By Richie Murray
Springfield, Illinois (October 18, 2020)………In the week leading up to his USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series debut on Sunday afternoon at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, David Gravel stated that his goals were to “finish the race first” while claiming that, realistically, a top-ten would be ideal.
While he also said he hoped to be in the mix for the win at the end of 100 miles, even he couldn’t have drawn up exactly how it ultimately played out. Having to utilize a push start due to mechanical issues left him, by rule, to start at the tail of the 26-car field.
In the end, Gravel (Watertown, Conn.) finished second to winner Kyle Larson in the Bettenhausen 100 presented by Fatheadz Eyewear at the one-mile dirt oval with a pair of racing veterans in crew chief Kent Wolters and spotter Mike Hess helping to aid him on the path to the best finish by a first-time Silver Crown race starter in more than a quarter century, since P.J. Jones finished as the runner-up at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1994.
“I’m not really sure what happened, but I kind of went where they weren’t,” Gravel explained. “I got past (Kody) Swanson and (Chris) Windom in the beginning and I thought I was doing really good. Then, I slowed down too much, and they passed me back. I think we got to about 10th or 11th and then I got more aggressive and started to pass guys around their right rear. This Mark Swanson Encore Team car felt really good; I felt comfortable by about lap five or six. I got here at 10:30am, sat in the car for the first time, got the belts changed up, but the pedals were uncomfortable for me. My knees are killing me; I’m getting old.”
The 28-year-old, who won the Knoxville Nationals in 2019, was in the midst of a busy weekend that included a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car start on Friday, a NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series start on Saturday and a Silver Crown start on Sunday. Gravel credits his impressive run on Sunday to not only his versatile experiences over the weekend, but everything observed and experienced firsthand leading up to this point.
“I honestly haven’t watched that many Silver Crown races,” Gravel acknowledged. “I know you have to be patient around the bottom. We race in the rubber sometimes in a winged sprint car, so I just used what I’ve learned there and translated it to today. I hope I’ll be back. I don’t know what my schedule is for next year, but I know I’ll be in a winged sprint car a lot. Hopefully, I get to do a lot of fun things like this again.”
Gravel’s Springfield performance ranks as one of the best debuts in Silver Crown history. He’s now one of just 12 drivers to finish inside the top-two in his first career series start. Seven drivers won their first Silver Crown start: Jim McElreath (Nazareth 1971), A.J. Foyt (Illinois State Fairgrounds 1971), Danny Smith (Eldora 1982), Rick Hood (Indiana State Fairgrounds 1982), Jimmy Horton (Nazareth 1983), Herb Copeland (Oklahoma City 1983) and Marv Carman (Minnesota State Fairgrounds 1984).
Only four drivers had previously finished 2nd in their first Silver Crown start: Arnie Knepper (Nazareth 1971), Barry Camp (Williams Grove 1981), Jac Haudenschild (Indiana State Fairgrounds 1985) and P.J. Jones (Indianapolis Raceway Park 1994).
Additionally, Gravel’s starting spot of 26th at Springfield is the furthest back any top-five finishing debut driver has started, besting Jimmy Caruthers’ charge from 20th to 5th in the 1971 race, incidentally, also at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Meanwhile, the previous worst starting spot for a driver finishing 2nd or better in his first Silver Crown start was Arnie Knepper, who began his race from the 14th position in the inaugural series event in 1971 at Nazareth, Pa.
Gravel’s run marks the third occasion that a debuting Silver Crown driver has finished inside the top-five this season with both occurring in the opener at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway. Bryan Gossel finished 4th there while Carmen Perigo took 5th.
USAC SILVER CROWN DEBUT PERFORMANCES (1971-2020)
Jim McElreath (June 20, 1971 at Nazareth National Motor Speedway – started 9th)
A.J. Foyt (Aug 22, 1971 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds – started 10th)
Danny Smith (Apr 25, 1982 at Eldora Speedway – started 8th)
Rick Hood (May 8, 1982 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds – started 4th)
Jimmy Horton (July 3, 1983 at Nazareth National Motor Speedway – started 5th)
Herb Copeland (Jul 24, 1983 at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds – started 6th)
Marv Carman (Aug 24, 1984 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds – started 4th)
Arnie Knepper (June 20, 1971 at Nazareth National Motor Speedway – started 14th)
Barry Camp (July 5, 1981 at Williams Grove Speedway – started 5th)
Jac Haudenschild (May 24, 1985 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds – started 6th)
P.J. Jones (Aug 4, 1994 at Indianapolis Raceway Park – started 1st)
David Gravel (Oct 18, 2020 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds – started 26th)
Don Hawley (Jun 20, 1971 at Nazareth National Motor Speedway – started 16th)
Jigger Sirois (Sept 4, 1972 at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds – started 2nd)
Ken Schrader (Nov 2, 1980 at the Terre Haute Action Track – started 1st)
Bruce Jennings (Jul 24, 1983 at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds – started 18th)
Terry Shepherd (Sep 22, 1991 at Eldora Speedway – started 7th)
Steve Kent (Oct 8, 1994 at the Cal Expo State Fairgrounds – started 3rd)
Aaron Fike (Nov 14, 2000 at Irwindale Speedway – started 8th)
Cameron Dodson (Mar 23, 2007 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – started 3rd)
Brady Bacon (Aug 31, 2014 at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds – started 12th)
Billy Vukovich (Jun 20, 1971 at Nazareth National Motor Speedway – started 8th)
Pancho Carter (May 28, 1972 at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds – started 15th)
Wally Dallenbach (Aug 17, 1974 at the Missouri State Fairgrounds – started 16th)
Randy Tolsma (Aug 1, 1993 at the Milwaukee Mile – started 5th)
Ryan Moore (Mar 23, 2007 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – started 15th)
Robert Stout (May 27, 2016 at Lucas Oil Raceway – started 5th)
Jason McDougal (Sep 22, 2018 at Eldora Speedway – started 7th)
Bryan Gossel (Aug 9, 2020 at Selinsgrove Speedway – started 19th)
Gary Bettenhausen (Jun 20, 1971 at Nazareth National Motor Speedway – started 6th)
Jimmy Caruthers (Aug 22, 1971 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds – started 20th)
Mel Cornett (Aug 19, 1973 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds – started 7th)
Rich Leavell (Aug 24, 1980 at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds – started 9th)
Jeff Forshee (July 22, 1984 at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds – started 2nd)
Jeff Gordon (Feb 4, 1990 at Phoenix International Raceway – started 4th)
Stewart Friesen (Oct 11, 2014 at the New York State Fairgrounds – started 7th)
Joey Schmidt (Mar 23, 2019 at Memphis International Raceway – started 14th)
Carmen Perigo (Aug 9, 2020 at Selinsgrove Speedway – started 5th)