racing Greg Hodnett was a fixture with The World of Outlaws. I think he perfected his talent with The World of Outlaws and now he’s gone to Pennsylvania, gotten with good teams and shown that he is very much a World of Outlaws calibre driver. Greg is every bit as tough as Donny Schatz when you get him on his home turf.
I’m not trying to put PA down but honestly, Greg Hodnett should be on The World of Outlaws tour. His life has obviously changed and he’s with a team that’s able to give him the opportunity and the equipment to show how good he is but there’s no doubt he should be on the tour.
The next two drivers on my list could easily flip flop and I feel like could go either way but at number four I’m going with…
I think Lance Dewease deserves as much credit as he can get. He’s perfected his craft for many years and he has won over 300 races. I’m 43 years old and people start saying that you’re getting old or you are getting washed up. A few years ago everyone was saying Lance Dewease was done and that he wasn’t the same Lance Dewease he used to be. I think teaming up with Donnie Kreitz and Davey Brown has shown that Lance Dewease never lost anything. He still has his drive to win, he still has his passion to win and it’s led him to win over 300 races. I know I should maybe mention someone like Terry McCarl who also has 300 wins but Lance stands out to me.
If you don’t have Lance in your top 5 I don’t know what races you’ve been watching because he’s been winning races since I was a kid. To be as successful as he is and then to be written off, and come back as he has, makes him deserving to be on anybody’s list.
My last driver in my top 5 is Rico Abreu. Rico has definitely added a spark to racing, in all forms, not just sprint cars. He’s a very, very talented person. I think his stature tricks people into thinking he can’t perform at this level but in reality, he’s way past this level. He’s as good as anybody. He can beat anybody on any given night.
Rico just has such a natural ability and such a drive to succeed. He’s a win it or wear it type of guy. He’s kind of in that Donny Schatz-mold of being a guy who doesn’t need to race but he loves to and as a result ends up being a trophy racer. He has that Jac Haudenschild driving style. He’s still a young guy and he’s accomplished a lot in a quick period of time. Whether Rico chooses sprint cars or trucks or NASCAR, the sky’s the limit for him.
One thing you have to do is give credit to all of the teams that these guys drive for. From TSR to KKR, from Heffner to Kreitz and to Paul Silva. All of these teams provide really, really good equipment that allows these drivers to showcase their ability and be successful. At the same time though, you still need to drive that equipment that’s provided and these guys do it so well that they all deserve to be in my top five.
All 5 of these drivers have such a strong drive and will to win. On any given night if you’re up against them you know you’re going to have to give it your all if you want any chance to succeed against them.
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.