By KEN BRUCE
As many of you know that read my columns and stories that I am pretty much just a Modified guy. The Modifieds are what I was introduced to when my father first started taking me to the races when I was ten years old at Flemington and East Windsor Speedways. Ever since that time the mighty Modifieds have always been my favorite cars to see on the dirt tracks. You can call me a Modified snob if you like, but its how I am and always will be.
Oh yeah, we saw the Sprint Cars every once and awhile when the local tracks would bring in the United Racing Club sprint cars on occasion and they were fun to watch and it was really special when the top modified drivers would get a ride for the night. I will always remember Stan Ploski, Billy Pauch, Jimmy Horton among others that would strap into the winged creations and take on the URC regulars and it would really be something special if they could take the win as well. It just made us feel like our drivers are the greatest and we just whipped your butts in cars we hardly ever drive. It was definitely a sense of accomplishment for the fans in the stands.
Enter the World of Outlaws, the biggest baddest most prestigious group of Sprint Car drivers in the world. I first saw the WOO race when they were on the card during Super Dirt Week, racing on the “Moody Mile”. For some reason I never was able to see them before then even though they had been in the area before. The first time I saw Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Dave Blaney take laps around the famed one mile oval was breathtaking. I had never seen cars go so fast on dirt and it was then that I started to pay more attention to the legendary series. Since then I have had the opportunity to see them race not only at Syracuse but also a few times on the local tracks but it has been a lot of years since I have watched a WOO show. My editor Mike Mallett has been trying for the past couple of years to convert me to the 410 Sprints and I have to say he has made some progress. I will always be a Modified guy but my interest in the big winged, 410 cubic inch Sprint Cars has gone up and I now do follow them much more closely than I ever did before. My wife thanks you Mike!
So when the opportunity arose to go see the WOO’s at New Egypt Speedway this year I couldn’t pass it up. I know they have been there quite a few times before but I never made it a priority to go see them. Boy was that a mistake! Seeing them fly around the small 1/3 mile dirt track without lifting their right foot off the gas was just fascinating. Watching Donny Schatz, Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet, Shane Stewart and winner David Gravel come within inches of bouncing off the front stretch wall as they exited the turn was just amazing. You kept waiting for one of them to bounce off the guardrail but it never happened. I will make it a priority hopefully this season to go see them again at a track specifically built for the 410 sprints like Williams Grove, Lincoln or Port Royal.
I arrived early at New Egypt yesterday not knowing what to expect crowd wise and hoping to get a fairly close parking spot so this old guy doesn’t have to walk too far. After signing in at the track office it was off to the pits to wander around and take in the spectacle that is the WoO’s. My father was a truck driver all of his life so I guess that is the reason that still to this day I love looking at the beautiful haulers the bring these powerful beasts to the track.
With not much going on early when I first got there I had a chance to catch up with some people that I have become friends with over the past couple of years in photographer Jim Young and Mandee Pauch who was handling the public relations for the series for the night.
After the drivers meeting concluded is when business started to pick up in the pit area. Drivers were called to their cars shortly thereafter to strap in and put heat in their motors. Once that process started it was game on and the show began. The track crew at New Egypt Speedway did a great job with their track prep for the night and the drivers were greeted with a smooth tacky surface for warm-ups and time trials.
Schatz set fast time on the night with a 13.442 followed by Tim Schaeffer, David Gravel, Shane Stewart and Jason Sides. After a little bit of track maintenance the show rolled right into the night’s heat races won by Shane Stewart, Tim Shaffer and David Gravel. Jason Johnson would go on to win the Dash with Jason Sides winning the Last Chance race.
David Gravel went on to win the 30-lap main event (see below) as he led from lap one but it was anything but a runaway. Although Gravel did control the pace for most of the race it started to get interesting near the end when the leader was trying to get through lapped traffic and the most feared outlaw driver in the series Donny Schatz started to get closer and closer each lap. Gravel was having trouble getting around the lapped car of Kraig Kinser when Schatz started to get right up on him with only a couple of laps to go. It appeared Schatz was going make his move on the last lap but coming out of turn two Gravel was finally able to launch himself past Kinser and finally give himself some breathing room to the finish and race under the checkered flag to take the big win. Schatz finished second followed by Brad Sweet, Shane Stewart and Jason Johnson.
It was a great show put on the by the World of Outlaws and New Egypt Speedway and hopefully the series will return in 2018. The feature concluded before 9:30 giving the fans a chance to get home at a decent hour or head to the pits to see and get autographs with their favorite drivers. The traveling drivers of the WoO’s all stayed around to meet the fans and sign autographs for a long period of time before departing for their journey to The Dirt Track at Charlotte which is the next stop for the traveling circus. All in all it was a great night at the track and I am very much looking forward to seeing the “The Greatest Show on Dirt” again in the near future.
Gravel Stays Hot and Takes Home the Trophy
To say that David Gravel is off to the best start of his young career as a full-time World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car series driver would be an understatement. The driver out of Watertown, Conn., drove to his eighth win of the young season last night at New Egypt Speedway. It was also Gravel’s third win in the last four races as the traveling group completed their first Northeast swing of the season.
Gravel attributes their fast start to the team they have assembled and all of the hard work they all put into making this work.
“I have never been with a team that works as hard as these guys do and it shows. We’ve been really fast this year so far, but with this series you can never let up. We have to keep pushing and pushing because you can have an off night very easily in this series. This is really hard what we do and when the season is over we can look back and reflect on what we have accomplished, but for now we just have to keep on doing what we are doing.”
After last night’s win, Gravel is only 46 points behind Schatz for the lead in the chase for the championship. I asked David if this could be the year he replaces Schatz at the lead table at the banquet and wins his first championship.
“I don’t know, we’ll see I guess. I have won two races where he finished second both times so you can never gain too much ground on him. He (Schatz) is really good and they have a great team over there. It’s going to be a tough battle all year but we’ll keep fighting throughout the year and in the end we’ll see where we end up. Hopefully it will be us taking home the big check and the trophy but it’s way too early to say right now.”
Last night’s race was led wire to wire by Gravel and although he felt in control throughout the 30 laps he knew he could never let up.
“We qualified well (3rd) and won our heat but we didn’t get the dash draw that we wanted and had to start fourth. I think the move I made getting to second in the dash was what won the race for us allowing us to start on the front row for the feature. It let us get the lead early and kind of control the race. I knew lapped traffic was going to be tough and it was but I just didn’t want to slip up and let anybody by me. I had trouble getting by Kraig Kinser there at the end and I could hear somebody getting close. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t make a mistake. I was finally able to get by Kraig on the last lap to give me a little cushion and then I just could coast through turns three and four and get the checkered.”
Schatz Not Happy About Second
When you are used to winning so much like Donny Schatz is, finishing second is not place the driver from Fargo, ND wants to be in at night’s end. Schatz has been finishing second way too many times for his liking lately and is hoping with some hard work the team can get back to the top in quick fashion.
“We got ourselves a decent finish tonight but by no means were we the fastest car out there tonight. That five (Gravel) car is really fast right now and we just can’t seem to get it right, right now.”
I asked Schatz if the Gravel and his team are the team to beat right now and what they have to do to back to the top.
“I really don’t know what anybody else is doing has to do with what happens to this #15 car. People always make the assumption that what we do is affected by someone else and I have only been able to control this car for the last ten years and I’m only gonna control it for as long as I can. What someone else is doing with their car really makes no difference to us and the way we go about attacking things. So we’ll just stay the course and try to get the feeling that we need. That’s what we are missing right now, we just can’t get the feel that we need. You know times change, shocks change, cars change so we’ll just have to stay on top of the new technology and do a better job with it going forward. My guys are the best in the pit area so I know we’ll get. Maybe I demand too much sometimes and want them to fix it all in one day when it can’t be done but I know they will get it all figured out soon.”
The Shark Racing team Logan Schuhart and Jacob Allen almost didn’t make to the track at all last night due to problems with the team’s transporter. The team put an alert out on social media earlier in the day seeking help to get the team’s cars to the track. The #1S of Schuhart made it in time to tag the back of his heat while the #1A of Allen didn’t make it in time for his heat but was able to start the last chance race. While Allen failed to qualify for the feature, Schuhart did qualify and ended up with a solid 12th place finish in the feature earning him the hard charger award for the night…
It was a tough night for Daryn Pittman and his crew. The KKR crew of the #9 car had a very busy night. The team had to replace the motor after blowing it up before Pittman could even take the green flag in his heat race. Then in the feature the team had to replace the front axle and wing after Pittman was involved in a multi-car accident in turn one early in the race. Pittman was able to take home a 14th place finish at night’s end…
Jason Sides was walking away with his heat race when the car stopped with only one lap to go. At first it was announced it was a motor issue but it was discovered to be a broken yoke in the driveline that was the culprit. Sides made repairs, won the last chance race and was able to finish 18th in the feature even after suffering a rollover in the same tangle with Pittman…
As always, I can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.