Column By: BRIAN WALKER / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – BARBERVILLE, FL – After 97 agonizing days away from the racetrack, the off-season is finally over and the 2023 season begins this week for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.
For the 19th consecutive year, The Greatest Show on Dirt opens the most grueling campaign in dirt racing at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, FL for the 52nd Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals.
The five-night “Sprint Week” at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile begins with a pair of All Star Circuit of Champions races on Tuesday and Wednesday before the World of Outlaws take center stage Thursday through Saturday. An expected field of nearly 40 competitors will be racing for valuable points across all five shows in the hunt for the prestigious Big Gator Championship.
Let’s preview some of the top storylines entering this week:
DRIVE FOR FIVE: Not one, not two, not three, but four championship rings now don the hand of Brad Sweet, who has built a Hall of Fame career out of strictly the last half-decade. In 2023, “The Big Cat” wants to add one for the thumb with a fifth consecutive title on the line for his Kasey Kahne Racing, NAPA Auto Parts #49 Team.
The 37-year-old native of Grass Valley, CA has topped all four of his crowns by a margin of less than 100 points, proving the World of Outlaws championship contenders are consistently tighter than ever before. However, after a lowkey five-win season in 2022, Sweet – along with crew members Eric Prutzman, Tye Wolfgang, and Andrew Bowman – is extra determined to rattle off a big year and leave the points without doubt.
His quest for five consecutive championships begins at Volusia this week – arguably his best track. He owns eight DIRTcar Nationals wins with six of those coming in World of Outlaws action. That ties Volusia with Cedar Lake Speedway as his winningest track through 79 Series victories. He’s going for his third Big Gator Championship this week, something only his former KKR teammate Daryn Pittman has achieved before.
GATOR COLLECTOR: There are nine former DIRTcar Nationals winners in the field this week and leading the way is 10-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz with an unmatched 22 scores. He and former Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing star, Danny Lasoski (19 wins), are the only drivers to reach double-digit wins at the event.
Schatz, who will embark on his 27th full-time campaign with the Series this year, will split time between a slick blue Carquest Auto Parts look and a flashy yellow Advance Auto Parts design. The #15 will continue fine-tuning the Ford Performance Stewart 410 Engine as the Fargo, ND native eyes his 11th title.
Additional DIRTcar Nationals winners include Brad Sweet (8), Logan Schuchart (3), Sheldon Haudenschild (2), David Gravel (2), Carson Macedo (1), Aaron Reutzel (1), Kraig Kinser (1), and Kasey Kahne (1).
THE GRIND BEGINS: Every year since 2005, the cross-country tour that is the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series always starts at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile. Including a Bike Week stop on March 5-6, Volusia Speedway Park hosts a record-high five races in 2023.
The 87-race schedule will take teams to 36 different tracks in 19 states, testing both man and machine all the way through to November’s World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, where the 46th champion will be crowned.
BIG GATOR CHAMPIONSHIP: The little gators given to all Feature winners are cool and all, but the ultimate goal of DIRTcar Nationals is leaving with the Big Gator Championship – a trophy created for the event in 2012.
Daryn Pittman (‘13, ‘15, ‘19) remains the only driver to earn the trophy on three occasions, while David Gravel (‘17, ‘22) and Brad Sweet (‘16, ‘20) are also multi-time champions. Additional Big Gator conquerors include Logan Schuchart (‘21), Donny Schatz (‘18), Paul McMahan (‘14), and Sammy Swindell (‘12).
Spread across two All Star nights and three World of Outlaws nights, the Big Gator Championship utilizes a points system offering 250 to the winner then 246, 244, 242, etc.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW: It’s a “1v1” match for the 2023 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award as Giovanni Scelzi and Robbie Price square off for the right to call themselves the top newcomer with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.
Scelzi, a 21-year-old native of Fresno, CA, is no stranger to success with five wins and 81 top-10s to his credit through 152 starts; but he is a stranger to full-time competition. The KCP Racing #18 pilot is committed to all 87 events in 2023 as he chases the World of Outlaws championship for the first time in his career.
Price, a 24-year-old native of Cobble Hill, BC, will take over control of the Sides Motorsports #7S – vying for ROTY honors exactly 20 years after Jason himself earned the award in 2003. Entering his Volusia debut, Price owns 55 career World of Outlaws starts with two top-five finishes coming late last year.
THE OUTSIDERS: Along with the expected cast of 15 full-time World of Outlaws stars, a handful of lethal invaders will be on the scene chasing their own gators.
Brent Marks, of Myerstown, PA, is fresh off a career-year after winning five World of Outlaws Features – including the Historical Big One and Kings Royal – on his way to making more than $600,000. Now, he eyes his first-career win at Volusia Speedway Park.
Anthony Macri, of Dillsburg, PA, was the winningest Sprint Car driver (23 wins) in 2022 and hopes to earn the same title this year with another true outlaw slate. With four-time World of Outlaws champion car chief, Joe Mooney (previously with Brad Sweet), now on the wrenches, the 23-year-old is focused on taking his program to the next level and it begins this week.
Buddy Kofoid, of Penngrove, CA, will make his debut at Volusia Speedway Park this week. The highly touted 20-year-old is piloting the Crouch Motorsports #11 as he begins his career’s most extensive Sprint Car schedule.
The All Star Circuit of Champions will be well represented by the likes of Tyler Courtney in the Clauson-Marshall #7BC, Justin Peck in the Buch Motorsports #13, Hunter Schuerenberg in the Vermeer Motorsports #55, Zeb Wise in the Rudeen Racing #26, and Parker Price-Miller in the McCandless #9P.
Additional expected contenders include Alex Bowman, Brian Brown, Danny Dietrich, Cory Eliason, Sam Hafertepe Jr, and Aaron Reutzel, among others.