When opportunity knocks on the door for any driver, a moment presents itself that can lead that driver on a path towards great things, if they make the most of it. Certainly, not every driver who answers the door from a prospective employer or owner has what it takes to advance to another level. Natural talent and hard work earned 2013 World of Outlaw rookie of the year David Gravel an opportunity, it was just a matter of where and when.
It wasn’t the way Gravel would have wanted to see it happen perhaps. But when sprint car veteran Bill Rose succumbed to a broken arm during the DIRTcar Nationals in Volusia, Fla, he picked the Watertown, Connecticut driver to take the ball and run with it.
“Coming out of speedweeks in Florida you just look forward to going home and maybe check out some races in Iowa later on.” Gravel told us in a recent interview. “But then Bill gave me the opportunity to go out west where I never got to race a sprint car and it was great. To run as well as we did, it really opened Bill’s eyes up and we just continued it on as long as we could when we came back east. My last race in his car was at Eldora and then after that we ran our car with the number 6 on it to keep his owners points going because of how good I was running. It was definitely a huge break for me and it definitely helped my season out and I can’t thank him enough for giving me the opportunity.”
Bill Rose’s selection of the future Kevin Goebrecht award winner was a no brainer to be sure. Gravel has climbed the ladder of open wheel dirt racing with authority posting a stellar record in several years of top shelf quarter midget racing. A micro sprint and 360 sprint resume that includes many wins and a North American 360 sprint rookie of the year award, and four solid seasons running with the UNOH All Star Circuit of Champions as well as a Knoxville Nationals rookie of the year honor in 2010.
“I started out in quarter midgets when I was six years old and it was fun just hanging out with your friends. We always had really nice stuff and my dad always found sponsors. I raced those for six or seven years and did really well. When it was time to move up we weren’t sure what direction we wanted to go so we bought an asphalt car and a dirt micro sprint. I drove both and just fell in love with the dirt sprint which turned into a 360 sprint car which we raced in the URC sprint tour and after 3/4 of a season we got a win.
After that we had Ray Capella with JRC transportation hop on board and buy us a truck and trailer and 3 cars and two motors and we went 410 racing. It was just kind of one of those things where you kind of walked up the ladder and once it started getting more serious, you took it more serious.”
So in March it came to be that there was a Connecticut Yankee in the outlaw court. Gravel had more than earned the opportunity, but more importantly he made the most of it garnering 26 top ten finishes, 7 top fives, a preliminary night win at the Knoxville Nationals and a tour win at I-94 speedway. By all accounts, he seems to have had the time of his life on the tour.
“It’s tough because everybody’s so competitive. Donny Schatz, Steve Kinser and guys like that are so super competitive and they really don’t talk to many people. Kraig Kinser is always nice, and I got to be pretty good friends with Tim Kaeding, he’s an awesome person. But a lot of guys really don’t want to help you out too much. But I think people accepted me pretty well and I definitely had a good time out there. “
Gravel adjusted to the travel rather seamlessly with help from his previous experience. But in the second half of the season an illness robbed him of a month of racing like a thief in the night. He had to overcome a bout of mononucleosis and a double ear infection, taking the momentum from a season to remember and putting it back at square one.
“I was kind of used to it actually. I drove all the way out to California and Oregon and Vegas just to race quarter midgets so the traveling part didn’t really affect me. Obviously, all the racing we did up until Knoxville and me getting sick, I think part of that was me being exhausted. But after I got back in the car I only got to do about 10 races and the season was over and I didn’t really want it to be over. So by the end of the season I wanted to keep going because I had the 4 weeks off in the middle of the season. It’s definitely a grueling tour, to do every single outlaw race that’s for sure.”
He couldn’t get back into the car quick enough upon medical clearance, but he had precious little season left to make an impact on potential rides and sponsors for 2014. His final race at the World of Outlaws World Finals left a good many mouths open in awe as he started towards the back of the field and passed 18 cars on his way to a sixth place finish in 30 laps against some of the best sprint competition in the world. It was an exclamation point on a memorable season that saw Gravel ascend to another level of racing with authority and perhaps helped open another door.
Not soon after his final race, Gravel signed on with Tom Leidig Racing to pilot the #59 car, the former Jac Haudenshield ride, for the 2014 season.
“I think right now every world of outlaw show would be out of reach for us, but I think we’re going to be at a lot of them. Tom wants to run a lot of outlaw shows and so do I. It’s the best paying show, they’re the biggest races in the 410 world. You always want to race against the best because that’s how you get better.”
The Connecticut Yankee in the outlaw court seeks additional support to help make the western portion of the World of Outlaw schedule in 2014 possible. And if the same eyes that are always watching out for pure talent and dedication are paying attention, it’ll happen and they’ll look like geniuses for showing him the good faith. He’s made the most of every opportunity he’s earned, and will continue to do so for years to come.