By MIKE MALLETT
It’s been a series of high’s and low’s for Watertown, Conn., driver David Gravel. Gravel has been the hottest driver on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series not named Donny Schatz. On Saturday night, Gravel scored his 16th win of the 2017 season on the tour as he captured his second career Williams Grove Speedway National Open.
The $50,000 win was his biggest of the season. Although it’s been a strong summer for the CJB Motorsports Team it didn’t start out well with multiple blown motors at the DIRTcar Nationals in Florida. After the swing through the Sunshine State things seemed to get better as they were strong night in and night with the Outlaws.
At the beginning of August Gravel was the man to beat at the Knoxville Nationals. The talk circulated that he was going to be the 2017 “Schatz Killer” after he had a perfect qualifying night. He started the 50-lap A-Main strong only to see his hopes go by the wayside with a blown motor. The team picked themselves up after that punch and kept on going. That determination resulted in a National Open win.
“Winning nine races was great last year, but you can come into the next season, not change a damn thing and struggle,” commented Gravel about his 2017. “Tires change over time, motors get rebuilt during the off-season, and cars can be a little bit different even though they are the same. You never know, there is always small, little things that are gremlins that you can’t iron out. We started off the year blowing up four motors in two days. We started the first race of the season finishing 25th just starting and parking. We didn’t start off ideal, but we kept digging. Ever since then we’ve been really, really good.”
At the start of Saturday’s main Gravel went to the green flanked by multi-time winner Schatz alongside with Schatz taking the early advantage. As Grave chased he moved around the track eventually found a lane around the top of turns three and four which propelled him by Schatz for the lead.
“I gave up the lead on start,” he said. “The outside was an advantage on the start. I searched around. I tried lower, I tried middle, I tried high and found some momentum on the top. I was really gaining on Donny (Schatz) on the top and I was able to get a run before he heard me and could block. I kind of controlled the race from there.”
He had control until a mid-race restart saw Australian and Friday night winner, James McFadden shoot by him. The pair battled for two laps before Gravel was able to snag the lead back from him.
“The past two night’s it felt like it rubbered up down low,” mentioned Gravel. “I just think it gets real clean and abrasive and on the restarts it takes three, four laps for the tires to heat back up then you have grip again. I figured I’d keep my momentum up, slide across and keep my momentum on the outside, but that was obviously the wrong move to do. I let James get by me. I was trying extremely hard to get back by him. Luckily I had three and four figured out around the top to get back by him before it got really clean and acted like it rubbered down there. I was just happy I was able to do that.”
With less than five laps to go Gravel began to gain on the back of the field forcing him to start to make decisions as to what he was going to do with the slower cars. He slowed his pace a bit which allowed Schatz to close. The pair just entered heavier traffic when Brian Brown detonated a right rear tire to bring a yellow. Gravel controlled from the restart to the end but not without concern for what was left of his right rear tire.
“Honestly I wasn’t too concerned because I was going as slow as I could to get the traffic to keep a little bit of distance,” cited Gravel. “I caught them anyways. I was trying to hit my marks then maybe the last lap push it a little bit harder to not let him by. I know me letting off early he could probably get to my right rear going outside me. I knew if I got the drive off I’d be okay. I was being really cautious. I didn’t want to wear the tires out. There are cords showing on this thing. We were lucky to make it.”
Sometimes luck is a factor and Saturday night Gravel had a fast car and the right amount of luck to end up a National Open winner again.