Flaming towers burst into the air around the prestigious wooden throne. It was a signal. A celebration. The throne had a new king.
King Brad Sweet.
The Grass Valley, Calif.-native won his second Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway Saturday night. And this time it paid an unprecedented $175,000 to win.
Since the inception of the prestigious event in 1984, it has always paid $50,000 – which was still one of the largest paying purses for Sprint Car racing in the country last year. But for the 36th year of the race, track owner Tony Stewart raised it to be the largest.
“Sprint car racers make money based off how they finish,” Sweet said. “When you have a race that pays $175,000 to win and basically $20,000 for second, it’s kind of all or nothing coming in here. I’m a fan of it. It’s nerve-racking. It gets the fans’ attention. It’s what we need in this sport.
“It’s intense all night long. All day. Under the red. Basically, if you don’t win the race it’s a missed opportunity. You only get so many of these opportunities. So, I’m just happy and want to cherish the moment.”
Claiming his second Kings Royal victory – 11th World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victory of the year and 45th Series win over all – required Sweet to battle all night long. Battle the competition and battle through the Kings Royal’s 2019 format.
He started the long night qualifying 18th, which placed him in the fourth starting position for his Drydene Heat race. With a daring slide job on the first lap to go from fourth to the lead, Sweet cruised to the Heat win.
With his Heat race being the first one of the night, under the event’s format, he was placed sixth in the line up for the 40-lap Feature.
On the pole was three-time Kings Royal winner Sammy Swindell, in his son Kevin Swindell’s No. 39 car. To his outside was 10-time Series champion and five-time Kings Royal winner Donny Schatz – who had also won two of the last three races at Eldora during the week; Sweet won the other race.
Once the final sparks of fireworks fell into the dark of the night and the field of 24-cars filed back in line two-by-two, the anxiety and anticipation of the night was about to fade away with the drop of the green flag.
Leading the charge off turn four, Swindell charged to the high side on the start, while Schatz dove underneath him. Swindell had the better run on the top, though, and powered to the lead off turn two.
Behind them, Sweet split Cory Eliason and Aaron Reutzel, charging between them down the front stretch and launched to fourth-place in the first corner.
Swindell maintained his lead over Schatz for the next three laps, before the first caution of the night flew for Tom Harris coming to a stop on the track. When the race went back green Sweet threw another massive slide job into turn one, going from fourth to the lead. However, another caution came out before the lap was complete – placing cars back in their starting order before the restart.
The field lined up single file and Swindell pulled away from Schatz on the start, putting about a three-car length distance between them.
While Swindell led, Schuchart was forging a strong run. By Lap eight, the Drydene No. 1s car had already made its way from 12th to fourth and then bolted by Sweet for third. Two laps later he torpedoed his car into turn three, diving past Schatz and Swindell by the exit of turn four.
After not transferring into the Kings Royal last year, Schuchart was now leading and running away with the event this year.
Sweet fought his way past Schatz for second-place by Lap 15, but couldn’t match Schuchart’s pace. By Lap 25, Schuchart had a 2.5 second lead over Sweet and was poised to increase it riding the cushion around the track.
However, with the flash of yellow lights around the speedway, “The Big Cat” Sweet was brought to the bumper of the Shark Racing car.
Due to the long nature of the race, an open red was called, giving crews the chance to add fuel to their car, insuring it could make it to the end of the 40-lap race around the half-mile track.
On the restart, with 15 laps to go, Sweet continued to make a case for claiming the title of “restart king.” He throttled passed the outside of Schuchart before the flag stand and latched on to the cushion for momentum to pull away.
“Honestly, to be dead honest, I didn’t want to see the red,” Sweet said. “I felt like I just found the top in (turns) three and four and Logan hadn’t known about it. I think I found some speed there I was going to be able to make some moves with. We didn’t touch the race car, we put five gallons of fuel in it. I told my guys I was just going to put it to the fence and go for it.”
Schuchart said restarts had been an issue for him all week long. His car struggled to take off from the start.
“That’s part of the game,” Schuchart said. “We didn’t get the job done in that part of the race.”
Sweet used the high line during Wednesday’s Jokers Wild event to out duel Schatz for the win and it was working for him again Saturday night. Schuchart couldn’t build enough of a run again to make a charge at the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 car.
With about eight laps to go, a new winged-warrior joined the battle. From his 16th starting position, Brent Marks drove by Schatz for third-place like he founded 10 extra horsepower on the track. Schuchart was next. With three laps to go, the two Pennsylvania-natives waged war for second-place. Marks pulled a slide job on Schuchart in turn one and had the position exiting turn two, but Schuchart had the better run down the backstretch and reclaimed second. Marks wouldn’t let Schuchart out of his sight, staying within striking distance lap after lap. However, the laps ran out.
Sweet left the Pennsylvanians to battle for second, while he charged to the Kings Royal victory and the big $175,000 check.
“You have to pinch me. It feels surreal,” Sweet said.
Schuchart crossed the line second with Marks two-tenths of a second behind him in third.
“Hell, we started twelfth and led the Kings Royal, that’s something to be proud about,” Schuchart said. “To be leading this race with all of the people in this pit supporting me, it’s a great feeling. I didn’t make the show last year. We went from not making the show to out here in the top-five every single night.”
While Marks ran out of time to try and make a run at Sweet, he left with confidence in his strong run and the hard charger award.
“This car was badass tonight,” Marks said. “That was a fun race. The track was perfect tonight. You could get up against that wall and just hold the throttle down and carry the momentum. I was trying like hell to get to second.”
When Sweet won the first big paying race of the year, the $41,000-to-win Jackson Nationals, he was jubilant. After winning the $175,000 at Eldora Speedway, jubilant would only be strong enough to describe his smile. After climbing out of his car, Sweet leaped about a foot in the air onto the Victory Lane stage with his arm held high. He couldn’t inhale air fast enough to continue his joyous yelling spree.
With the cloak on his back and the crown placed on his head, he was king. The wooden throne was his – for a few minutes. The $175,000 check, though, is going home with him.
As always, you can catch all World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series action on DIRTVision.com.