Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: David Gravel Banks $250,000 Huset’s Win After Kofoid Goes Up in Smoke

Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: David Gravel got the jump on the final restart inside of 10 laps to go, holding off Rico Abreu to win the Huset’s High Bank Nationals Saturday night (June 24) in South Dakota.

The $250,000 victory was the biggest of Gravel’s career as well as the richest-paying race in World of Outlaws series history, capping off a massive four-night racing program that also broke the track record for attendance at Huset’s Speedway. It was announced that this event will return in 2024.

Gravel’s win moved him to within 10 points of the series lead behind defending champion Brad Sweet. Sweet finished seventh and won hard charger honors after blowing an engine during his qualifier race earlier in the evening.

2023 HUSET’S HIGH BANK NATIONALS RACE RESULTS

Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment: Buddy Kofoid won the pole earlier in the evening and led the opening 30 laps of Saturday’s High Bank Nationals feature before his engine expired with 10 circuits to go, drawing the first yellow of the evening.

Both race winner Gravel and third-place finisher Kyle Larson stated in their post-race interviews that Kofoid likely had the feature in the bag had his car not gone up in smoke.

What Dirt Racing Fans’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

For as successful as the High Bank Nationals was both in terms of race promotion and in bringing legitimately big money to sprint car racing, I left feeling really underwhelmed by the WoO residency at Huset’s. Two reasons for that, one, the track. It’s a damn shame that the rain came halfway through Saturday’s finale and soaked the racing surface prior to the final prelims and the A-main going off, because it created hammer-down conditions that meant the A-main went off without a single green-flag lead change.

My bigger issue though came with the format of the race program, which utilized a three-day sum of points structure that saw drivers scoring points for qualifying, heat race results and feature race performance. That, coupled with an invert for heat races, meant the first three days of heat races saw the unlikeliest of winners.

Take Wednesday for example, which saw backmarker regular Noah Gass win a heat race. Kasey Kahne won a heat race after stating his team had missed it during qualifying, while Sweet admitted that his team shouldn’t have been on the front row after winning their heat.

By Saturday it all worked itself out and the expected (and fastest) big guns were up front for the big money, where they belonged. But essentially making qualifying and heat races equivalent points opportunities does nothing but to mitigate the importance of said heat races. This isn’t weekly racing, this is the Outlaws. The bigs.

The straight-up lineup that the series usually utilizes is appropriate for this level of racing – at the top, the fastest should reap the rewards. Instead, much of the preliminary nights were spent waiting on the booth to check their calculators to tell fans who would actually be top of the heap for the night. The thrills of arithmetic.

Compare that to the Saturday night program I took in at my home track in Winchester, Va. while streaming the Huset’s program on my phone. The fastest qualifiers started on the pole of the heat races. The heat race winners went to a dash. The dash set the front-row starters. It was so simple that the PA issues in the track grandstands didn’t matter – fans could keep up with the program from their seats and it set the stage all night long for the eventual race winner, Kyle Hardy, grabbing Winchester’s biggest trophy in years.

$250,000 to win. Fifty-plus cars in the pits. And legitimately 10,000 people in the stands. Keep it simple folks, the High Bank Nationals should have run itself like any other Outlaws show.

There was a lot of audible applause on Saturday when Sweet’s engine went up in smoke during his qualifier race. Part of me thought this was simply Jimmie Johnson syndrome, that fans took enjoyment in seeing a four-time consecutive WoO champion face hardship in a crown-jewel race. But, part of me then wonders if it stemmed from a widely-publicized spat Sweet had with local Huset’s driver Tim Kaeding Wednesday night.

Things Jimmie Johnson never had to worry about … ticking off the local hot shoe.

DirtVision’s superiority in production values to Flo Racing has become more apparent over the course of 2023, but it was disappointingly absent during Saturday’s broadcast from Huset’s, as the streamer made very limited use of the dual-box presentation. The most glaring case in point? DirtVision cameras cut away from a last-lap pass that Parker Price-Miller made to steal a transfer spot just to show Larson take the checkered flag unmolested for the win in qualifier three.

I’m really torn over Huset’s decision to break from track policy and charge race fans $10 to park to attend the Friday and Saturday night High Bank Nationals shows. 

Make a wish. Parking tonight and tomorrow at Husets. Watch video

Posted by Med Star Dirt track rescue team on Friday, June 23, 2023

On the one hand, it does make sense as a means to encourage carpooling (Huset’s parking was bursting at the seams Saturday) and the Make-a-Wish Foundation is a reputable cause (the track donated parking revenue to the charity). On the other though, sticking race fans with another bill on a night where tickets are already expensive is not a great message to send, especially when it’s not a voluntary donation like a 50/50 raffle. If anything, I’d have rather heard the track say “look, we’re paying $250,000 to win, it has to come from somewhere.”

One year ago. Never forget. And hope we live to see it again.

I will admit I didn’t see much of the Firecracker 100 super late model race at Lernerville this weekend, as I was catching my hometown super late show at Winchester. But I do know that Ricky Thornton Jr. continued his reign of terror in 2023, grabbing another $50,000 victory. 

Anyone remember back when “stage winner, MTJ” became a catchphrase the year Martin Truex Jr. won the Cup Series title? “Feature winner, RTJ” is going to be a part of any dirt fan’s vernacular by the end of 2023 the way he’s running.

Dirt Racing’s Hero of the Weekend

Contrary to the visceral reaction many of our readers had to one of my last columns prominently featuring Larson, I am very much a fan of Yung Money and have a reason for naming him the hero of the weekend at Huset’s despite his finishing third in the feature event. That shoutout goes to Larson for an exchange he fired off on social media earlier in the week regarding his status as a sprint car driver.

What’s the significance here? It’s part of a consistent thread that Larson has been preaching with regard to dirt racing, both in sprint cars and late models alike. Namely, how professional the drivers that race these cars in fact are. 

Larson has adamantly opposed any and all comments that consider dirt racing as a step down for a NASCAR regular, and his doing so, along with actively promoting races across both late model and sprint car racing bringing big money to dirt racing, are just continuing examples of how the nation’s greatest dirt racer is also taking responsibility for carrying said sport. 

Dirt Racing’s Victim of the Weekend

Roth Motorsports has already had a rough go in 2023, having had their flagship No. 83 parked earlier in the season for a failed tire test, but the closing laps Saturday at Huset’s probably hurt worse. Not only did they see their pole-winning car with Kofoid expire 10 laps from the win, on the ensuing restart James McFadden also saw his night end when he got collected in a multi-car crash.

The harshest penalty exacted by Huset’s Speedway came on Wednesday night, with Matt Juhl ultimately leaving the track in an ambulance after a violent crash on the backstretch.

Juhl ended up with a spinal injury that’s going to keep him out of his racecar for at least 12 weeks.

The most spectacular flip of the weekend in sprint car racing came not at Huset’s, but in the Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway out in Washington where Billy Aton went for a violent tumble (he fortunately walked away).

Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Wednesday morning (June 28) with coverage of the World of Outlaws late models from Mason City Motor Speedway in Iowa. Coverage can be found on DirtVision.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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