By Lisa Stukel, Contributing Writer
Westborough – When most 12-year-olds are typically busy with their iPods, school activities, and after-school sports, Kaz Grala spends most of his weekends perched in a racecar, speeding around tracks at up to 120 mph. In fact, Kaz has been speeding up and down hills and around racetracks since he was 7. Kaz recently beat out 32 older racecar drivers for the Bandolero Outlaw Championship Summer Shootout at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and will be competing in a 10-race Legend's series this winter.
Although Kaz's father, Darious, is a racecar driver too, he never pushed his son behind the wheel.
“I started racing go-carts when I was young, and really enjoyed it,” Kaz said. “I loved controlling the wheel and how it felt flying down hills.”
Kaz test-drove a Bandolero car while he was training at a motorsports camp in Virginia, and was hooked. His parents also took him to watch a local shootout race down in Charlotte, and Kaz thought it was “cool.”
He began racing in a Bandolero car, which are identical, except for different colors and numbers painted on the outside. In 2008, more than 550 youngsters in 17 states and Canada raced Bandoleros in three levels, Bandits (8 to 11), Young Guns (12 to 15), and Outlaws (16 and older.) Once drivers turn 12 and have had 18 months of experience under their belts, they can graduate to the Young Guns division of Legends, driving replicas of cars from the 1930s and 1940s that go as fast as 120 mph.
Due to his success, Kaz will be competing this year in the Outlaw class, which is the highest division and will be driving a newer, faster Legends car. Driving a Legends car involves manual shifting verses a Bandolero, which involves no shifting by the driver.
“This will be my first time racing in a manual-shift car and traveling at greater speeds,” Kaz said. “The Legend has so much power that if you press the gas too hard, the wheels will spin … These cars are really fun and a lot harder.”
Darious Grala sees his son as an excellent racecar driver. “Kaz is a naturally focused athlete,” he said. “What separates him from the others is his capacity to focus, his maturity, patience and his ability to make good decisions … Many younger drivers can be affected by their emotions and make mistakes, causing them to spin out and hit another driver,” Darious continued. “What makes Kaz unique is that he remains calm and is able to keep his emotions in check.”
Kaz handles the pressure with his intensity and focus.
“I get pretty nervous before a race, but once I step into the car, I am completely focused,” he said. “You don's have any more room in your brain to be nervous once the race begins.”
The support of Kaz's parents has been another key to his success.
“I feel very fortunate that my parents have been there for me every step of the way,” Kaz said.
Kaz's mother, Karen, feels comfortable with the safety issues related to racing.
“Although I do worry a little,” she said, “the kids are outfitted with the same safety equipment as NASCAR drivers, and the cars are equipped with the same full roll-cages as professional drivers,” she continued. “I feel confidant of his driving ability and so far, he hasn's made any mistakes.”
Kaz has current sponsorship from his dad, but would like to find other backers to help defray the cost of his racing career. People can learn more about donating or becoming a sponsor by visiting his website at www.kazgrala.com
To follow Kaz's races and stats, find him at Facebook.com/KazGralaracing.