Photo: Trent Gower | WRG

The Biggest Season in Sprint Car Racing?

By Matt Weaver, Special Contributor

Brad Sweet, the four-time and defending World of Outlaws champion, says this is the biggest season in the history of Sprint Car racing.

There is a tremendous amount of cash being invested into the discipline right now, and the Big Cat is simultaneously making deposits and withdrawals, as one of the emerging marquee promoters who also happens to be the most prolific driver over this past decade.

Sweet is amongst those putting up a lot of money but is equally eager to collect it for himself and the Kasey Kahne Racing organization that has fueled this half-decade of dominance with 85 national touring victories.

He is the co-promoter of Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, California with brother-in-law Kyle Larson and Colby Copeland. An extension of that promotional arm, Sweet and Larson have unveiled a dozen races under the High Limit Sprint Car Series banner with 10 $23,000-to-win races with a pair of $50,000-to-win races.

They also successfully lobbied World Racing Group to expand the number of events full-time World of Outlaw drivers can enter beyond the Greatest Show on Dirt.

Eldora Speedway will sanction a million dollar to win Sprint Car race on July 13.

The High Banks Nationals at Huset’s Speedway unveiled a $250,000 to win main event which forced the Knoxville Nationals to increase the winner’s share to $185,000 but with $15,000-and-up in start money for the main event. The Kings Royal will pay $175,000-to-win on the weekend after the Eldora Million.

Simply put, these are astronomical figures, and the response is everything you would expect it to be.

“This is the biggest season in the history of Sprint Car racing history,” Sweet said. “There is a lot of anticipation, a lot of eyeballs on the sport, a lot of fans and an incredible atmosphere. We are going to race for the most money we have ever raced for and it’s a great time to be a Sprint Car racer.”

Donny Schatz has 10 championships over his quarter century racing at this level and agreed with the sentiment.

“He’s right, it’s a history making year,” Schatz said. “If the sport grows as much this year as much as these races are paying, everyone is going to build a Sprint Car and I’m looking forward to it.”

Tyler Courtney has won two straight All-Star Circuit of Champions championships, the secondary series below World of Outlaws, while also capturing the King’s Royal at Eldora Speedway in 2021. It’s inevitable that Clauson Marshall Racing will enter the World of Outlaws with Courtney, but in the meantime, Sunshine is just happy to be driving a winged 410 at the healthiest the discipline has been in his lifetime.

“Being a Sprint Car driver right now is a blessing,” Courtney said. “To do this full-time at a time where purses are growing is just insane to me. We have a million dollar to win race this year! Late Models had it last year, Sprint Cars had it this year. There are only a handful of races in the world that pay a million dollars to win.

“To have that in Sprint Car racing is awesome. Knoxville up their purse the other day and Kings Royal followed suit. It’s just awesome. This is just the start too of what Sprint Car racing could become over the next decade.”

A lot of that momentum can certainly be ascribed to two healthy streaming partners in the World Racing Group owned DirtVision that airs all World of Outlaw events and FloRacing which has become a promotional partner in the space just as much as a broadcaster.

When Kyle Larson got suspended for using a racial slur in 2020, his resulting dirt track world tour raised the awareness of both Sprint Cars and Dirt Late Models, an upward trajectory that has led to this moment.

Brian Brown, the nephew of 2001 Outlaws champion and 11-time Knoxville Raceway track champion Danny Lasoski, has spent his entire life in the discipline. The 45-year-old has seen a lot of ‘peaks and valleys’ in Sprint Car racing and agreed that it’s closer to a peak than a valley — albeit wanting to see more.

“We are racing for more money than we ever have,” Brown said. “Then Knoxville took a big step in the right direction with where we need to go as a sport. Now, as a driver, I see a million dollar to win race and it doesn’t matter what second pays.

“As an owner, I feel like, for the longevity of the sport, once you figure out what a race pays to win, it’s got to be 10 percent of that to start.”

For the record, the winner is set to get 77 percent of the overall $1.4 million purse for the Eldora Sprint Car Million, with second place tentatively set to pay $100,000 and third place $25,000.

“If $50,000-to-win, $5,000-to-start,” Brown continued. “$185,000-to-win the Nationals and now $15,000-to-start. I feel like there is always going to be just one winner, but we have to keep all the teams going up and down the road. It doesn’t get any easier or cheaper every year.

“So, for us to keep growing, the win money is there, I feel like we need to get that start money up so we can take care of everyone. Overall, I love where we are as a sport, and I’m not complaining and when you ask about the peaks and valleys, we’re close to the peak and just need to massage it a tiny bit.”

Meanwhile, the World of Outlaws season begins on Thursday at Volusia Speedway Park with a robust list of full-time drivers signed to its platinum agreement – an exclusivity contract that rewards those teams with increased contingency dollars and tow money from the broadcast revenue.

Those drivers:

  • Brad Sweet, Kasey Kahne Racing
  • Kasey Kahne, Kasey Kahne Racing
  • Carson Macedo, Jason Johnson Racing
  • Donny Schatz, Tony Stewart Racing
  • David Gravel, Big Game Motorsports
  • Sheldon Haudenschild, Stenhouse Jr Marshall Racing
  • Brock Zearfoss, Brock Zearfoss Racing
  • Giovanni Scelzi, KCP Racing
  • Logan Schuchart, Shark Racing
  • Logan Allen, Shark Racing
  • James McFadden, Roth Enterprises
  • Noah Gass, Ran-No-Gass Racing
  • Spencer Bayston, CJB Motorsports

Note, that new for this season is a wrinkle in the platinum agreement that allows teams to drop off the tour and free to pursue a true outlaw schedule should they fall out of the championship hunt and want to pursue more High Limit, All Stars or regional events.

With that said, World Racing Group is boasting over $1.7 million available in 2023 between the points fund and bonus programs. The championship pays $200,000 out of the million-dollar points fund.

As for the exclusivity element, full-time World of Outlaws drivers and teams will be allowed to race four non-WoO nights without restrictions as long as they are outside of 48 hours or a 100-mile radius on either side of a scheduled event.

There is still some debate about whether or not the Million should count towards that total and that answer could change within a month.

If a driver or team runs five to eight non-WoO nights, they will lose their eligibility for the monthly bonus program but can still contend for the championship and receive points fund money at the end of the season.  If a driver or team runs nine or more non-WoO races, they will lose all benefits, including the points fund and monthly bonuses.

With four straight championships, and a championship won purely on consistency last year, Sweet is all about going to Victory Lane this year.

“The championships are nice,” Sweet said, “but I hate how you have to race for one on the Outlaws tour. It changes your mentality for how aggressive you can be. I don’t feel like I have a lot to prove in the championship category and we’re focused on winning races this year.”

Maybe that means Sweet cruises to a fifth straight championship or maybe it means that the aggression behind the wheel and in the pit area opens the door for Carson Macedo, Sheldon Haudenschild or Logan Schuchart.

The latter led the standings for much of the pandemic shortened 2020 season before losing out to Sweet by World Finals and earning a championship for Shark Racing is his number one priority at this stage, a contrast to where Sweet is.

“There are a few non-Outlaw races we would like to run, and if $50,000-to-win is out there, we’ll definitely explore it,” Schuchart said. “But we really want to win a championship and I feel like, every year since 2020 or so, we’ve been capable of doing it and it’s just finding that consistency.”

David Gravel finished second to Sweet in the championship each of the past two years, and having won the Knoxville Nationals, the driver of the Big Game Motorsports No. 2 wants to add the championship to his resume too.

Similar to what Sweet said about trading the championship for wins, Gravel wanted the opposite in 2017 when he won 18 times but lacked the consistency to topple Schatz in the standings.

“I look back at the CJB (Motorsports) days when I won 18 races and still ran third in points,” Gravel said. “It’s great to win those 18 races, but what happened in those all those other nights that didn’t go well? I think as you mature you get smarter. You’ve kind of been there, done that and then you just adapt, and you learn how to adapt better the more you race.”

That means accepting podiums and top-5s instead of pushing that car past its limit and into the wall or another competitor.

“I feel like I’ve just grown to learn how to run where I’m supposed to that night,” Gravel said. “Not pushing hard and not forcing things when it’s not there. Not crashing when it’s not worth it.

“If I’m a fifth-place car, I’m going to run fifth that night. Maybe I could’ve took a big chance to run fourth. But I know I could live another day and go for it the next night. I feel like I’ve just been learning to be consistent.”

It’s a similar dynamic for Carson Macedo coming off two straight third-place championship finishes with Jason Johnson Racing.

“I’ll say this: If I didn’t enter a season thinking we could win the championship, I would need to go do something else,” Macedo said.

And like his peers, he’s just ecstatic to be here in what is being presented as the most exciting year in Sprint Car racing yet.

“I feel like we deserve this recognition,” Macedo said. “We have this incredible racing product, teams are stepping up and purses are growing. It’s a good time to be a Sprint Car driver and hopefully we can capitalize on these opportunities.

“It would mean a lot for me to capitalize on those opportunities, win a lot of these big races and try to get that championship, too.”

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