Pit Pass: Brad Sweet
On dueling for his first Outlaws title and giving back to his hometown
Text + Photos: Saroyan Humphrey
Spotlight | As the World of Outlaws sprint car tour rolled out of California following the final event of the 2019 West Coast swing in mid-September, Placerville’s Brad Sweet continued to blaze a trail that could lead him to his first career series championship. In a career-best, he’s won 14 main events so far this season, and is a mere 10 points out of first place in the season-long points battle. It’s a duel that has seen Sweet and 10-time series champ Donny Schatz swap the lead throughout the year.
With 14 races remaining in the 72-race national tour, Sweet is taking it one race at a time, of course. After competing at the Gold Cup Race of Champions at Chico on September 6 and 7—winning preliminary night—Sweet relaxed at his secluded Placerville home that Monday afternoon watching a preseason football game on television.
Sweet talked about the year so far and his other role as a race promoter. For the last six years, Sweet has used his brand to promote an Outlaws series race at Placerville Speedway: Brad Sweet’s Gold Rush Classic. Promotion taps into another side of Sweet: the businessman.
Sitting down to talk, Sweet said, even if a title is not in the cards, ’19 will mark the second banner year for him and the Napa Auto Parts/Kasey Kahne Racing team. “[In July] we won the Kings Royal [at Eldora, Ohio] and $175,000. That’s the highest paying sprint car race ever. That was pretty cool. Hopefully at the end of the season we’ll be celebrating a championship and that will trump that.”
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It’s your sixth season on the Outlaws tour and you’re having a great year.
Sweet: Obviously we wanted to get to this level, so, it’s nice to be where we envisioned ourselves: contending for the championship with Donny Schatz and leading the series in wins. That’s what you want; thats what everybody seems to want. It’s nice to be in that moment right now.
But to be honest, it’s hard to sustain. You gotta really be focused. It just depends on how well you put the whole season together. We’re kinda in that moment where we’ve gone through a rollercoaster. We’ve had an unbelievable season and there was a couple weeks where it was one thing or another but now we’re back on track. There’s about 20 races left and we’re do or die at this point. We need get as many wins to finish the season out and hopefully that’ll take care of the points.
Would you call this your best Outlaw season to date?
Sweet: Yeah, it’s hard to say. With wins total, yeah. And, if we win the championship, that would make it a definite best season. Last season we had a great year winning the Knoxville Nationals and 11 wins. So, we’ve had a good two seasons. One thing has led to another. Hopefully we keep building from there. Through all the experience it’s kinda built up to this point. We just want to sustain it for a while.
How do you approach this final stretch of the season?
Sweet: We just need to go in and do our job and I just hope that’ll take care of the points. I don’t wanna get into a points battle where I’m not driving as hard as I need to be driving to win the race. I don’t want to focus on just trying to finish. That’s when you can get a little too complacent. It can cost you points that we could’ve got. We want to stay driven and focused on each and every night, winning the race. Typically if you look at the points at the end of the season, it’s the guy with the most wins and most top fives on top.
It’s not like you can say one night will define any season. It’s how you perform over the course over the whole season. And we’ve done that, so we just need to keep doing what we’re doing.
And, you don’t want to get caught up with beating the other guy—worrying more about the other guy—than you are about yourself. I think that’s when you lose a little bit of the focus on just trying to go out and do the best job that you can.
What’s the secret sauce in your team this year? Is it experience?
Sweet: Yeah, there’s a lot more that goes into driving a race car than just the driver. There’s a lot of people involved: engine builders, chassis manufacturers, crew chiefs, car chiefs, tire guys. If you don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle and with the right experience as a driver, I don’t think you’ll ever be as successful as you possibly can be.
And it’s experience when you finally learn that. You get the people in the right place and the driver’s got the experience and he knows he can run every different race track. There are so many variables in different race tracks that we deal with in close to 90 nights of racing. You know, wet, dry, chunky … and you get all that where you need it and you’ve got the right crew chief, right engine builder, car owner, right chassis manufacturer, that’s when you start seeing seasons like the one we’re putting together right now. It’s not one magic wand so to speak, it’s a lot of different moving parts.
Our crew chief [Eric Prutzman], it’s only our second season together. In the four previous seasons before that, I had a different crew chief every single season. So, now I think we’ve got a good thing going.
As you get older, you get a little calmer with a little more experience. You feel like the ups and downs are just less. You keep everything in perspective a little better.
With six years on the tour, your experience as a driver must feel like an edge.
Sweet: Yeah, if you look at Donny Schatz, or other guys that have been successful, it’s five, six years down the road when they start to kinda get it all put together. We’ve had great seasons and won races but it’s another level to get to a championship-caliber team.
Every year you gain experience, and when you win races, you gain more confidence. I never think that I can’t do it. But we do realize if we’re not on our game, it doesn’t really matter. You could lose five in a row and you show up with a hangover and not be ready to go. You can be in the back just as easily. You’re only as good as your last race and we just try to approach every night as a new night.
I try not to get too hyped up, or have a bad attitude about any race track. I just want to go into each and every night and do the best job that possibly can. Be ready, be focused and not leave anything on the table.
So, how is Donny Schatz as a rival week in and week out?
Sweet: Oh, we’re absolutely friendly. There’s a lot of respect between all the racers. It’s a lot more of a family atmosphere out there. You want to beat each other but you’re willing to help out if it calls for it. We want to beat each other but we don’t dislike each other.
All the teams get along pretty well, too. There are very few feuds that I ever see. For the most part, it’s a lot more helping and camaraderie than most people’d realize.
Do you still enjoy being a race promoter?
Sweet: This is my sixth year doing it. It can be enjoyable if you make some money but just like any business, if it doesn’t make money, it’s not really enjoyable because you’re working so hard.
Your race at Placerville has been battling the spring rain for the last couple of years.
Sweet: Yeah, the last two years we had the date rain out and had to reschedule for September. But the three years prior to that we got it in as scheduled and they were very successful shows. The fall has been a little tougher when we change the date. There’s a lot more going on: kids are going back to school and they’ve been out all summer, spent a bunch of money vacationing and people seem to hunker down this time of year. So, it’s a little harder of a nut to crack this time of year, to be honest.
Are you going to keep doing it?
Sweet: Yeah, it’s my mentality to keep pushing, to keep finding those things that can make a buck. One of my goals is to have a promotion in Northern California that is the main promotion for sprint car racing. I’m not sure what exactly that is yet.
I love Placerville. I live here but the venue is just small so it makes it a little more difficult to have the vision to make it as big as we’d like to make it. It’s one of those things, do you go buy a business that’s a little more established or do you want to go develop the land and actually build it from the ground up?
We have to look at whether we stay at Placerville, or are there other places that we could build an event at a track that needs a shot in the arm?
Are you thinking of moving the event to a different track?
Sweet: Well, yeah, or just take my name to an event that’s already established, or … I think we’ll always do something in Placerville. It’s just hard to say what we want to do with it. Is it going to be something that’s three or four days, that’s a big race, or is it going to be a one-day event that we do every year that just kinda gets by? The one-day shows are the hardest to make work. The [multi-day] events are the ones that are a little more lucrative, more sustainable and kind of have a following and have numbers that you can try to match every year. It’s more like a business.
With one day you’re just up against a lot: weather can be a factor, dates can change, you’re just up against a lot. And it’s all about that one day. It’s a little more like playing the lottery.
Placerville seems like a natural venue for you because of your roots.
Sweet: Yeah, I love giving back to the community. The older I get, the more I realize what it can mean for a small community to have events. Local businesses benefit from it, the camaraderie, it gets everyone together and the local track can do well. It just brings people to the town; we have a lot to be proud of up here. It’s neat to be someone who can draw and promote an event and there’s a lot of good people in this town to enjoy it.