CONCORD, N.C. – Brandon Overton’s smile Friday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte gave the image of pure joy.
The year’s most prolific dirt late model driver happened to make his sprint car debut at the four-tenths-mile clay oval in a second Jason Sides Motorsports entry, a deal that developed over a few beers Wednesday night within the track’s campground.
It didn’t matter that Overton finished dead last in the C main or was on the verge of completely humiliating himself in qualifying, nearly backing Sides’ spare machine into the turn one fence.
The adventure of racing off the cuff against the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car Series and the buzz he generated for the many fans in attendance defined the night.
“It’s cool. It’s a badass race car,” Overton said, still beaming ear-to-ear. “It’s really technical, honestly. We watch them, and I always thought they always hold them on the floor and steer them around. I guess that isn’t what they do. It’s a lot harder.”
The late model world associates Overton with being a gasser, an impressive person or thing by dictionary definition coupled with being relentless by racing terms.
This year, his 29 wins in 78 events has given him nearly $1 million in earnings, an unfathomable mark at the dirt racing level.
Overton had never raced anything like a 1,400-pound, 900-horsepower sprint car, much less anything that didn’t resemble a full-bodied stock car.
“Shooting the shit with a couple buddies,” as Overton put it, got him thinking Wednesday night.
“What if I drove your sprint car?” Overton asked Sides, his words slightly influenced by liquid courage.
“That’s fine,” Sides said without much hesitation. “You can come over tomorrow and drive it.”
“No, I want to go practice,” Overton said.
“No,” Sides said in return. “You’re just going to race.”
That was Wednesday night. Thursday came, and then went, as inclement weather cancelled qualifying night. That meant Overton would make roughly seven laps between warmups and time trials before his first in-race competition.
“I thought maybe he forgot about it, but he didn’t forget,” Overton said, referring to the extra in between their information agreement. “I snuck over here on my dirt bike earlier and he had her all out. I said, ‘Oh shit, I guess I can’t back out now.’ I just figured if I didn’t drive it [Friday], I’d probably never get another chance to drive one. If I wanted to feel it, I better get in it.”
Ten-time World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz, who also moonlights in a late model from time to time, caught wind of Overton’s impromptu sprint car start.
Schatz meandered over to Sides’ pit area and offered Overton some advice.
Quickly, Overton had his own synopsis.
“Yeah, I need about a whole week [to] practice] I haven’t ever felt anything like that wing does to you,” Overton said. “It was like [racing] at Bristol [Motor Speedway] where the track sucks you in. Almost as bad as that. [The sprint car] will pull your damn helmet down on you.”
With one start in the books, Overton was asked if it was time to make some sprint car t-shirts.
“I’m going to have to get better before that,” Overton said through a laugh.
But when Overton said he has “a lot of learning to do,” he implied Friday’s off the cuff outing wouldn’t be his last. He’s open to continue dabbling, and perhaps growing, in the sprint car world.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Overton said. “Like I was telling those guys, all those habits we build driving race cars, it’s like, you cannot do that in these.=
“You don’t have to turn them left,” Overton added. “You just constantly steer right. I feel like I’m going around there really crooked, and then I’m trying to straighten it up. We just have a lot of learning to do. There’s nothing about it that resembles what we grew up doing”