CUMMING, Ga. — A year ago, Georgia teenager Slade Gravitt had no visions of being one of the well-known names in NASCAR’s growing eSports movement, but he’s begun to embrace the role.
Gravitt, 17, is among a field of 28 gamers making up the field for the second season of the eNASCAR Heat Pro League, which begins Wednesday night from virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
At this time 12 months ago, Gravitt was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft that allowed the 14 competing teams a chance to select who they wanted to compete for them throughout the campaign.
Fast forward to the present, and the young gun for Wood Brothers Gaming is considered one of the eSports series’ headline competitors, with a chance to help the oldest team in NASCAR write a new chapter in its legacy within the eSports realm.
“It’s been crazy,” noted Gravitt. “I’ve done things at 17 that most people dream of doing. I got flown out to Phoenix for the inaugural draft as a 16-year-old and I got to meet so many people. Richard Petty, Jon Wood, Paul Menard … just for that, the experience was awesome. But to be able to go in the Wood Brothers hauler whenever I’m at the track and be part of the team, that was one of the coolest things that has come out of this that took a little while to sink in.
“But looking back, (visiting) the Wood Brothers museum is probably the best experience I’ve had so far, even with the actual Pro League racing,” Gravitt added. “After our finale last year, I was able to go to the Wood Brothers museum and Len Wood showed me every single thing in there. It was so cool. Just driving for the Wood Brothers, in my mind, they’re one of the better teams to get drafted by. Family isn’t even a big enough word. They just welcome you.
“I can’t believe the experiences I’ve had at just 17. It’s not something I thought would happen, by any means.”
Gravitt’s participation in the inaugural season of the Heat Pro League last year came in part from his efforts in an unsanctioned league — the Midnight Broadcasting Network — out of which he and several others ultimately were drafted to take part in the 2019 Heat Pro League season.
“When they first announced it, we had a group of guys in an amateur league — the Midnight Broadcasting Network — that myself and a few of the other Pro League guys help as admins for,” Gravitt noted. “It actually stems back to one on NASCAR Heat 2, the 2017 release, called the Impact Racing League. But it was me, T.J. McGowan (Voltage), Brandyn Gritton (Hot Rod) and a few other frontrunners who were all in that league and all just wanting to get together because we felt we could go out and do this professionally at a high level.
“So that was where we all said, ‘Hey, let’s try and get drafted,’ and it all pretty much progressed from there.”
Gravitt picked up a pair of victories last season on the PS4 console, with a rout of the field at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway and a second score on an economy run at virtual Michigan Int’l Speedway.
It was far more than he expected in his rookie year at the professional level and that quick success has him gunning for even more going into year two — even if he’s trying to temper those thoughts for now.
“Last year, my mindset … even though we had a very good season, my goal for the year was just to be a top five guy. I wanted to have my name in the hat for wins on a consistent basis. Getting two wins in a season was very humbling and something that I thought wouldn’t happen,” said Gravitt. “I thought I might get a win, somehow, but then to dominate Charlotte and to come away with that fuel strategy at Michigan were two moments that genuinely surprised me and made me realize what we could do.
“I didn’t think that kind of a first season was realistic, with my situation going into the league, but this season is one where the whole field has got some depth. It’s going to be hard,” he added. “It was hard for me to make a top 25 list of the guys trying to get into the Pro League, let alone a top 14 list of guys who actually got drafted. Personally, my expectations are exactly the same as they were last year. I plan to be a top five guy, and maybe get a win here or there. I don’t want to raise my expectations just because we did win last year, because there’s a lot of variables involved in this whole deal, for sure.”
The biggest change for Gravitt will be adapting to a new system, as he moves from racing on the PlayStation 4 console to an Xbox console for the 2020 eNASCAR Heat Pro League season.
While it’s a new world for the teenager — including new green paint on the spoiler — Gravitt is excited for the new challenge and looking forward to adding to his win total from last year.
“I wasn’t expecting the change at first, but it’s something I feel like I’m adapting to pretty well,” Gravitt said. “I’ve been on a wheel (as opposed to a controller) since season one ended and I’ve still been tinkering with things a little bit since (driving on) the Xbox is unique compared to what I’ve been used to with the PS4, but it’s not a change that we can’t overcome.
“I’m just looking forward to being able to represent this team in a big way going into my second season and excited to get everything kicked off on Wednesday night.”