ATTICA, Ohio – It appeared that all the stars were aligning for Sheldon Haudenschild to take another home-state victory during Friday night’s Kistler Engines Classic at Attica Raceway Park, until misfortune struck and opened the door for David Gravel to capitalize.
Haudenschild, a Wooster, Ohio, native who won with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series earlier this season at Eldora Speedway, saw his hopes of a similar outcome dashed when D.J. Foos’ car lost the left-rear wheel and collected Haudenschild as the leader approached the white flag.
After that, Gravel inherited the top spot and held off a determined Donny Schatz over a two-lap dash to the finish. Gravel took the checkered flag first for his 62nd career Outlaw win and fourth this season.
It was a stark turn of events in a short amount of time, but Gravel wasn’t complaining after climbing on the top wing of his No. 2 Big Game Motorsports sprint car and soaking in a confetti bath in victory lane.
“I’ll take them any way I can get them, but obviously Sheldon’s a fan favorite here and you don’t want to see stuff like that happen,” said Gravel. “I thought I was closing, but he was probably going to win the race no matter what before that issue took him out. I can’t thank my guys enough, though. In the [pole] dash, I said I had a pretty good car and not to do much, and that I would just get the wing back and go.
“I was just as good as Sheldon was early, and then I got free and he got away from me big time … but when I finally got the wing back again, the car felt a lot better,” Gravel added. “In 40 laps around Attica, so many crazy things can happen. It got really slick. It was dirty through the middle on that green-white-checkered [finish], but we did what we needed to and held on to it.”
The Kistler Engines Classic feature was wild from start to finish, and the action began from the moment the green flag dropped for the 40-lapper, after Attica local Brandon Spithaler ripped the top to lead the opening lap from the pole-sitting Haudenschild No. 17.
But Haudenschild seized command for a lap-two restart after Spithaler spun high in turn three amid the battle for the lead, ending his chances at a potential upset victory.
From there, a pair of lap-after-lap cautions followed before a lap-four restart gave way to some green-flag action. Aaron Reutzel’s spin on the eighth lap did little to slow Haudenschild’s momentum, but it did create another restart that gave Gravel his first opportunity to pounce.
After ducking side-by-side with Haudenschild on the ninth lap, Gravel cleared to the lead on lap 10 by using Haudenschild’s patented “against the cushion” approach to soar around the outside of the No. 17.
It took five more laps before heavy traffic returned for the lead runners, and that congestion made for an electric battle through the middle stages of the race.
First, Haudenschild raced past Gravel to resume the lead on lap 18, then Gravel used the slower car of Spithaler as a pick to dart underneath the NOS Energy Drink No. 17 and retake the top spot at lap 20.
Haudenschild made a monster move to clear Gravel two laps later, however, and took off as Donny Schatz came forward to second before both he and Gravel became pinned in traffic.
While Schatz and Gravel floundered to pass slower cars, Haudenschild cruised out to a lead of more than three seconds as the feature wound into its final stages.
The trailing duo cut into Haudenschild’s margin with seven to go – as Haudenschild got into the back of Cole Macedo – but it was with two laps left that the bubble finally burst for the leader.
As Haudenschild rounded turn four coming toward the white flag, D.J. Foos’ car lost the left-rear wheel, sending him slowing to a sudden stop and leaving Haudenschild with nowhere to go. The NOS Energy Drink No. 17 spun to a halt, its seemingly certain victory fading away in an instant.
Haudenschild was pushed to the trailer, his night over, while Gravel inherited the lead for a single-file restart with a 10-time Outlaw champion and 299-time feature winner nipping at his heels.
Though Schatz stayed with Gravel on the final restart, Gravel was able to escape coming to the white flag and held Schatz back from there to deny the Fargo, N.D., veteran his elusive 300th series win.
The bright side to Schatz’s runner-up finish, however, was that it was his eighth straight top-10 and catapulted him to fourth in the series standings heading to Sharon (Ohio) Speedway on Saturday night.
“I don’t know if I could have gotten him,” admitted Schatz. “We seem to struggle at the end of the races lately and just can’t seem to get the tires caught up at the point of the corner where I need them to be, but these guys are digging and doing a great job.
“We’ll get back to where we need to be running; it’s just taken longer than we all anticipated.”
KSE Hard Charger Brent Marks completed the podium after a stunning charge forward from 19th, with Carson Macedo and two-time defending series champion Brad Sweet finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
James McFadden, Logan Schuchart, Brock Zearfoss, Wayne Johnson and local favorite Craig Mintz rounded out the top 10.
Friday’s main event featured six official lead changes between three different drivers.
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series heads next to Sharon Speedway on May 22.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.