Sheldon Haudenschild can’t help but make any race he wins exciting. Whether he’s leading the whole race and slicing through traffic or he’s working his way through the field, Haudenschild never fails to send thrills through the stands. And Saturday night at Volusia Speedway Park with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars was no different.

The 30-year-old started third, slipped to fourth early, and then pieced together a ferocious charge in the second half of the 30-lap Feature to arise victorious. Haudenschild sealed the deal with a Lap 24 slider on Anthony Macri to top the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals finale and bank $20,000.

The fans roared for one of their favorites as Haudenschild rose atop the Stenhouse Jr.-Marshall Racing/NOS Energy Drink #17 machine in Victory Lane. His smile was ear to ear as he and the team bounced back in the best way possible from what had been a rough week.

The win marked the 35th of Haudenschild’s career with The Greatest Show on Dirt and third at “The World’s Fastest Half Mile.”

“Hats off to (Kyle) Ripper, Steve (Kinzer Dussel), and Luke (Vaughn),” Haudenschild said. “We had a hell of a week and a lot of work. They never gave up. We never give up and just keep on ripping.”

A little way behind Haudenschild, David Gravel had to make some moves of his own. The Big Game Motorsports driver entered the main event with a 14-point lead over Giovanni Scelzi in the Big Gator standings. But Scelzi started on the pole and led early while Gravel got stuck in eighth. If they finished in those two spots, Scelzi would’ve snatched the title and extra $3,000 prize.

But Gravel rallied as Scelzi faded late in the main event. The Big Game Motorsports driver worked his way up to sixth while Scelzi slipped to fourth when the checkered flag flew. The results gave Gravel his third Big Gator title, which equaled him with Daryn Pittman for the most. Consistency carried the Watertown, CT native. He finished no worse than sixth in four nights and highlighted the week with a win on Thursday.

“We battled hard. That was an intense Feature,” Gravel said. “I nearly got passed in the beginning by Sunshine (Tyler Courtney) and Donny (Schatz) but was able to get in front of them. My car really came to life there at the end of the Feature. I wish it was a 40-lap race.

“It was a really good week. Started the week off with a third and a first. Obviously, couldn’t ask for much better than that. And then last night with a fifth and tonight with a sixth. It was a very strong week and good way to start the year.”

David Gravel lifts the Big Gator trophy above his head
David Gravel has now tied Daryn Pittman for the most Big Gator titles with his third (Trent Gower Photo)

Before Haudenschild and Gravel made their moves forward, the race’s opening half was highlighted by plenty of action from other competitors up front.

Giovanni Scelzi led from the pole through the opening laps and held firm control of the top spot until a caution 10 laps in bunched the field together.

On the restart the outside-pole starter – Anthony Macri – powered by “Hot Sauce” on the outside to take the lead. Only a few laps later Michael “Buddy” Kofoid drove around Scelzi to grab second and began to reel in Macri.

Then the race moved beyond halfway, and it’s as if that was Haudenschild’s cue to go as he went to work on Scelzi for third. On Lap 17 he took the spot to climb into a podium position. A lap later Kofoid surrendered second to the Wooster, OH gasser.

Behind Haudenschild a fast-approaching Brad Sweet made his presence felt. He followed Haudenschild through the top five and claimed third on Lap 19. He even managed to drive by Haudenschild on the 20th circuit, but Haudenschild countered and was able to keep back around him – a move he knows was crucial.

“I was more worried about Brad than anything,” Haudenschild admitted. “I knew if he cleared me, he was probably winning that race. Me and him had a great race.”

After reclaiming second from “The Big Cat,” Haudenschild knew he needed to go and set the leading Macri in his crosshairs. On Lap 24, Haudenschild delivered the winning move with a slide job exiting Turn 4. He cruised through some lap traffic over the final six circuits and took the checkered flag on what was a tricky track to conquer.

“The #39(M) just missed the bottom a couple times, and I was able to get under him,” Haudenschild explained. “I was a little nervous of it (the cushion) in (Turns) 3 and 4. It’s gnarly up there. It’ll eat you up over there and the same over here. For the first five laps. I struggled in (Turns) 1 and 2. The bottom is just so much easier to run, and it was faster tonight.”

Macri made the Pennsylvania Posse fans proud with a valiant effort of leading 13 laps before finishing second. The Dillsburg, PA native thought the closing laps were a prime example of why it can be better to be running second in a Sprint Car race as he struggled to handle traffic.

“Obviously, he’s in the better position there running second,” Macri said. “I knew I needed to be on the bottom, but I didn’t want to risk following lapped cars on the bottom and have somebody blow around the top of me. I’m pretty sure I tripped on the curb the lap Sheldon got by me. He hammered it in there on the bottom and got by us, and that’s pretty much all she wrote.”

Brad Sweet completed the top three, notching his third podium of DIRTcar Nationals week. The five-time World of Outlaws champion thought he might have a shot at the win, but a slight hiccup in traffic allowed Haudenschild to put himself in a better position.

“I love coming here. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a high-speed chess match out there,” Sweet said. “Sheldon did a great job. He moved around, found some lines, and kind of kept me behind him. I finally got by him and thought we were going to have a chance at Anthony there. And I just got held up with a lapped car. I don’t know if I made a bad move there or what, but it opened the door back up for Sheldon, and he got really going there and was able to get through the lapped cars. Hats off to him. He drove a great race. We gave it our all, but sometimes you just don’t get it done.”

Giovanni Scelzi and Buddy Kofoid rounded out the top five.

Carson Macedo earned his second KSE Racing Hard Charger of the week with a drive from 23rd to 14th.

Brent Marks claimed his second straight Simpson Quick Time Award in Sea Foam Qualifying and the fifth of his career.

NOS Energy Drink Heats One, Three, and Four were topped by Sheldon Haudenschild, Rico Abreu, and Buddy Kofoid. Milton Hershey School Heat Two belonged to David Gravel.

Giovanni Scelzi won the Toyota Racing Dash.

Kasey Kahne claimed the Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown.

UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars take two weekends off before returning to Volusia Speedway Park for the Bike Week Jamboree (March 3-4). For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, catch every lap live on DIRTVision.


NOS Energy Drink Feature (30 Laps): 1. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild[3]; 2. 39M-Anthony Macri[2]; 3. 49-Brad Sweet[8]; 4. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[1]; 5. 83-Michael Kofoid[4]; 6. 2-David Gravel[7]; 7. 15-Donny Schatz[9]; 8. 24-Rico Abreu[5]; 9. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[10]; 10. 26-Zeb Wise[15]; 11. 19-Brent Marks[6]; 12. 1S-Logan Schuchart[11]; 13. 13-Justin Peck[16]; 14. 41-Carson Macedo[23]; 15. 5-Spencer Bayston[18]; 16. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss[25]; 17. 9-Kasey Kahne[21]; 18. 14-Corey Day[12]; 19. 24D-Danny Sams III[24]; 20. 8-Cory Eliason[17]; 21. 21-Brian Brown[14]; 22. 7S-Landon Crawley[13]; 23. 1-Brenham Crouch[20]; 24. 17B-Bill Balog[19]; 25. 6-Bill Rose[26]; 26. (DNS) 48-Danny Dietrich