eNASCAR Heat Pro League driver Slade Gravitt is one of just eight drivers that will compete for the league championship this Wednesday (Aug. 19) at three tracks – the virtual landscapes of Michigan International Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.
An overall purse of $70,000 is up for grabs, with the overall Season 2 champion taking home $30,000. The three races will be run back-to-back-to-back, with the full 28-driver field participating in each event.
Gravitt, who drives the Spin No. 21 for Wood Brothers Gaming, scored one victory this season with a fuel-mileage win at New Hampshire, a track he admits isn’t one where he expected to visit Victory Lane. Although his teammate didn’t make the final eight, WBG sits third in the eNHPL team standings, just 12 points behind the JTG Daugherty Throttlers team.
Frontstretch caught up with Gravitt for an exclusive interview on Monday ahead of the championship finale, discussing his mindset heading into the event and his season so far.
Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: With the championship coming up on Wednesday, how comfortable and confident are you heading into it, and how grueling will the back-to-back-to-back races be?
Slade Gravitt: We’re pretty confident going in. We won Michigan, [got] second at Bristol and had a really good car at Phoenix, but unfortunately some early-race incidents plagued our day for the finale last season at what used to be ISM Raceway, now Phoenix. Sort of pretty confident going in on with [NASCAR] Heat 5 and now on a wheel as opposed to a controller. Same as last season, we have a car capable of winning — always love Michigan, always have. Phoenix right now, I think we have a pretty good car, not a winning car at the moment. So [at] Phoenix I think we’re okay at the moment, but [for] Bristol, need to do a bit of work on that. We’re not where we need to be right now for Bristol, obviously we need to be good at Phoenix, but we need to be good at Bristol, so got like a lot of work to do for that. Focusing on Phoenix first but, I guess, still [feel really good about] Michigan. And we do practices on Wednesday, and I had to take a break on Saturday from racing, little bit of wear and tear on the shoulder. So I had to take a little break, because it’s going to be really tough, to say the least. I know, [the championship] is 60-ish minutes, 70-ish minutes of actual racing, but when you got Phoenix and Bristol, you know it’s going to be tough for anybody. Michigan shouldn’t be too difficult, but Phoenix and Bristol is gonna be grueling. So we might be a little sore after Wednesday night, but hopefully it’ll be worth it.
Cheek: You won at New Hampshire earlier this season, in May. How gratifying was getting that win and how did you use fuel strategy to win that race?
Gravitt: I said in my post-race interview for that — my own stupidity, I thought the race laps was, I think, 70 or something like that — 35 laps, or two segments. The lap count wasn’t 70, and I forgot what it was — like I said, my own stupidity. I had a car capable of going 35 laps, and the last caution just happened to play out; luckily it was 35 to go. So we had a really good lead for most of that once everybody started pitting on the other guys’ strategy. We were very close to blowing a right-rear tire and barely beat Luis Zaiter by five-tenths, so a little hectic to say the least. Obviously, like I said. we did not have a winning car, probably had a seventh- or eighth-place car. I’m not really that good there. I look at that track as kind of a mulligan, if you will, kind of an “I don’t expect to be good here, let’s just try and get a top seven,” and we ended up winning. That was really gratifying, to say the least, winning at a track that’s always kicked my butt for I don’t know how many games — three games with the NASCAR Heat franchise — and it was fantastic though.
Cheek: You said that you guys practice a lot, but have you been running those three tracks a lot outside of those practices just to get laps in?
Gravitt: Of course. I’m trying to do the math in my head, how many hours I’ve put in total. I think it’s near an hour a track, and I did Michigan on Wednesday, Michigan and Phoenix on Thursday last week, I’d say nearly 16 hours so far, 20 hours have been put in. Took Saturday off, [practiced] all three last Friday, all three last Saturday and then today so far, we’re on Phoenix and Bristol. A lot of practice … including the practice sessions, which are about an hour and a half, so a lot of hours, to say the least.
Cheek: You were drafted by the Wood Brothers’ eHeat team. What’s it been like driving for them so far and what have your interactions with the actual team been like?
Gravitt: Honestly, I was surprised to be drafted by them, I’ve said that since the beginning. I did not think I was the No. 1 overall pick-caliber, I guess, of myself, I just didn’t. I always thought there were guys better than me who deserved it. We were doing the qualifiers, and I think I was an eighth-place guy — in the qualifier we were just running lap times. And I’m an eighth- to 10th-place guy there. And then we went and did the showcase races, which was just racing with all the guys that made it. I think I had the best average or the second-best average of the races. So Jon Wood said he liked my social media building, strong camera stuff, I guess, that combination. I thought there were better drivers than me … but I guess I had the whole package. I’m not trying to put myself out there [laughs], but I guess that’s what he just saw. I was surprised, I thought I was going to go number three to RCR or number, I guess five or six, to Hendrick, or something like that range. I guess he saw something he liked in me or something. It’s worked out since the beginning — racing for this team has been amazing. Jon’s put effort into it, especially meeting guys like Eddie Wood, Len Wood and Paul Menard back last season. Talking to them was amazing, going to the Wood Brothers Museum was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Coming out of the Pro League and having Len and Eddie, [who] would just kind of show you everything that’s in there, and having a story behind every piece of memorabilia there was really awesome. Going to the tracks, being part of the team and the pit box and the haulers. It’s just amazing.
Cheek: Of course, Menard retired at the end of last season and Matt DiBenedetto is driving the No. 21 now; have you had the chance to interact with him yet?
Gravitt: I have not. Honestly, I wish I could, because before he was in the 21 I was a big Matt D fan. I wish I could go to the track and have a chance to talk to him, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to, haven’t had much with Len or Eddie. Obviously with COVID I haven’t gone to the track; but Jon, to say the least, I’ve had a lot of conversations with him, meetings with him … same as last season. So that’s been the same. [As for going to the track], hopefully Matt’s there next season and I can talk to him for a few minutes.
Cheek: After COVID really began impacting the United States in mid-March, did you find yourself racing more than before, or was it business as usual?
Gravitt: I’ve been playing, I’d say, a decent amount more. It’s not like all I do is play this game — even back to Season One, or even now that I’ve graduated high school. Like I said, this isn’t my 24/7 thing, I try not to be on a video game a lot of the time unless it’s Pro League or just talking to some buds. So that’s my thing, just don’t want to be on it 24/7. Now, I’ve played 16 hours since Wednesday for these tracks. So lots recently, but I try not to make my life this game.
Cheek: Do you have a primary competitor among the other seven championship contenders?
Gravitt: Obviously all the PS4 guys, just to race them again. I raced on PS4 in Season One and Xbox Season Two; obviously just getting to race with the PS4 guys again will be a lot of fun. I have a lot of friends on PS4, and I probably spend more time on that to be honest with you, just talking to friends and all that. Competition-wise, obviously Justin Brooks and Daniel Buttafuoco are going to be really hard to beat as always, and then for PS4, guys like Josh Harbin and Josh Parker, those guys are going to be really tough to beat. Guys that I’ve raced against the last few years, I mean, a lot of fun competition.
Cheek: Finally, with the championship in a couple of days, what’s your mindset going in, and do you have a particular track you’re most excited for?
Gravitt: Very excited to race against the PS4 guys again, the guys I’ve raced with for years. This my first year racing with the Xbox crowd, and it’s gonna be really a lot of fun to race for the guys I raced with on Heat Evolution. Michigan’s the track I’m most excited for. I won there last season [and have] always loved tracks like Michigan and Auto Club. Always loved Michigan. Phoenix is one of my favorite short tracks, and that should be a lot of fun. Lot of work to do for Bristol. We need to be better than where we’re at at the moment, as of right now. It’ll be very exciting, and I know the biggest worry is knowing how guys will drive for $30K. I know a lot of guys might change their driving style when it comes down to championship time, and everybody knows — I think Rusty [Walrus] said several times during the broadcast — I’m one of the cleanest drivers in the league, and I pride myself on doing that, but as any racer goes, if someone roughs you up, you have to rough them up back. So we might have to change driving styles if guys change theirs, and maybe put some different colors of paint on the Spin No. 21.