Sweet ride – Racing, wrestling both part of Bear River senior’s life
Brad Sweet hadn’t stretched a Bear River wrestling singlet across his body until this, his senior year. But the reason wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy the sport Ð nor that he wasn’t very good at it.
He just couldn’t make weight.
His dilemma didn’t demand any dieting or the need to shed some pounds, though. It was just the opposite. Throughout his early teenage years, Brad was actually too light to compete in even the 103-pound weight class of high school wrestling.
But he found his physical frame to be a perfect fit behind the wheel of a race car and discovered auto racing to be the sport at which he really could excel.
“Brad is somewhat of a racing marvel. He stands 5-foot-3, on a good day,” said Troy Hennig, a Grass Valley native and track announcer at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico. “He is small in stature, but big on the race track.
“I think when most people see Brad race the sprint cars and then come see him afterwards in the pit area, they cannot believe that he is the driver and how fast he was going for a rookie.”
Fast enough, apparently, to be considered one of the top rookies in the country.
Back in December, Brad found himself meeting and greeting some of the nation’s top drivers. He shook hands with 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup champion Rusty Wallace and 18-time World Outlaw champ Steve Kinser, drivers who he long had watched on television and hoped to one day consider his peers.
And there he was.
But Brad wasn’t in Indianapolis to collect autographs. He headed back east to be on hand for the National 360 Sprint Car Poll awards program Ð in which he was one of four drivers from around the country nominated for national rookie of the year honor.
Former winners of the award include Robby Unser, Dale Blaney (brother of NASCAR’s Dave Blaney) and J.J. Yeley, who won all three USAC division championships in one year.
“It was pretty cool to see a lot of those people there,” he said. “Just to get nominated for rookie of the year was pretty cool.”
So when Mississippi’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had his named announced as the recipient of the honor, Brad wasn’t exactly disappointed. He said he was simply honored to be in the company of the winner and his fellow nominees, Kyle Patrick of Ontario and Josh Weller of Pennsylvania.
And considering the championship career he’s already attained at the age of 18, he expects plenty of other opportunities for such honors as he climbs through the ranks of auto racing.
Filling the trophy case
Five track championships, 102 official go-kart victories and three rookies of the year honors have already been collected by Brad in his eight years on the track. In 2002, he moved into the Bay Cities Racing Association midget light ranks and promptly pulled off six wins in three different states and took home two more rookie of the year honors.
Last year, he continued to climb the auto racing ladder, moving into the powerful scene of winged sprint cars on dirt. He scored one main event victory at Marysville Speedway, along with two fast time awards and six top-five finishes in 25 sprint car starts. He also posted the fast time award at the Trophy Cup in Hanford, the highest paying sprint car event in the world, clocking the quickest qualifier among the 77 cars on the track.
In that span, Brad drove for three different car owners, including Tom Fisher and Kyle Main of Grass Valley, but was mainly steering a car owned by his family.
“He’s getting the job done,” said Don Sweet, Brad’s father and primary sponsor. “And this is a job. We’re spending his college tuition right now.
“Money has never been an issue with me, but we do race on probably the smallest budget around. Financially, this is a tough sport, one that you need to get somebody to help you. We’re definitely looking for someone step up to the plate and put the money in, because we’ve kind of hit the peak budget we can handle.”
Continuing to show such success on the track will be a key to securing such sponsorship, but the fact that a driver his size and age has shown such driving skills should go a long way.
“The fact that he’s done so well on such a shoestring budget, that just shows you how good he is,” Don said.
Behind the wheel
The 360 sprint car he drove to such a stellar rookie year hammers out more than 700 horsepower, which sends the 1,350-pound car skidding around the dirt track at speeds reaching more than 140 miles per hour.
Quite the load for a 103-pounder to handle, eh?
“It does get exciting at the start with 70 cars, at 700 horsepower each, all just going at the same time,” Brad said. “When you hit the ‘go’ pedal right from the green flag, you don’t get to lean forward at all. It sits you right back and there’s so much of a G-force that you’re way down in the seat trying to turn the thing.
“You definitely have to be in shape.”
Which is where wrestling came in this winter.
When he was a freshman, he weighed just 70 pounds. His driver’s license states his weight during his sophomore year to be 78 pounds. And last year, he weighed 85 – still 18 pounds shy of the lightest weight class in high school wrestling.
But this year Brad finally made that weight and showed he’s as quick a learner on the mat as he is on the track. Heading into Thursday’s Pioneer Valley League championship meet at Bear River, Brad was the top-seeded 103-pounder, owning a 15-3 record.
Though he didn’t know it at the time, Brad has followed in the footsteps of one of his heroes in splitting time between racing and wrestling. Kinser, the 18-time World Outlaw champ, won the 1972 Indiana state wrestling championship at 132 pounds.
Make no mistake, though, wrestling will always finish second to racing for Brad.
“Wrestling is a competitive sport. I like it and it does keep me in shape. But this is definitely my life, right here,” he said pointing to a photo of him tearing up a dirt track last season.
“With him,” Don said, “everything yields to racing.”
Just how high does driving around a dirt track rate to Brad Sweet?
Evidently it’s leaps and bounds over the junior prom, which he planned to take a pass on in favor of heading off to another race in the California Civil War series last year.
In his Dad’s eyes, that showed Brad had the dedication – and, evidently, also an understanding date.
“Then we got a rain out and found out the day before (the prom),” Don said. “So he called his girl and said ‘Do you still want to go to the prom?’ Then he went to a 30-minute tux shop and it all worked out just fine.”
The travel schedule “Team Sweet” plans to keep in the upcoming year will also be a hectic one – and one subject to change as many times as they can find another race to run. Brad and Don are joined on each race day by their crew chief, Darrin “Heavy D” Smith of Auburn, and of course Brad’s mom, Jennifer, who said she practically grew up at old track at the Grass Valley Fairgrounds watching racing with her father.
Unbeknownst to her, Don, her future husband, was likely working down in the pits each time she watched a race.
“We never met there,” Jennifer said. “And now, later in life, to be back in the stands watching racing, it’s like ‘Wow, I guess we just must be destined for it.'”
And her son, she said, is destined to drive.
“He’s got an incredibly God-given talent,” Jennifer said. “You know what, there’s not a lot of kids out there who get into something that they become so passionate about. And for him to do as well as he does at it, is just so incredible to me.
“It’s strange to be sitting in the stands and listening to the comments, like ‘Gosh, look at little Brad Sweet. He’s going to be the next great racer.’ You wonder ‘Is that really my kid they’re talking about?’ It’s a neat thing.”
If Brad has his way, Mom will someday be hearing similar comments on the TV screen while watching a NASCAR race.
He plans to continue climbing that competitive ladder, beginning with a move to a 410 sprint car (830 horsepower) this season.
“I don’t plan on giving this up,” he said. “No way, after last year and what we did, it got me into it way more.
“If you have a bad weekend, you can’t wait ’til next week. And if you have a good weekend, you celebrate that night and start over again next week – that’s racin’.”
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