Sweet dreams of NASCAR

Bear River grad finds success in sprint cars with Kahne’s company
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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Brad Sweet marked his first return home in five months with an overnight trip to the beaches of Lake Tahoe. Sweet, a 24-year-old Bear River High graduate, is a rising star in the USAC Sprint & Midget Car Series, widely regarded as the NASCAR stepping stone. Sweet swept the seventh annual Knoxville Midget Nationals, a two-day event in Indianapolis late last month to solidify fifth place in the Mopar National Midget Championship point standings. One of three sprint car drivers for Kasey Kahne Racing, Sweet finished 12th last weekend in the USAC National Sprint Car 60-lap feature at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia. He currently sits 10th in the point standings. Sweet’s versatility impressed representatives for Kasey Kahne last year. It’s the reason Troy Hennig, announcer at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, thinks Sweet has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Kahne, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and other NASCAR stars who began their careers racing sprint cars. “Honestly, in all of the country there’s not a more talented, diverse driver than Brad Sweet,” Hennig said. “He can race winged, non-winged, midget and he’s incredible on dirt and pavement. When you mix those five things together, there’s not many guys who can switch between those.” The open-wheel sprint cars are small but powerful, often packing more than 850 horsepower into a 1,200-pound chassis. “They’re very fast cars, pretty much the fastest car on dirt,” Sweet said. “They’re one of the most exciting cars to watch.” The midget and sprint car schedules are interwoven and feature races on both surfaces. “You’re just bouncing back and forth,” Sweet said. “That’s definitely the trickiest part of racing USAC. They’ve had to adapt to so many different cars. That’s why a lot of USAC guys do so good coming out of USAC going into NASCAR. A lot of the best guys come from USAC.” Sweet’s racing career began behind the wheel of a go-kart at age 8. “I was always involved with it, and wanted to get into more professional cars,” he said. Sweet graduated from Bear River in 2004 after a stellar wrestling career and moved to Indiana, a hotbed of up-and-coming sprint car racers, to begin his dirt track career. “Once I got out of high school that was all I wanted to do,” he said. “That’s the place to be if you want to make it anywhere past sprint cars.” Sweet immediately noticed many differences between sprint car racing in the Midwest and back in California, where he spent much of his young career racing winged cars on tracks in Marysville, Placerville and Chico. “It’s kind of a local guy sport on the West Coast. A couple guys try to do it for a living, but it’s more of a hobby, two nights a week thing,” he said. “In Indiana the cars are non-winged, it’s three or four nights a week, it pays more, it’s more professional.” Sweet returned to California after two years in the Midwest. “I just never had a really big break,” he said. “I didn’t start in the best rides, but slowly and surely got into better and better rides. Gary Perkins of Loomis offered me a pretty good ride out here, so I came back for half the year last year and raced his car. In some peoples’ minds it might have been taking a step back to go forward, but I had dealt with not some of the best rides. Gary gave me a good opportunity, I just had to come out here to race it.” He eventually returned to Indiana and linked up with a popular midget car owner, turning enough heads to sign with Kasey Kahne Racing. “It impressed them that I could run the wing and the midget and do so well,” Sweet said. “You’re driving for Kasey Kahne so you have one of the most funded teams. We have the best equipment, best crew, best cars you can buy or build, plus the coolest clothes and race suits to wear — all the resources you need.” Sweet didn’t sour despite an early spell of bad luck in the sprint car series this year. He’s currently 78 points ahead of 11th place and only 29 points out of seventh. Sweet is only 71 points behind the midget series leader after climbing 30 points with his pair of wins at Knoxville. “It pays the top 10 in both series, so you’ll make money,” Sweet said. “It’s more prestige than anything to win the championship at the USAC level. That’s pretty prestigious in our world.” The strongest weeks of Sweet’s schedule, races on large dirt tracks rather than short pavement, are on the horizon. “I’m about to hit the prime of my season,” he said. “We’re just traveling all over the place in July and August.” Sweet visited family last week and ran the Rod Tiner No. 83 over the holiday weekend at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, one of his favorite tracks. “I’m just going out there for my relaxation, to go race back at my old local track with all my friends,” he said. Although Sweet said the weekend was “just for fun,” he still competed for some big cash prizes. “That’s the thing about being a race car driver,” he said. “If you aren’t racing, you’re not making money.” Sweet’s next USAC midget race is July 24th at the O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis, one he hopes will inch him closer to a future in NASCAR. “I would love for something like that to happen,” he said. “It’s getting tougher and tougher. I’m in a great place right now. I’m just waiting and racing hard, trying to win races.” “He wants to be able to race for a living,” said Hennig, Sweet’s longtime friend and fellow Bear River grad. “You want to go NASCAR because that’s where the money is, but he’s a racing nut so he just wants to race, period.”