It’s not the Knoxville Nationals, but David Gravel, the event’s defending winner, is thrilled to restart the Greatest Show on Dirt at the Sprint Car Capital of the World on Friday.
The World of Outlaws Nos Energy Drink Sprint Car Series kicks off its first of seven scheduled races at the half-mile dirt track in Knoxville, Iowa—a venue where both Gravel and Jason Johnson Racing have enjoyed tremendous recent success.
Sure, iRacing has offered Gravel a great escape during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the opportunity to race again at the site of his most significant motorsports achievement has Gravel absolutely giddy.
“It’s definitely a track that I’ve historically been good at—that JJR has been historically good at, and we’ve been good there together for the Knoxville Nationals,” Gravel told RacinBoys.com. “It’s cool to get another shot at Knoxville. We usually only get to go there one weekend a year. Now we get an extra race there—and any seat time at Knoxville is good.
“I’m excited to go there and knock the rust off. All of us drivers will be pretty rusty, and the speeds are really fast there. It’s an extremely good field of cars. So it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
What will be bizarre is the absence of fans in the stands. While DIRTVision will televise the race, starting with hot laps at 7:30 p.m. ET, followed by qualifying and racing, the normal fan response will be devoid—at least at Knoxville.
“It’s going to be weird and different, for sure,” Gravel said. “I don’t think it will have near the excitement without fans in the stands. But there will be a great field of cars. It will be weird—and kind of awkward, first, not to have raced for a while, but also, not to have anyone in the stands will give it a different vibe.
“It will be interesting to see, but I’m just glad to race and hopefully get the ball rolling here.”
Gravel was expected to make his Gander Outdoors Trucks Series debut at Texas Motor Speedway on March 27. However, since the race was postponed, the 27-year-old ‘rookie’ is slated to drive the No. 24 Chevrolet at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 on May 26.
Gravel’s coronavirus "staycation" routine has been very similar to that of most racers—iRacing, cleaning and organizing the house. As an avid gamer, Gravel had an opportunity to participate in the FOX Sports broadcast of the virtual Chili Bowl Nationals on Wednesday night. His mentor, Jeff Gordon, arranged for Gravel to join the broadcast as the in-house iRacer.
“Since we were racing this week, I decided to fly up to Charlotte and do it,” Gravel said. “I’m glad I did. It was cool. Where the simulator is, you’re in a different room than the commentators. But it’s definitely a challenge to have those guys talking in your ear and driving with the car sounds at the same time. But it was a lot of fun.
“The Chili Bowl was really good. It’s a tough place, a tight race track. But I thought, visually, the race was really good. I thought it was very close to real life.”
As a newlywed, Gravel has enjoyed an extended honeymoon with wife Jillian at their South Florida home. Although he is generally the partner whose job carries the most pressure, as a nurse, Jillian’s job has been anything but routine of late.
“She’s still working a regular schedule as a registered nurse,” Gravel said. “She’s on the labor and delivery floor, but they've really cut back the hours with techs. So she has a lot more responsibilities with the moms and the babies, because the hospital is making less money with a lot of elective surgeries being canceled. It’s really stressful to be a nurse right now.”