Brad Sweet is in the midst of one of the greatest stretches in Sprint Car history.
He has won nine NOS Energy Drink World of Outlaws races in the past month and a half. He’s in position to be the first driver to upset Donny Schatz in the points standings in five years.
And, he just won the race with the biggest winner’s purse in the history of the sport.
The Summer of the Big Cat and how it came about
It’s been a great 2019 season for the Grass Valley, California native earning a series-leading 11 wins.
Although, it didn’t start like that.
“At the beginning of the season, it was hard to get going,” Sweet said. “We caught a lot of rain and a lot of wet race tracks, you know, things that were out of our control a little bit.”
Nine of the first 25 races of the World of Outlaws season were cancelled due to the rain. That’s over one-third of the feature events in the first four months of the year.
At this time, the No. 49 NAPA Auto Parts team had only been to victory lane twice all season.
Since then, the weather has gotten hotter, the tracks have gotten slicker, and only a pair of races have been cancelled.
That’s exactly what Sweet and his team wanted.
“It’s not that we didn’t have a decent start to the season, we just didn’t click off the wins until we really got racing here,” Sweet said. “The beginning of the season is just a whole different animal compared to once we get to the summer.”
His reasoning comes down to unpredictability.
When the series is racing on a more consistent basis and the track conditions are more consistent as well as predictable, it makes it easier to plan for a race.
“You can control a lot more with the race car and how things play out [at this part of the year],” Sweet said. “In the spring there’s just a little more hammer-down [type of racing] and sometimes track position plays more of a factor.”
The rise in the amount of predictability with the weather translates to momentum.
Since June 8 when Sweet won at Granite City, the ‘Big Cat,’ as he is commonly referred to in the sport, has rattled off nine wins in 16 races.
“Typically on those types of surfaces, when you get your car working right, you can kind of rattle off the wins when the weather is more predictable,” Sweet said. “Once we kind of got into the summer months here, we’ve been able to capitalize on the good nights. Once you get that confidence and momentum built, you can click off 10, 15, or 20 wins.”
The stretch has been tabbed the ‘Summer of the Big Cat,’ because of his dominance in the win category, doubling up the man who is used to winning 20 plus races a year in Schatz.
The wins have come as no surprise for Sweet, though.
“We’re doing our job,” Sweet said. “We aren’t the fans. We aren’t the people judging how we’re doing. We’re just focused on us. We want to win the big races, and win [the] points [championship]. We set big goals and when we win races we feel like we’re doing what we’re meant to be doing. It’s not unexpected to us.”
Upsetting Schatz for a points title would be a big happening in the sprint car world.
Usually, drivers are focused on singular races more so than paying attention to the points race. The idea is that the points will shake out how they will, and with so many races there’s no reason to pay extra close attention to them.
However, if Sweet were to win the standings race, he would join the exclusive, two-driver club of Daryn Pittman and Jason Meyers – racers that were able to accomplish that feat stretching all the way back to 2015.
“Obviously, it’s been a few years since anyone’s been able to beat [Schatz],” Sweet said. “I think people were so impressed with his dominance. The other teams are always working hard to try and catch up with [Schatz]. I think we have just taken that step to get closer to him.”
Right now, Sweet has a 20-point lead on the 10-time champion, which equals out to about 10 positions on the track.
He hasn’t locked anything up by any means, but he is the closest anyone has come at trying to beat him in points the past five seasons.
“I think maybe we’re just a little better than them right now,” Sweet said. Maybe he’s got the new crew chief and they’re just trying to find their way. [Schatz] has made it look easy for so long that people expect it, but it’s just not easy. There’s a lot of decision making. A lot of things go on out here [on the tour] night in and night out.”
And, as the Month of Money plays out, things are only going to get more intense.
The big-money races continue and the points race rolls on.
“Who knows if we’ll be able to beat him in the points or if will keep winning the bigger races, but you never count out Donny Schatz, especially at the Knoxville Nationals or even for a championship,” Sweet said. “It’s not like he’s having a bad season. I’m having a great season, but we’re only 20 points ahead [of him]. He’s human like the rest of us, but they’re just not having as dominating of a season and I think it opens the door a little bit.”
Sweet won Eldora Speedway’s Kings Royal on Saturday, picking up the biggest winner’s prize in sprint car racing history.
It was his second career feature win at Eldora.
“It’s huge for sprint car racers and dirt racers to race for purses like that,” Sweet said. “It’s incredible for what it does for the sport. The crowd was amazing. The King’s Royal was already one of our crown jewel events, being now that it’s paying $175,000 makes it even that much bigger and that much more intense.”
Even though the Kings Royal paid so much to win, Sweet said that all of the happenings in the Month of Money lead to Knoxville.
He said they have just a little more prestige.
“The Knoxville Nationals is still our Super Bowl and our biggest crown jewel, but it’s great to take any crown jewel win. There’s only a couple a year, and they can kind of make the season feel that much better [when you] win them.”
The Month of Money will continue on Tuesday night at Lernerville Speedway with the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup.
For more coverage on everything going on leading up to Knoxville, visit our Month of Money headquarters.
“[The Eldora win] builds confidence and we go in prepared, Sweet said.
“The more you’re winning and keeping that momentum on your side, the [easier it is] to keep It rolling and we hope to all the way to Knoxville.”