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North grad Gravitt racing toward eNHPL title, chance at $30,000
Slade Gravitt
Gravitt is one of eight drivers with a chance to win the eNHPL championship, as the second season wraps up at 8 p.m. tonight with three virtual races at Michigan International Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo courtesy NASCAR Communications

Slade Gravitt is an ordinary 18-year-old.

He graduated from North Forsyth High School earlier this year, he grew up playing baseball and football, and he's a professional esports gamer in the eNASCAR Heat Pro League with a chance to win $30,000 in the league championship tonight.

Wait.

What?

Gravitt is one of eight drivers with a chance to win the eNHPL championship, as the second season wraps up at 8 tonight with three virtual races at Michigan International Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

Gravitt is the fourth-ranked driver in the league's power rankings. He won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in May and has finished in the top 10 of all 13 regular-season races.

Who: North Forsyth graduate Slade Gravitt

What: eNASCAR Heat Pro League championship

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday 

Where: eNASCAR.com/live

"Still very confident in Michigan and Phoenix," Gravitt said. "We're a lot more confident in Bristol. (Monday), I wasn't too confident in my Bristol car, but me and my teammate, Cody Giles, put in a lot of work for that (Monday). That was our main focus (Monday), so we should be just finishing the setups here and doing the qualifying cars (Tuesday), and we'll be ready to go for (Wednesday)."

Gravitt developed a passion for sports at an early age. He started playing baseball when he was 5 years old and began playing football in first grade.

A twice-injured rotator cuff shortened his baseball career and hindered his availability for football, but Gravitt always enjoyed playing sports-themed video games, such as baseball, football and NASCAR.

And on Christmas Day in 2016, Gravitt found he had successfully lobbied his way into a Playstation 4, equipped with NASCAR Heat Evolution, the first of five in the NASCAR Heat series.

Gravitt had previously owned a Playstation 3, but the PS4 is the first console that offered the NASCAR heat games. It also offered Gravitt the opportunity to become a professional esports athlete.

"Started racing in standard public lobbies, which is just racing with a bunch of random people online for fun," said Gravitt who now races on the Xbox One platform. "That (evolved) to getting into some leagues, finding some people and getting into some competitive leagues where you race for a purpose, not just to have fun."

Slade Gravitt
Gravitt drives the Wood Brothers' No. 21 car, the same number Dawsonville native Bill Elliott raced under from 2007-10. Photo courtesy NASCAR Communications
Soon, Gravitt had developed a group of five or six drivers. Once NASCAR announced its plan to launch the NASCAR Heat Pro League, Gravitt knew he had a chance to make the cut.

The league was officially announced Oct. 2018, with three drivers from the group — Gravitt, TJ McGowan and Jason Keffer — earning a spot in the league.

In fact, Gravitt was a first-round draft pick by Wood Brothers Racing, the same company that sponsored Dawsonville native Bill Elliott from 2007-10. All of this while Gravitt was a 16-year-old junior at North Forsyth.

"It was a little weird, to say the least," Gravitt said. "It's actually kind of funny, because they flew out the first overall picks in Xbox and Playstation, and I think I missed the first Monday of that week at school — I think it was March 11 of 2019. So I got back on Tuesday and I had a bunch of people asking me, 'Are you driving race cars now? Did you just get drafted?' And I was like, 'I wish we could go with that, but no, I'm just doing esports.'"

The similarities between NASCAR and eNASCAR are endless, something Gravitt witnessed up close when he watched drivers such as Wood Brothers driver Matt DiBenedetto race in person.

"There's a lot, just watching NASCAR and knowing a lot about that sport. You can compare a lot of things, especially when you're at the track," Gravitt said. "Since I got drafted by the Wood Brothers, I was able to sit in the box with the team. So I was able to see a lot of stuff that they did — the lap time counter that they have on the screen and all that stuff."

Gravitt said he logged between 22-24 practice hours from last Wednesday to Monday, a marked spike in activity with the championship just around the corner.

He's careful, though, not to lose the joy of gaming to the competitive grind.

"I usually don't spend a lot of time on the game, just because I don't want to get bored of it — that's the best way to put it," Gravitt said. "I don't want to get tired of racing. I want to do this for fun, obviously, and have the rewards of racing, but I just want to have fun doing it."

Gravitt hopes to eventually go to college, perhaps pursuing a career in physical therapist or nutritionist. 

"I don't want to sit around and do nothing," Gravitt said. "I'm usually just outside shooting some hoops — I'm terrible at basketball — and having some fun with it. I have two dogs, so I'm usually outside with them. I guess I'm just living the life of an 18-year-old."