Sex sells and, apparently, so do slide jobs.
Race fans love the aggressive move and it’s obvious to anyone who has walked around a race track that apparel sales have followed that trend — booming for fearless drivers and T-shirts with catchy slogans.
As the evolution of racing seems to grow younger each year, a correlation between youth and aggressiveness has created an influx of fireworks on the track. The line between aggressive and dirty has become blurred at times, most notably in midget racing, according to some of the top dirt racers in the country.
“The lack of veterans in midget racing has led it to turn into a lot different form than I grew up with,” three-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Brad Sweet said. “There’s aggression (in sprint car racing), but still a lot of respect. There are some veterans in the sport that don’t take that type of driving. If you give it out, you get it back and you get in altercations in the pits and you become an unliked driver.
“Everything in this sport is about respect. You earn it as you go. I think winged sprint car racing is very aggressive, but I think drivers go through that learning phase of what is acceptable and what is not. When I watch midget racing and some of the other series, it looks to me like it’s a little more disrespectful with a lift-or-wreck type of philosophy.
“You take a few wrecks at half-mile tracks in a sprint car and you have respect for what can happen to you and those around you,” Sweet continued. “When you’re young, you are fearless. In go-karts you might worse case break an arm or bruise an elbow. You get older, I’ve seen some of my best friends get really hurt or pass away.”
Part of the allure of short-track racing is the unknown throughout each race.
The art of the slide job has created some of the most memorable moments in recent history. Yet, for every highlight-reel slide job, there are a fair share that go wrong.
“If you don’t swing you get swung at,” World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series rookie-of-the-year contender Spencer Bayston said. “If you don’t take the first shot, you’ll be playing defense the whole time.
“That’s a tough subject for some people. I’ve seen races back in the day before I was around about the difference. That’s all I’ve ever known. I was at the start of when most people think it made a turn when I was in the midget stuff when guys really seemed they were stepping it up and being aggressive.
“There are some guys who have earned a bad name for how they drive and they don’t seem to get a break at all,” Bayston added. “They won’t get a lane or people let them go if there are pushing the limit. They’ll probably get used up more often than not, just for that reason alone. Most drivers don’t forget, especially if it’s happened multiple times.”
Bayston takes blame for a number of racing moves that put his competitors in a difficult position early in his career.
“When I was younger, just getting my start in sprint cars, there were a lot of times I’d get into someone or be all over the race track,” he said. “It wasn’t because I was intending to. It was because I didn’t have the experience and control that I feel I have now. That can certainly come across as he doesn’t care for anyone’s safety.
“For some people that can be the case. But for some people, especially when you get into sprint cars, which are so much larger and overpowered, there’s a sense of being out of control and getting into someone.
“There were times I’d throw a slider that wasn’t clear and I’d immediately feel sorry,” Bayston noted. “Through progression, experience and seat time that should go away. It can be forgiven a number of times. If you are three years into your career and doing the same stuff you will get labeled.”
Rico Abreu, Sweet and Bayston currently have careers in winged sprint car racing after racing midgets.
“I feel like everybody is out there for themselves,” Abreu said. “For me, racing with everybody I just expect it coming all the time. You know who you are racing against. There are moves people make and you know that move is coming. It’s on myself if I make an error or I get run into by them. I try not to get too worked up about it all. I just keep it in my memory bank and think about it the next time I race against them.
“For me personally, I race people how they race me,” Abreu continued. “I’m not going to make it difficult on a guy like Donny Schatz or Brad Sweet or David Gravel, some of those guys I race against every weekend that don’t race you like that. Then there are guys who like that with everybody and they don’t care how you race them. There are different ways to skinning a cat how you race somebody.
“People with that aggressive style can get only so far in the sport unless you have a sponsor with an unlimited bank account or a family member with an unlimited bank account. It makes it real difficult racing at that level consistently.”
One of the biggest questions is whether a slide job can be considered bad if no contact is made.
“As long as the driver has time to make a decision,” Sweet said. “If you don’t have time to make a decision or it’s too close, especially as a top-tier driver you know what’s clear and what’s not. Running into the side of a guy isn’t right. When you clear a guy, you know when you’ve done it right. If the guy has time to check up or turn and go under you, those are clean slide jobs.”
However, if no contact is made, yet the driver who received the slide job has to slam on his or her brakes, it’s up to interpretation on the degree of dirtiness.
“That’s a really gray area,” Bayston said. “It depends on who it’s with. In my mind in a winged car your job is to take air away from the guy you are sliding. They become airtight, which loses grip, which allows you to drive away. In a non-winged car, it’s even harder to pull off a successful slide job where they won’t cross underneath you. You’re supposed to break up their rhythm and momentum.
“Now when it gets gray is when are you aiming at their front end to make them slam on their brakes. I think if a guy has to take evasive action to not run into you, I don’t think that’s a clean slide job. If he has to turn it sideways to avoid crashing, that’s a bad slide job.
“If someone slides me and I can stay in the gas and not miss a beat, then they kind of missed and I can drive back by them in most cases. If it’s too easy, then it’s a swing and a miss.”
World of Outlaws veteran David Gravel notes that he has seen the ebb and flow of aggressive slide jobs.
“I think it goes in waves,” he said. “I remember when I was younger in the Kings Royal the gloves were off and you’d throw some serious slide jobs. Nowadays, I feel we have a lot more younger people racing and there aren’t the veterans. There are a handful of older veterans. I know in midget racing that’s talked about a lot about dirty slide jobs. Some drivers in sprint car racing tell you, you have the option to hit the brake or not. I don’t agree with that mentality. I think if you drive through the side of someone it’s not cool.”
All four drivers agree car control is at the forefront of executing a clean and successful slide job.
“I think it’s knowing where your car is at, your closing rate of speed and being aware of who you are racing,” Bayston said. “Some guys are more prone to let you go and some guys are prone to race you back. You have to be smart if you’re going to being racing aggressively.”
Ultimately, all agree, the slide job isn’t going away and it needs to be a part of a driver’s repertoire in terms of being able to both execute and defend slide jobs.
“That’s part of winning races and championships is knowing which cars to race side by side, when you’re lapping them what their tendencies are,” Sweet said. “You can race Donny Schatz side by side for 30 laps and never touch. A lot of the top Outlaws drivers I can say the same about. You’ll always have different skillsets and guys at different parts of their careers. That’s part of racing; always has been and always will be.”