STATESVILLE, N.C. — In little more than a week, World of Outlaws sprint car star David Gravel will embark on the newest chapter of his racing career, comprised of a childhood dream he’d only hoped to attain.
Gravel will begin his journey down the paved road of stock-car racing, competing in the Feb. 8 Lucas Oil 200 ARCA Menards Series race at Daytona Int’l Speedway as a precursor to a limited schedule of NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races with GMS Racing during the late-spring and early-summer months.
While many might raise an eyebrow at Gravel’s jump from dirt to pavement, he’s been quick to remind people that sprint car racing wasn’t his initially-desired path.
Growing up in New England, Gravel’s original focus as a youngster was the pursuit of a NASCAR ride.
“Man, I know that some dirt guys or sprint car people aren’t happy that I want to do this deal or that I’m getting a shot at it, but it was just one of those things that developed and I really wanted to tackle, you know?” Gravel told Sprint Car & Midget during the recent Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. “I didn’t grow up in Pennsylvania. I didn’t grow up in Indiana. I didn’t grow up in Iowa. I didn’t grow up around sprint car racing. I just did it. People don’t realize that sometimes, that growing up in Connecticut, NASCAR was my first love and the goal that I looked at as a little kid. Nobody knows what sprint car racing is in Connecticut; I just got to see it at a later age and loved it. That’s the route I decided to go at the time.
“Now though, you’ve seen Jeff (Gordon) make that jump; you’ve seen Tony (Stewart), and Christopher (Bell) and Kyle (Larson) all go from dirt to pavement and be successful, and I feel like I can do the same thing,” Gravel added. “I’ve been through a lot of different race cars in my career and I think I’ve proven that I can drive just about any of them and be successful … so this is the next challenge, in my eyes.”
The Watertown, Conn., native is scheduled to begin his Truck Series excursion on March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway, with five other Truck Series events built in alongside that initial outing and the ARCA race at Daytona Int’l Speedway preceding it.
One of those remaining five Truck races is the annual Eldora Dirt Derby at the half-mile Eldora Speedway dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio, a natural fit given Gravel’s dirt prowess.
Gravel, a 51-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series winner, has finished third in the WoO standings each of the last four seasons, driving for two different teams during that span.
That success caught the eye of four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who helped secure sponsorship from Axalta for Gravel and Jason Johnson Racing to carry during last year’s Knoxville Nationals at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway.
The rest was up to Gravel at that point and the 27-year-old delivered with flying colors, winning both his preliminary night and the 50-lap, $150,000-to-win finale at the Marion County Fairgrounds half-mile.
Axalta will be back with Gravel during the Eldora Dirt Derby on July 30 and Gravel added that Gordon has also been a staunch supporter and mentor through the process of getting his pavement opportunity in place.
“Looking back, the goal was always to get a sponsor for Knoxville and get a sponsor for the Eldora truck race, and obviously winning Knoxville and having Axalta on the car really helped my cause there,” noted Gravel. “I’m really happy with how it’s gone so far and how we’ve built all these pieces into the program that we have now. We were under a lot of pressure at Knoxville and we came through and did a really good job. I’m proud of that and hopefully we can keep making other people proud as we keep going.
“Jeff is also one of the best that I could possibly have in my corner. He’s done it all as a driver, coming from dirt midgets and sprint cars up to the NASCAR level and now kind of being involved with the business side of NASCAR also,” Gravel continued. “It’s pretty cool to have him on my side as a mentor or an agent, so to speak. I’m definitely lucky in that regard.”
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