Brad Sweet looks to protect his place in World of Outlaws Sprint Car history

Sweet Outlaws Sprint history
World of Outlaws

Over the course of the 46-year history of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, there have only been 10 champions and with one night of the World Finals completed, defending three-time champion Brad Sweet wants to keep it that way. David Gravel looks to become number 11.

The World of Outlaws enter the World Finals with a championship battle for the first time since 2019, when Sweet won his first title by overcoming defending 10-time champion Donny Schatz. Sweet took the championship that year by four points, the smallest margin of victory in Outlaws history. In doing so, he ended Schatz’s five-season winning streak.

Three years later, Sweet sits in a similar position to Schatz – defending his spot at the top of the proverbial hill and trying to secure his legacy. Sweet stands to take the sole position of third most championships if he can maintain his season-long lead through World Finals. He’s currently tied with Sammy Swindell and only behind Schatz and 20-time Champion Steve Kinser.

MORE: Tight championship battle underway at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway

“It’s just something that you don’t really think about while you’re in the moment,” Sweet told NBC Sports before Race 1 of the World Finals. “You’re always setting goals and trying to accomplish the task in front of you.

“Obviously, getting that first championship was a huge hurdle for us and luckily we have a great team and great sponsors. We were able to string this together. Once you win you don’t want to get knocked off the top. This year is no different. Even though we have three we’re taking this very seriously. There’s a lot of intensity in the building and you can tell that everybody’s mind is on trying to win the championship.”

Entering World Finals weekend, Sweet was 16 points ahead of Gravel. With 150 points going to first place, 146 to second, and two more points separating each position below that, Sweet stands on a tightrope. Every night and every position matters.

“Everything is on the table,” Sweet said. “You race all year in order to try and win the championship. For it to come down to the last weekend makes the weekend feel like a much bigger race. Maybe like a Knoxville Nationals or a Kings Royal, [there’s] just a lot more on the line for David and me than the rest of the field.

“We know that we have to be on our game; we’re just taking it one night at a time. Go to the race track each night and try to have the best result that we possibly can. Just like we have all season. Don’t want to overdo it or change too much. There’s definitely more on the line for David and me. I think it should be a pretty good battle to finish the season here.”

This year the World Finals adjusted their weekend structure to give each division three full nights of racing.

Wednesday, November 2nd was the first night of action for the Sprints and Late Models.

Sweet Outlaws Sprint history
Brad Sweet finished ahead of David Gravel in Night 1 of the World Finals. Now he needs to keep the momentum rolling. World of Outlaws

Sweet and Gravel both made the Fast Dash, which secured a starting spot on one of the first four rows. Gravel started two spots ahead of Sweet with the opportunity to leverage that position into an advantage. Two bad starts in the eight-lap dash dropped Gravel to eighth, while Sweet capitalized and advanced from seventh to second. That secured a starting position on the front row.

At each point during the Night 1’s event, neither team got a chance to breathe. One strong performance was not enough of a difference maker. Each race, like each season, and each champion quest brings a new set of challenges and challengers.

“[In] 2019, trying to win my first championship, [there was a] four-point differential with Donny Schatz, the 10-time champion,” Sweet describes the situation, “It’s not easy to win these championships. Every year something new arises, or there’s another challenger, or you have to overcome some adversity. This year is no different, obviously, we’d like to have it clinched or have a bigger lead, but this is the situation in front of us and we’re going to go out and give it our all.”

On Wednesday night, Nov. 2, the points differential grew from 16 to 22 after. Neither driver can or will let up.

To win a championship, Gravel needs to hold his momentum from his end-of-season run and bounce back. A race in which he finished sixth and ran behind Sweet through the feature is the definition of a bad night when things are this close.

Sweet needs to hang on, push past consistency and pull a championship-caliber move.

Now, it all comes down to the Friday and Saturday features. It’s a battle between the hunger for a first championship and the chance to secure a legacy.

Sweet Outlaws Sprint history
Brad Sweet ended Donny Schatz’s streak of five championships in 2019 and now has an eye on his fourth straight. World of Outlaws

“No matter what, you always want the opportunity to win a championship when you come to the last weekend of the year so if you’re in that conversation it’s good,” Sweet said. “It’s a lot of pressure for it to come down to one weekend. Even though we’ve been here before, you still feel it, you still know the moments are bigger than just a standard race.

“David, I’m sure, is hungry. Wants to be a Champion. His team has done a good job all season, especially towards the end here, they were able to capitalize on some of our mistakes and put themselves in a good spot.

“They’re going to go out there and throw everything they have at it. Because five or six races ago it didn’t look like it was possible. The fact that they have a chance is probably gratifying to them. I’m sure that they’re going to give it all they’ve got just like we are.’

With an average finish of 1.8 to Sweet’s fifth, Gravel is a master at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. World Finals has always been a place for him to potentially grab a win and remind fans, competitors, and sponsors where he stands in the series. Sweet has yet to secure a win. Gravel will have to race the track with the pressure of a potential championship for the first time, we don’t know how that will affect performance.

Gravel and the Big Game Motorsports team made up 80 points in just six races heading into World Finals. With three to go in last night’s feature Robbie Price’s crash set it up for Gravel and Sweet to line up nose to tail for a single-wide restart in third and fourth position. A pass would make up two more of his 16 points any position loss would increase the valley between him and Sweet. The three-time champion maintained position while the contender was plagued with another bad restart falling from fourth to sixth.

“He had a good run to end the season,” Sweet said about Gravel, “It all comes down to Charlotte. I think if you go out there and are thinking that you’re going to coast and collect, I don’t think you’re going to win. Racing for wins each night and trying to be up towards the front of the field if you want to win the championship.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”