KNOXVILLE - Brad Sweet and his Kasey Kahne Racing team are where they want to be, on top of the mountain as the 2019 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champions.
The climb was one Sweet never knew would come. And at the beginning, it wasn’t necessarily the climb he looked to make.
The Grass Valley, CA native always wanted to make a living as a race car driver. He grew up around the local Northern California racing scene, attending Sprint Car races with his mom and dad – Jennifer and Don Sweet. There, he discovered the World of Outlaws and drivers like Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell, who amazed his young mind with what they could do with a 900hp car.
“My dad is very mechanically inclined. Some of his best friends were in Sprint Car racing,” Sweet said. “He would go and help mechanic on some of the cars. I would spend my weekends in my younger days at local tracks like Chico (Silver Dollar Speedway) or Placerville (Speedway). Was just around it a lot. Basically, had that fire and desire to do it.”
The Outlaw Kart scene invaded California in the early 90s, catching the eye of 8-year-old Brad Sweet.
“Once I saw kids could drive mini looking Sprint Cars, I pretty much thought it was absolutely the coolest thing in the whole world,” Sweet said.
After racing the karts for six years, Sweet became burned out with them. He wanted to take the next step in his racing career. However, he had to be 16 years old to race Sprint Cars.
That restriction resulted in a lack of racing for Sweet the next couple of years. He dabbled with Micro Sprints and some more Outlaw Kart racing, but he was no longer on a continuous tour of racing. That was fine to him, though.
“My mom and dad never pressured me,” Sweet said. “It was always what I wanted to do. I had a very normal up bringing in school. Never missed a ton of school. Always going to high school football games on Friday night. Dances and all of that stuff. That was kind of neat. I didn’t get back into Sprint Car racing until I was 17. Of course, I would go watch all of the time on the weekends whenever I could.”
While he loved Sprint Cars, racing in NASCAR became a desire of his. At 17-years-old he kicked his racing career into gear again, running a family owned Sprint Car around California. When he graduated high school a couple of years later, Sweet already knew the next step he wanted to take.
He knew if he wanted to make a career out of driving race cars, at 19 years old, there wasn’t much for him to lose in taking a risk to make it happen. With the family race car and a friend, he moved to Indiana with nothing but hope and desire.
“I remember calling my dad and saying like, ‘I can either keep racing week to week here and be a really good California guy or I can move to Indiana and try to make a name for myself,’” Sweet said.
There was no opposition from his parents on the decision.
“They’ve always been open and open minded and knew they weren’t going to stop me for one, and, two, they knew it was a dream of mine,” Sweet said. “They weren’t going to pay for it. They knew if I was going to go try, now was the time. I didn’t have anything holding me back. No bills. No house. No wife. No kids. Nothing like that. It was a good time to go try it.”
Once Sweet got to Indiana in 2005, he “winged it.”
He ran two to three nights a week to get himself established in the area. Eventually, car owners approached him throughout the year and hired him to drive their car.
“I think I drove for six or eight different guys that year,” Sweet said.” One offs. Or run a couple of weeks. Or another guy would call with a better opportunity. Kind of jumping around a little. It taught me a lot. I learned a lot. Basically, put my name on the map.”
His schedule stabilized more the next two years, driving more consistently for team owners and finding himself in better and better opportunities – such as getting opportunities to drive for the prestigious Keith Kunz Motorsports team. Then, in 2007, Sweet got a phone call that would be the catalyst to his path as a World of Outlaws champion. Kasey Kahne Racing called with an offer to drive their USAC midget car in 2008.
Sweet won six races on the USAC National Midget tour in his first year with KKR, including the Knoxville Midget Nationals. He was a natural fit to the team and has been a part of it ever since – earning himself "The Big Cat" nickname while there.
Kasey Kahne still remembers the first time he saw Sweet race.
“It was right before I hired him,” Kahne said. “I had seen him racing a lot. I saw him racing at Elma, Washington. I knew he raced a midget the night before somewhere in the Midwest and somewhere else the night before that.
“I was like, ‘How in the world… He’s putting an effort in to do all of this racing.’ That’s something I would have done back when I was his age. And he was winning races and running competitively. So, yeah, as soon as we called him up and hired him it’s been a great relationship.”
Sweet immediately fit in with the KKR group and family, Kahne said. It didn’t take long for he and Sweet to become close friends.
“He was one of these guys, we just shared the same passions and same goals,” Sweet said of Kahne. “He was obviously in a different league than I was at that point, racing Cup. But we worked out together. We worked on race cars together. We liked to have a beer together. We became pretty inseparable. Just from a sheer fact that we loved and wanted the same thing, which was winning races and just being in shape and pushing each other.”
Kahne also helped Sweet make a run at his dream – racing in NASCAR. After winning multiple big races for KKR, Sweet said Kahne felt he deserved an opportunity in Stock Car racing.
With backing from Great Clips – a long-time sponsor of Kahne’s – Sweet made his ARCA and NASCAR Truck Series debut in 2009, making two starts in both Series. He ran a part-time schedule in the Truck Series for the next two years, also making one NASCAR Xfinity Series start. Then in 2012 and 2013 he ran half of the year in the Xfinity Series, earning a career best sixth-place finish twice.
During that time, he also ran several World of Outlaws Sprint Car races for KKR. Sweet earned his first World of Outlaws win in 2012 at Clay County Fairgrounds Speedway and then won the illustrious Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway the year after.
While it may not have initially been the direction Sweet wanted to head, his Stock Car and Sprint Car performances made it clear where his future would head.
Kahne offered him a full-time World of Outlaws ride for the 2014 season.
“It (NASCAR) pushed me to my limit,” Sweet said. “I was trying very hard to figure it out and be successful – more successful than I was being. You know, I think it was just one of those things, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think there were things about that, that made my head stronger. It made me want to work harder.
“When I got the opportunity to run full-time with the World of Outlaws, at first I felt like I didn’t make it in NASCAR. It was discouraging. I was disappointed. But, as it’s gone on, it’s kind of one of those things that’s definitely happen for a reason.”
BECOMING AN OUTLAW
Since taking the deal, Sweet won the World of Outlaws Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year title in 2014, the 2018 Knoxville Nationals, his second Kings Royal in 2019, more than 50 races and the 2019 World of Outlaws championship.
“I’m much happier,” said Sweet about being a World of Outlaws driver. “I’m able to contend for championships. It’s kind of my happy place. It’s where I was meant to be, obviously. It fits my driving style. It fits my feedback. I have a great owner. I have everything in place to hopefully win multiple championships, multiple Knoxville Nationals, Kings Royals, Jackson Nationals. Just put my name in the history books at this point. I think this is where I was meant to be for sure.”
With the success he’s had as a World of Outlaws driver and the recognition he’s been getting, would he ever accept an offer to try NASCAR, again?
“Absolutely not,” Sweet said. “Just the feeling I get when showing up to the Knoxville Nationals or Kings Royal; you can’t beat that. I feel like you’d be selling your soul, for myself anyways. I know there are guys who want to do it and more power to them. But I had my chance. I had the corporate sponsor and drove for a good owner and just couldn’t make it happen. I think even if I got the call from the best Cup owner I would respectfully decline.”
He’s focused on his career as a Sprint Car driver and going after more wins and more titles. There’s still room for he and his KKR team to improve, though, Sweet said. They have yet to reach their peak level. He knows it won’t be easy to keep his perch atop the mountain.
However, he plans to hold it for as long as he can. He has no time frame on his career. Things are too good to say when they’d end, Sweet said. If he ever loses his desire to win and be competitive, then it’ll probably be time to turn the page to the next chapter in his life.
One option could be race promoting. He’s already dabbled in the field, promoting World of Outlaws races at Placerville Speedway.
“I love being involved in the racing world,” Sweet said. “I love the fans and the people. It’s all my best friends in the world. Whenever the second chapter is, that could involve race promoting, track promoting. Who knows? I’ve learned a lot by doing these few promotions I’ve done over the last five years. I feel like I have a different perspective on the whole business of it. It’s nice to have that.”
Sweet is a husband and a father to a 2-year-old daughter. While racing will always be a part of his life, he’s unsure how he would feel if his daughter wanted to follow the same path.
“She loves cars, but I’m not going to push her in any direction,” Sweet said. “I know how hard this whole racing thing is on yourself, your family. So, if she really, really wants to do it, I’ll get behind her. But if I can persuade her to do something a little different, I would probably do that. I don’t know if I could see my little girl out there racing. It would be awful hard.”
Whether it’s his daughter or another younger racer, Sweet said a piece of advice he would give is you don’t have to push yourself to race all of the time when you’re young. It’s easy to get burnt out and lose the passion.
“I feel like one thing that was good for me was I was never pushed,” Sweet said. “We didn’t have to go to the races every single weekend of my whole life. I feel like when I got into my 20s it made me want it more. I wasn’t so burnt out. I see a lot of kids now a day, I know they have the desire, but it’s real easy to get burnt out doing something like this over and over and over. My advice would be just let it play out naturally. If you want something bad enough and you work hard enough for it, there’s no reason it won’t come true.”
That will continue to be his approach this year as he goes for his second Series title. His mentality from last year hasn’t change. Maybe a little less anxiety. But he still wants to win every race. Still wants to climb to new levels of the World of Outlaws mountain. He’s exactly where he wants to be.
“At the end of the day we’re super competitive,” Sweet said. “Once you get the feeling of what it’s like to be a champion or win the most races in the season you really don’t want to lose that. The desire is still there to win and be the champion.”
With four wins already in 2020 – including his sweep of the Beaver Dam Raceway doubleheader, which helped him reclaimed the points lead – Sweet will go for two more wins this weekend at Knoxville Raceway for the June 12-13 Brownells Big Guns Bash doubleheader. Tickets for the two-day event can be purchased by clicking here.
If you can't make it to the races, you can watch both nights live on DIRTVision.
BRAD SWEET WORLD OF OUTLAWS CAREER STATS
-2019 World of Outlaws champion
-2018 Knoxville Nationals winner at Knoxville Raceway
-2X King Royal winner at Eldora Speedway (2013 & 2019)
-2X Jackson Nationals winner at Jackson Motorplex (2017 & 2019)
-54 career wins (as of Beaver Dam Raceway in June) / Ranking 15th on the all-time wins list
-More than 600 career starts