By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Westborough native Kaz Grala delighted local NASCAR fans late last month when he emerged unscathed from a massive multi-car crash to become the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR national race in Daytona, Fla.
Having won the first race of the new Truck Series season, Grala is now hoping to continue his push toward racing glory that he began as a 7-year-old in Westborough.
“It’s definitely hard to make it [in NASCAR] and I wouldn’t say at all that I know I’m going to make it,” he said less than a week after his Daytona win. “That’s going to take a lot of hard work over the next few years.”
Grala started riding go karts before moving up to the slightly larger and faster Bandolero car when he was 10 years old.
He raced outside of New England for the first time behind the wheel of a Bandolero on tracks in North Carolina. Shortly after that, he graduated to driving a faster Legend car that hit a top speed of 120 mph.
He made another major leap in 2014 when, shortly after he started his freshman year of high school at Worcester Academy, he signed with Turner Scott Motorsports and started racing an even faster car. He hit top speeds of 150 mph while racing in the K&N series across the country.
“There are some very difficult drivers in K&N and that makes for much higher competition than what I dealt with in the legend cars and late models,” he said. “It was quite a big step up, as was the Truck Series when I came here.”
Now a senior, Grala has spent his entire high school career in a rapid ascent through the ranks of his sport. But, in a state that, in many ways lacks the racing culture of other parts of the country, Grala said that even some of his classmates do not understand what he did on the weekends.
Only after he joined the nationally televised Truck Series for this season did he begin to hear his name spoken in growing NASCAR circles back home.
“That really breeds the excitement,” Grala said of the televised races. “People can watch them. People can get into them and see what they’re really all about. I’ve seen quite a spike in interest in others since I’ve moved to the Truck Series.”
Daytona was the first Truck Series race for Grala in 2017. He earned a strong starting position and spent much of the race among the top five racers. But, the youngest competitor in the field, he said never expected the win he ultimately earned.
“Of course, I was trying to [win],” he said. “I’m a competitor. That’s what I’m going for. That was the goal but, realistically, I figured that if we could leave there without getting into a wreck and finish in the top 10 or top 5 that would be a score for me.”
Indeed, the race came down to its final lap. Grala ran much of that lap in sixth place directly behind teammate Johnny Sauter and the race’s leader Matt Crafton. Mid-way through the lap, however, Grala watched the car of Ben Rhodes skid then slam into Crafton and Sauter.
Crafton’s car flipped through the air, landing on at least two other cars and preventing several more from quickly weaving through the wreck. Grala however, was able to find an opening and take a decisive lead.
“Certainly a little bit is luck, I think that helps,” he said. “But I think you can create your own luck a little more than it seems on these superspeedway races. You can definitely see what’s going on around you and be aware of that and position your truck in the safest place you possibly can.”
He later added, “When stuff starts to go wrong around you, you envision in your head how it’s going to play out. You see a hole where there won’t be any trucks and you shoot for that in real life.”
The win, Grala said, put him in a good position to qualify for the playoffs later this year. He took another step toward earning that playoff spot in his first race after Daytona March 4 with a 15th place finish in the Active Pest Control 200 in Hampton, Ga.
“So far I’ve progressed like I would hope to in order to make it,” he said of his professional racing dreams. “I’ve done everything that is in my power. Now I need to keep at it.”