BEAVER DAM, Wis. – Last time Brad Sweet visited victory lane at Beaver Dam Raceway, he was hobbling around with a broken ankle.
Fast forward five years, and Sweet was back in victory lane at Beaver Dam Raceway Saturday night, not only with a healthy ankle, but also on the hottest streak of his career with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.
On Saturday, Sweet led 38 of 40 laps and beat second-place finisher Daryn Pittman to the finish line by 2.696 seconds to win his fifth feature of the season and his third in the last four races during the 10th running of the Jim “JB” Boyd Memorial.
“This is a tough place to win at,” Sweet said.
History would indicate that.
Sweet became just the second two-time winner of the event, joining Joey Saldana (2010 and 2011). Since then, eight straight years have produced eight different winners.
“I’m honored to win,” Sweet said. “I know Scott Boyd (track owner and former World of Outlaw car owner) well; it’s his father’s memorial race. It’s an honor to win. I’m happy to take home the $20,000 for our guys; they’ve been working hard. We’ll take it.”
That was one of the upped perks for this year’s version of the event – a race-winning payout of $20,000. Also on-hand was former NASCAR driver and Sweet’s World of Outlaws car owner Kasey Kahne, who was signing autographs for fans.
David Gravel finished third to round out the podium and he nearly brought home what would’ve surely been an emotional victory.
It was one year ago at this very track that driver Jason Johnson lost his life after injuries suffered in a horrific crash, and Johnson’s legacy and presence is still strongly felt.
For one, Gravel drives for Jason Johnson Racing in the No. 41 entry that once housed the driver known as the Ragin’ Cajun.
Johnson’s name is on one of the roll bars of the car. Were the stars going to align Saturday night?
Gravel turned in the fastest practice lap, he was fastest in qualifying and won his heat race. He came up just short in the feature.
While disappointed he couldn’t pull off the feature victory, a podium was still satisfying.
“It went pretty good,” Gravel said. “We didn’t get the dash draw we wanted and didn’t gain a row like we wanted. I think if we started in that second row it would’ve been a little bit of a different race for a us, maybe had a chance to win.
“Starting sixth and ran third is a solid run. The track took a little bit of rubber there and it was kind of one lane for the second half on of the race. We’re pretty happy with third.”
Despite starting behind the red-hot Sweet, Gravel remained optimistic heading into the 40-lap A-main.
“You never know how it’s going to go,” Gravel said. “He’s rolling really good right now. I think he’s got an advantage on all of us right now. His car is very, very good. We just got to go to work to get the car a little bit better to be as good as them.”
There were times where it was emotional for those involved with JJR. But, Gravel said, the team did an excellent job staying focused on the task at hand.
“I think the guys did a really good job,” Gravel said. “I’m sure Bobbi (Johnson’s widow) was pretty emotional up there and all that, but these guys held together really good, at least in front of me they did.
“At the end of the day we have a job to do and for those four or five hours at the races, we’ve got to be focused and do our jobs. They did a great job. They were emotional inside probably, but they held it together pretty good.”
Meanwhile, in the five years since he last visited victory lane at Beaver Dam, Sweet said he is a vastly different driver.
“I was young in my career; it was probably my fifth or sixth Outlaw win ever,” he said. “I was ecstatic and I had just broke my ankle the night before. I was at a different point in my career.
“When you go five years on the World of Outlaws tour, you become a completely different person, a completely different driver.”
Sweet now has 39 career Outlaw feature victories, and has finished second in the championship in each of the last two seasons.
“I’m in a great spot in my career right now,” Sweet said.
“Just patience,” he added, when asked what his biggest strides have been since his win five years ago at Beaver Dam. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s one thing; it’s experience, learning what it takes to win these races, whether it’s driving or what you need in your car; being able to go out there and run 40 smart laps.
“You learn that over time. It’s not something you just come out and do.”
Right now, Sweet is making it look easy.
“They’re running really good; they’ve got things right,” Pittman said.
Just how good?
“You’ve got to ask someone else. I can’t even see him,” 10-time Outlaw champion Donny Schatz said.