By Alex Nieten
MESQUITE, TX (Oct. 21, 2023) – The anticipation was sky high. The final race at the birthplace of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars in 1978 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway. The stands were filled to capacity. Could the finale live up to the hype?
Absolutely it could.
After chasing James McFadden for the entirety of the 30-lap finale, David Gravel saw an opening on the final lap and capitalized. With the checkered flag in sight, Gravel slipped to McFadden’s outside coming out of Turn 4, the two touched wheels, and Gravel stole the victory at the finish line.
The thousands of fans rose to their feet to watch a photo finish with a .015 second margin of victory. Oddly enough, the lapped car right next to them was none other than Riley Goodno, who was driving a car that paid tribute to Kenny Woodruff’s machine that Jimmy Boyd took to Victory Lane in the first ever World of Outlaws race at Devil’s Bowl. The perfect punctuation to the decades of Devil’s Bowl history.
“What a way to send off Devil’s Bowl. How about that?” Gravel said., “I’m sick of running second. I saw a stat that I ran six seconds in the last 10 races, so that was way too many. I was sending it no matter what. I know Carson (Macedo) and Brad (Sweet) were having trouble, but at the end of the day, I’ve just got to try to win races no matter what they do. Happy to finally get one.”
Gravel’s win at Devil’s Bowl marked his first at the Mesquite, TX track in his 17th attempt with The Greatest Show on Dirt. The Watertown, CT’s 87th career Series victory gives him sole possession of 10th all-time, breaking a tie with Daryn Pittman. On the track’s final night of racing, the Big Game Motorsports driver became the 30th different competitor to win a World of Outlaws race at the birthplace of the Series.
Gravel started the race in the second spot with McFadden to his inside on the pole after the two ran first and second in the Toyota Racing Dash. McFadden jumped ahead early on, but a major moment in the race came on a restart with 2 laps complete. Lining up in the second row, teammates Brad Sweet and Kasey Kahne came together resulting in both of them flipping on the front straightaway.
Sweet, the points leader, brought the battered KKR #49 to the Federated Car Care Work Zone in need of many repairs. After non-stop thrashing on the Napa Auto Parts machine, Sweet was able to rejoin the field.
On the ensuing restart, McFadden again powered ahead of Gravel to maintain the top spot. Way back in the field, Sweet began picking through cars. But trouble struck again for the four-time champion as his left rear tire shredded on the eighth lap. Back to the Work Zone Sweet went, and back to the track be returned with a new tire.
The race endured a couple more yellow flags over the next dozen laps, and the last one helped set up a finish for the ages.
McFadden favored the low line of the racetrack in the latter stages while Gravel looked to the top to locate a potential lane by McFadden. As the laps dwindled, Gravel managed to continue cutting into McFadden’s advantage. When the two reached traffic with only a handful of laps to go, Gravel had his momentum built up and was ready to make a move.
On the final lap, McFadden found himself stuck behind a slower car in the preferred inside line. While the bottom might’ve been faster, Gravel had no intentions of staying behind and settling for second after posting six runner-ups in the previous 10 races.
As the two screamed out of Turn 4 on the last lap, Gravel found enough momentum and space to squeeze through to the outside. McFadden stayed heavily on the gas, but the momentum and win belonged to David Gravel and his Big Game Motorsports team by inches over McFadden.
Gravel put his name in the record books as the final driver to top a World of Outlaws race at Devil’s Bowl with an all-time finish.
“Obviously, I wasn’t alive in 1978,” Gravel said. “But this is where it all started. It’s cool to put my stamp on the end of the race. What a great crowd tonight, probably the biggest crowd ever in the history of Devil’s Bowl.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow for McFadden who claimed the runner-up spot after leading the entire race except the final few feet in the Roth Motorsports #83. And even though disappointed, McFadden kept the larger perspective in mind of the fans being treated to a memorable conclusion to Devil’s Bowl Speedway’s last race.
“It sucks to lose it by a nose,” McFadden said. “But it’s a good way to send the place off. Hopefully the fans enjoyed that. My car was really, really good, but then sort of over the last eight laps I got really, really tight.”
Rounding out the final Devil’s Bowl podium was Donny Schatz aboard the Tony Stewart/Curb Agajanian Racing #15. The 10-time champion moved forward from ninth and even passed Gravel at one point for second before slipping back a spot.
“We thought when we got racing with David there we were going to have a chance to get going,” Schatz explained. “I moved up the racetrack a little bit and got in his dirty air, and for some reason I was just stuck. I kept trying it. We got by him, but once I got myself back in clean air I was kind of in trouble and he went back by.”
Giovanni Scelzi and Cory Eliason completed the top five. Scelzi also claimed the KSE Racing Hard Charger after advancing from 15th to his fourth place finishing position.
After flipping and two trips to the Federated Car Care Work Zone, Brad Sweet managed to drive all the way back up to seventh. Gravel’s win brought him within 50 points of Sweet with only the World Finals remaining.
Sweet snagged the Simpson Performance Products QuickTime Award, his fourth in the last five races.
CASE No.1 Engine Oil Heat One went to Kasey Kahne. NOS Energy Drink Heats Two and Three were topped by Sheldon Haudenschild and Spencer Bayston.
Logan Schuchart won the Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown.
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars wrap up the 2023 season and crown a champion with four nights of World Finals action at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Nov. 1-4. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action live on DIRTVision.
NOS Energy Drink Feature (30 Laps): 1. 2-David Gravel; 2. 83-James McFadden; 3. 15-Donny Schatz; 4. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 5. 11-Cory Eliason; 6. 5-Spencer Bayston; 7. 49-Brad Sweet; 8. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 9. 7S-Robbie Price; 10. 1-Brenham Crouch; 11. 20G-Noah Gass; 12. 4-Austin Mundie; 13. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 14. 41-Carson Macedo; 15. 1J-Danny Jennings; 16. J2-John Carney II; 17. 21W-Riley Goodno; 18. (DNF) 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 19. (DNF) 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 20. (DNF) 95-Matt Covington; 21. (DNF) 9-Kasey Kahne; 22. (DNF) 84-Scott Bogucki; 23. (DNF) 52-Blake Hahn; 24. (DNF) 19-Ayrton Gennetten