David Gravel crossed the finish line first on Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway during sprint car racing’s biggest night of the year, winning the big $150,000 check.
The lights shined down onto victory lane and the hand-painted Axalta No. 41 car as Gravel climbed a top to wave the double-checkered flags.
The Axalta Racing crew was front and center, thanks to the driving of Gravel, some convincing from Jeff Gordon, among other hard-working people that put the 41 back in victory lane at Knoxville.
How David Gravel and Jeff Gordon put Axalta on to Sprint Cars
They made quite an impact on Knoxville and, apparently, on Axalta too.
Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal reported on Tuesday afternoon that after the pleasant experience, Axalta is exploring a larger investment into sprint car racing.
“They like great partners,” Gordon said about his long-time sponsor. “Racing works really well for them. It’s been proven in other forms of motorsports that they’ve gotten involved with like NASCAR, obviously.”
That’s part of the reason he made the push to get the company on the car for last week’s Knoxville Nationals.
It started at the Chili Bowl – the Super Bowl of Midget racing held two weeks after Christmas in Tulsa, Oklahoma every year.
Gordon ended up talking to Gravel for a majority of one night, spending hours with the World of Outlaws driver.
“I was with Rico [Abreu] and Jeff came over,” Gravel said. “We talked and pretty much talked for three hours face to face.
“We had a good time and it just stemmed from there,” Gravel said.
Gordon had heard of Gravel but had never met him until that day.
The two hit it off from the start, beginning the process of what would become a Knoxville Nationals winning sponsorship deal.
Gordon had Gravel’s back.
“I think he believed in me,” Gravel said. “I don’t think it really mattered how we ran. I think he saw something in me and it wouldn’t matter what kind of car we were running. If we were struggling, he would probably want to help us out to try and make us better. You just never know. Racing is a tough sport. It tests you. I’m happy to be with JJR and Axalta.”
Now, Gravel and the No. 41 car are right on the edge of competing for a World of Outlaws championship.
Him and his team are just 118 points out of first place, something that amounts to 59 positions on the actual race track, coming out of the biggest win and potential momentum swing of Gravel’s career.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way this partnership has come together because they’re the kind of partner Axalta likes to do business with, Gordon said. “The car looks amazing and it’s been a very exciting, fun night for everybody.”
Gravel will continue his fight for the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series championship with Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz through the back-end of the season schedule.
Gravel says there might be some more collaboration of him and Gordon’s in the future, too.
“He said he had a couple of goals he would like for me, but he said [he’s] not making any promises, Gravel said.
“He came through with one of them. Hopefully there’s more in the future.”