by Jacon Hord, @HordRaceWatcher Photo; Nick Zebelian, @nickzeb
The weather felt like Ohio Sprint Speedweek, and the World Of Outlaws were in town, in May, and not at Eldora. It was kind of weird, but we liked it. It was the Kistler Engines Classic at Attica Raceway Park where the best of the business went toe-to-toe with Ohio’s locals. What a wildly entertaining night it was.
Three fantastic heat races kicked things off, which saw David Gravel, Brandon Spithaler, and Sheldon Haudenschild win. Trey Jacobs, in his first night out in the Pete Grove 70 car, made it to the dash via a second place finish in heat two after a fierce battle with Carson Macedo which saw contact coming to the line. Fast forward to the dash draw, and Jacobs pulled not only the pole, but a ring out for his now fiance! Sheldon would go from last to first in the dash, much to the crowd’s delight.
It was Sheldon and Spithaler who led the field to the green flag of the 40 lap feature, with Spithaler taking the early advantage. On lap two, Haudenschild slid Spithaler for the lead in turns three and four, leaving Spithaler no choice but to spin out to avoid Haudenschild. It was a tough break for what was a great night for Spithaler. On the ensuing restart, Posse invader Anthony Macri didn’t make it into turn one and collected Trey Jacobs in the process. This ended both of their nights.
The next restart saw Haudenschild get away from David Gravel, but a yellow for a spinning Aaron Reutzel negated that. The following restart was the same for Haudenschild, as he built a 1.140 second lead by lap five. Meanwhile, three laps later, Donny Schatz got by World of Outlaws points leader Brad Sweet for third. On the next lap, another yellow for Aaron Reutzel would set up a long green flag run.
Haudenschild and Gravel were side-by-side on the restart, and Gravel drove around the outside of Haudenschild on lap 10 for the lead. Gravel would hold a steady half-second lead for the next few laps. On lap 17, Gravel was approaching traffic, and Haudenschild was right there. They were side-by-side on lap 18 and Haudenschild took the lead going down the backstretch.
At the halfway point, Sheldon was working through lapped traffic when he caught up to Brandon Spithaler, who coincidentally or not, held up Sheldon going into turn one, allowing Gravel to get back by. The next lap, Haudenschild got the lead right back, and started slicing and dicing his way through heavy lapped traffic. Gravel not only had to make his way through traffic, but he now had Schatz hot on his bumper for second. On lap 23, Schatz got by Gravel and turned his attention to the leader Haudenschild.
Sheldon was great in lapped traffic, extending his lap 24 lead of 1.344 seconds to 3.397 seconds with ten circuits left. Haudenschild had a moment while lapping Cole Macedo which shoved Haudenschild off the track momentarily, which somehow didn’t cost Sheldon any time to Schatz. On lap 34, Gravel had caught back up to Schatz and they waged war for second. They made contact on lap 37, and Gravel reclaimed the second position. This was huge for Gravel.
Why was that huge for Gravel? Coming to the white flag, DJ Foos lost a left rear wheel, spinning him out in front of the leader Haudenschild, leaving him nowhere to go, and spinning out. You could hear the crowd sigh from Willard. This gave the lead to Gravel, with Schatz in second and set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Gravel would have to hold off Schatz, who is a restart master and is looking for Outlaw win #300. Gravel got a great restart, but bobbled in turns one and two, giving Schatz a run at the lead! Gravel shut the door, and the white flag lap was a repeat of the previous lap. Gravel was just too good, and didn’t give Schatz a chance at #300. Gravel won over Schatz, Brent Marks, who started 19th, Carson Macedo, and Brad Sweet.
“I felt like we had a good enough car to win the race,” said Gravel. “I stalled out during the middle of the race, but was charging at the end and was pretty good. It feels really good to be good at Attica all night long because it’s a tough race track. Once Sheldon passed me back for the lead, I had Donny all over me. Luckily I was able to continue on and it was a 40 lap race because I got my stuff together and started charging forward again. You can’t fake a good finish here, it’s too tough and too slick.”
305 Feature: I say it’s the feature, but all we’re going to talk about is THOSE last two laps between Mike Keegan and Paul Weaver, because those two laps may have made the 305 feature the race of the year.
Coming to two laps left, Weaver and Keegan were side-by-side at the line. Going down the backstretch, they split the lapper, sending Weaver off the track. Weaver miraculously saved it, and even held on to the lead going into turn three. At the white flag, again these two were side-by-side. Keegan slid Weaver going into turn one, and Keegan said he thought he lost the race right there.
Weaver rocketed by on the top of Keegan, and gapped him going down the backstretch. Keegan threw a last-ditch slider into turns three and four, and it stuck. Weaver cut back under Keegan and it was a drag race to the checkered flag. They crossed the line, and all eyes went to the scoreboard because it was too close to call by eye. The famous X went P1 by .001 seconds. This was Keegan’s first career sprint car win, in a replica of the car his dad won countless races in. Keegan was over the moon excited.
“I looked down and thought Paul won it,” said Keegan. “He’s [Weaver] got a lot of experience, so you just have to stay calm and do something different because he could drive around this track blind. Paul’s a clean racer, you don’t have to worry about him screwing you over or anything. I just had to focus on how to get him back.”
Mike’s father, Mark, is a legend in northwest Ohio, with countless wins and championships in the famous X car. To beat the all-time winningest driver in Attica’s history in an iconic car was an amazing feat for the young Keegan: “I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid watching my dad. Seeing him in victory lane, it was pretty cool being back down here on the horse track with all my guys, my dad, my family, my girlfriend– it’s just awesome.”