Greg Matarazzo

Meet the No. 1 draft picks in the NASCAR Heat Pro League

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NASCAR’s race weekend in Phoenix earlier this month was one of many firsts for Slade Gravitt.

It marked the first time the 16-year-old had ever visited a state that didn’t border Georgia. It was also the first time he ever set foot on an airplane.

On March 9, the native of Cumming, Georgia, flew to west to Arizona for where another first was awaiting him: Wood Brothers Racing would select him No. 1 among PlayStation 4 users in the first NASCAR Heat Pro League draft.

“It was a very interesting week because I started off Sunday, Monday questioning if I even had an opportunity or a chance to get drafted,” Gravitt told NBC Sports. “I saw myself as a top-10 driver. I was doing a good bit on social media. I thought I was getting drafted but there’s (what) teams prefer and we didn’t really know what the teams preferred at the moment.”

For the Wood Brothers, they preferred Gravitt’s youth and his “marketability” combined with his ability in the game.

“Then we got a couple of text messages from people at 704 (Games, the producer of the NASCAR Heat series) and people at Wood Brothers saying, ‘Hey, we’re drafting the No. 1 draft pick and flying them down to Phoenix at ISM Raceway,'” Gravitt said.

While it was his first time leaving the Southeast, it wasn’t Gravitt’s first time to attend a NASCAR event, having been to races at Talladega, Charlotte and Atlanta.

Gravitt was raised in a home of NASCAR fans 15 minutes from Bill and Chase Elliott‘s hometown of Dawsonville. His parents, Dana and Michael, were fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott, while his grandfather cheered on Dale Earnhardt Sr.

“My parents, they’re pretty supportive of it,” Gravitt said. “My dad was in the background a good bit of the Pro League draft stream. He loves it, honestly. He’s always telling me, ‘Hey, look at this article’ and stuff like that.”

Even before the Pro League was announced last year, Gravitt was an avid player of NASCAR games. He was also part of a gaming league called The Midnight Broadcasting Network, which streams their races and other games online. Seven members of that group, including Gravitt, were selected in the draft.

But Gravitt was the only one who was drafted in person and got to mingle with the likes of Richard Petty, Austin Dillon and Paul Menard.

“I’m still trying to relive what happened, cause it all went by so fast,” Gravitt said.

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Greg Matarazzo’s journey to being the No. 1 Xbox One player drafted by Chip Ganassi Racing was very different.

Matarazzo, 24, grew up in Bridgewater, New Jersey, far from any NASCAR landmark and with parents and friends who didn’t particularly care about auto racing.

He was turned onto NASCAR through the video games “NASCAR Thunder 2003” and “NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona.”

From 7 to 17, he raced himself, competing in go-karts on the grounds of the Somerset County 4H Fair, even earning some trophies in a go-kart with a No. 97 on it inspired by Kurt Busch. But that’s as far as his racing career went.

“It wasn’t really a racing state,” Matarazzo told NBC Sports. “It just wasn’t really something super accessible. … It was just kind of something I enjoyed on my own. My parents weren’t really into racing. We weren’t in the position to start-up a race team and start traveling on the weekends to tracks hours away.”

After high school he started his own clothing brand, Burassi, founded on a batch of 175 shirts he bought with money saved from a job at a pizzeria. In September 2017 he swapped coasts, moving to Los Angeles to operate Burassi full-time.

“The name Burassi is just a made up word,” Matarazzo said. “That’s kind of what the whole brand is about, just creating something out of nothing. I’ve always had an optimistic and creative mindset and perspective on life. I was just like, this is something I like to do so let me just see where it takes me. Seven years later, I’m out here in LA operating from my apartment.”

It was in that apartment on his Xbox where the door was re-opened on Matarazzo’s chances of being part of NASCAR.

“Actually, I’ve been a PlayStation guy my entire life,” Matarazzo said. “But I ended up getting a Xbox literally just so I could play against my roommate on Fortnite so we could play on the same team.”

As soon as Matarazzo saw the announcement for the esports league in December, he realized “this is my shot.

“I had to hop right on there and start qualifying.”

The second domino that led to him being drafted – after getting a Xbox – had fallen a month earlier.

“I got my foot in the door with Elijah,” said Matarazzo, referring to Elijah Burke, a Business Intelligence Coordinator at Chip Ganassi Racing. “I unknowingly hopped in one of his stream races. I guess he saw my username, ‘skrrtBusch’ and he was just like, ‘Yo, that’s a genius name, that’s crazy.'”

After being alerted by another user, Matarazzo did a Twitter search for his username and found a tweet by Burke:

“I sent him a DM (direct message) and we started chatting, and then that kind of had my foot in the door at CGR, and then we kept in touch throughout the whole qualifying process,” Matarazzo said. “I guess I proved myself to them and they ended up drafting me. It’s crazy how if I had never gotten an Xbox none of that would have happened. A little bit of luck and being in the right place at the right time.”

It led to Matarazzo being introduced at the draft by his childhood hero, who had defined his racing career in reality and online.

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What are Gravitt and Matarazzo hoping to get out of the Pro League?

Gravitt has aspirations about someday working in broadcasting or being a chef.

But what if the Pro League and esports in general turns out to be a long-term commitment?

“Of course I’ve thought about that, what my future can be in this being my age,” said Gravitt, who is a junior in high school. “When it started, I just wanted to have some fun with friends and put on a show in a professional manner. … I’m starting to realize my age and skill level could lead to something bigger. I haven’t really thought about an exact answer to that. Best I could say is more opportunities are in my way than someone than who is in their early 20, late 30s.”

While Matarazzo hopes to promote his brand and NASCAR’s, he also wants to pay it forward. He’s thinking of people like himself growing up in New Jersey with no clear path toward being part of NASCAR.

“It’s lowering the barrier of entry,” Matarazzo said. “We’re kind of stomping into uncharted territory with what we’re trying to do here.”

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Penalty report from Bristol Motor Speedway

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NASCAR has issued three fines to Cup Series crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts following Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, Alan Gustafson, crew chief on Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet and Michael Bugarewicz, crew chief on Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Ford, have each been fined $10,000 for having one unsecured lug nut.

Those fines are in addition to the points penalties against Tyler Reddick‘s Xfinity Series team (10 driver and owner points) for failing pre-qualifying inspection four times.

NASCAR also indefinitely suspended Bayley Currey for violating its substance abuse policy.

Michael McDowell to honor Jimmy Means with Darlington scheme

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Front Row Motorsports is changing things up on its No. 34 Ford for the Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway next week (6 p.m. Sept 1 on NBCSN).

After three years of using the same retro Love’s Travel Stops paint scheme, the team will show up in Darlington next weekend with Dockside Logistics as Michael McDowell‘s primary sponsor. With that sponsor comes a tribute to long-time NASCAR owner and former driver Jimmy Means.

McDowell’s car will be made to look like the No. 52 Alka-Seltzer Pontiac Means owned and drove part-time from 1989-91 in the Cup Series.

One of Means’ cars, which was driven by Mike Wallace, is located in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car graveyard.

More: Retro Rundown of Southern 500 paint schemes

Front Row Motorsports was originally known as Means-Jenkins Motorsports, based on a partnership between Means and current FRM team owner Bob Jenkins. Their relationship began with Jenkins sponsoring Means at Bristol with his local Taco Bell franchise, which led Jenkins to a partial ownership of Means’ race team. The team was active for one year before Jenkins separated and founded Front Row Motorsports.

“Throwback weekend at Darlington is one of my favorites of the whole year,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s fun to recreate some of the most well-known paint schemes throughout the history of our sport. Our owner, Bob Jenkins, has always admired Jimmy Means, and the Alka-Seltzer car is definitely a favorite of his. I’m really excited that we can honor their friendship with our No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford.”

Corey LaJoie to carry ‘Scooby Doo’ paint scheme at Martinsville

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Rut-roh.

Popular cartoon character Scooby Doo will be featured as the theme on Corey LaJoie’s No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Mustang for the First Data 500 on Oct. 27 at Martinsville Speedway.

Long-time team sponsor Keen Parts/CorvetteParts.net will transform the team’s usual paint scheme to what it’s calling “the Mystery Machine” for the Martinsville race, which will be four days before Halloween.

“Scooby Doo was my favorite cartoon growing up, so when Tom and TJ (team co-sponsors Tom and TJ Keen) asked what I wanted to do for Martinsville, there was no doubt that I wanted to be driving the Mystery Machine,” LaJoie said in a media release. “They always have really cool themes behind their Halloween-weekend schemes and I’m excited to be part of this one and thankful for all that they do for our team.”

For last year’s fall race at Martinsville the team and sponsor combined for a purple and black Peanuts scheme that featured Snoopy and quickly became a much-talked about fan favorite.

“We are super excited to present this paint scheme to Corey to run at Martinsville,” said lTJ Keen. “This cartoon was his favorite as a kid and I bet it still is today. We cannot thank the team enough for letting us do these schemes and we hope you fans will enjoy it.”

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Richard Childress resigns from National Rifle Association’s Board of Directors

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On Monday, Richard Childress submitted his resignation letter as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Rifle Association and a handful of the organization’s committees, NBC Sports has confirmed.

The resignation came two days after the owner of Richard Childress Racing helped give the command to start engines  for the Cup Series night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which was co-sponsored by Bass Pro Shops and the NRA.

“At this time, it is necessary for me to fully focus on my businesses,” Childress said in his letter. “I owe that to my employees, our partners, my family, and myself. Since proudly agreeing to serve on the NRA Board, I have supported the organization and its important mission to preserve and protect our Constitutional rights. But when, as now, I am no longer able to be fully engaged in any commitment I have made, it becomes time for me to step down. I have reached that point in my ability to continue to serve the NRA. As such, I must resign.”

According to the Washington Post, Childress is the sixth member of the Board of Directors to resign since May. The Board of Directors totals more than 70 members.

Childress was elected as the NRA’s second vice president in 2015 and had also served as the first vice president until he stepped down in April of this year.

Childress will retain his NRA membership moving forward.