LINCOLN, Calif. – It began 25 years ago in a box stock kart at Prairie City’s dirt track. At age eight, Brad Sweet strapped into Rod Tiner’s kart and started a racing career on dirt that 20 years later reached the pinnacle of sprint car racing, the World of Outlaws. Tiner had built the kart for his son, but when completed it was Sweet who decided to try racing and see if it was of interest to him. As many current sprint car drivers have done, Sweet’s kart career proved to be a training ground for the next six years.
At age 15, moving on to something else was a wish, but age restrictions back then made moving up difficult. Sweet did race a few midget lite events until finally being told he could not race at that age.
A year later, it was a full season in Harley Van Dyke’s midget lite where wins started accumulating, including the championship at the 2002 Mini Sprint Nationals in Benton, Mo. Finally at age 17 – a time when today’s young drivers might be in their third year of sprint car racing – Sweet first climbed into a winged sprint.
Duane Scott put him in his car, with that very first race coming at Petaluma Speedway where Sweet believes he finished fourth. Later that year Scott “made my dad a really good deal on a mini 360 sprint operation; we really could not afford more than a local 360”. He raced about 20 times and he figures he only got one win, that coming at Marysville. The following year, now at age 18, Sweet got a ride from Dave and Debbie Vertullo and started to make significant advances with his results.
Racing about 40 times that year, Sweet felt he was “getting pretty competitive” and won a Civil War race at Placerville, at a time when car counts for the series were very large. Sweet’s big move came after graduating from high school, when he took off for Indiana. He noted that, “I felt I could be a really great California racer, but everybody out here wasn’t necessarily making a living doing it. I had the dream to make a living racing.”
During the year racing for the Vertullos, Sweet was building up their family little operation, adding a part here and there. Joined by Heavy D (Darin Smith), they drove to Indiana to run USAC, which “seemed the place to be at that point.”
They did not have the money to race with the World of Outlaws, but Indiana offered the chance to race three or four nights a week in non-winged sprints. Sweet said, “We bounced around running for different owners but the year did the job, making a bit of a name for myself. The next year Jack Yeley called and I brought my stuff home and drove for Yeley all of 2006.”
By the end of 2006, Sweet felt burned out, since he was not really going anywhere but racing a lot of local shows. He came home on weekends when he could and raced a winged sprint for owners such as Mark Flachman or Rod Tiner.
He decided to come back west in 2007, and that proved to be a game changer when he got connected with Gary Perkins. “I got back into winged racing, which is what I grew up doing and was very passionate about and had watched my whole life,” explained Sweet. Forming a team with Perkins, along with Kyle Hirst also driving, put the Grass Valley driver on a new path.
When Jeff Walker asked Sweet to return to the Midwest for a while, Perkins felt the timing was good, as a break for the winged team was needed. While racing for Walker, a call came from Keith Kunz to drive a midget.
Sweet had never raced a midget but his third race ever in one was the Belleville Nationals where he broke right after getting passed for the lead by Jerry Coons Jr. The midget seemed to fit his driving style, so he spent the rest of 2007 driving for Kunz and Perkins.
He finished 2007 strong and the phone rang and things changed dramatically. Willie and Kasey Kahne called because they needed a driver for 2008 to race their entire USAC program: dirt and pavement midgets and sprints. Sweet had no pavement experience, but that call led to a relationship that continues today.
Sweet summarizes the history by saying, “They gave me a chance and I’ve been with Kasey ever since. We kind of transitioned through USAC into more winged stuff and NASCAR stuff along the way and I kind of found my home with the World of Outlaws.”
A series regular since 2014, Sweet claimed his first Outlaw win in 2012 at Spencer, Iowa, running about 60 Outlaw shows prior to becoming a full timer.
Recognizing the number of years to be a professional sprint car driver is limited. Sweet is giving some thought to what he would do eventually.
Retirement in the usual sense would not be likely, as Sweet describes himself as “too much of a busybody to just retire. I’ll need to do something, whether it’s promoting races or whatever.”
No matter what he decides to do after his racing career has ended, it will likely be successful, as Sweet describes himself as “relentless” and he has always been interested in being an entrepreneur.
It was a long road from the homemade kart debut to battling for the title in the World of Outlaws, but Brad Sweet has used his passion for racing and the willingness to take a chance to get where he is today.