Most 18-year olds can’t say they race cars for a living, have won in a plethora of different racing series and is the youngest winner in Daytona International Speedway history.
But Kaz Grala can, because the Westborough, Mass. native has been behind the wheel for most of his life, and now it’s led to a ride with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
To this point in the season, Grala has amassed four top fives and nine top 10s, along with one pole, one race win and 33 laps led. He currently is in the NCWTS playoffs, fighting for advancement to the Round of 6.
Grala spent some time with Frontstretch at Chicagoland Speedway before the NCWTS race where he wheeled the No. 33 Chevrolet to a ninth-place finish in the TheHouse.com 225.
Davey Segal, Frontstretch.com: You’re 18 years old. There have been a ton of new faces making their way into NASCAR. Is it kind of different and cool for you to be at the race track every weekend and racing for a living when most of your friends back home are doing normal things that 18-year olds would be doing?
Kaz Grala: Yeah for sure. I mean just about everybody I graduated high school with up in Massachusetts is just starting college this month. So I’m actually starting in January at Georgia Tech (University) for mechanical engineering. But everybody else is starting right now, so that’s kind of weird to see pictures on social media and posts of that. It’s definitely a little bit different of a lifestyle, but by the beginning of next year my life might be maybe a little bit more like a regular teenager’s, at least during the off-season.
Segal: It’ll be busy. I can tell you that as a senior in college. I have trouble balancing work, my social life and my professional responsibilities. So being a racecar driver and a mechanical engineering major, that’s going to be tough. But I think you can handle it.
Grala: I hope so. People have been asking me ‘how are you going to balance it, how are you going to find time?’ and my answer is that I really don’t know yet. I’m just going to kind of take it as it comes at me in January and try to figure it out from there. But the one thing that I didn’t know for sure was trying to move into college, move out of home, all the same time as starting the playoffs in my rookie year. Maybe not the best idea, so I pushed it back till the offseason. I figured if I’m going to make it work, this is the best time to make it work. So I think it should work out for me.
Segal: I think that was a good choice, considering everything that you have going for you right now because they have a really good mechanical engineering school.
Grala: Yeah, absolutely. They’re the second best in the country actually for mechanical engineering and the number one in the country for (aerodynamics). So, a pretty important field obviously in racing. I went and visited the school, really nice campus and the employees there were pretty motivated to have me go there.
I had a few different options but what really swayed me to Georgia Tech was the fact that they were willing to work with me on my schedule to make sure I could make it work with racing. Whereas a lot of the other schools, I was kind of on my own to try to do that. So I really appreciate them putting the effort in to help me find a schedule that will work for me and ultimately I think no matter where you go to college, at least in my position, if you can’t get a schedule together that’s going to work, you’re not going to be successful anywhere. So that was really the key. That’s what I was looking for and they provided that for me.
Segal: You’ve won everything, especially in the beginning stages of your career. From bandoleros in Massachusetts, outlaws in New York, legends cars in Charlotte and you becoming the youngest ever to make a K&N Pro Series start at 15-years old. What was it like growing up going from different car different car different car and always doing something that had to do with racing?
Grala: Well I think that it’s made me a more versatile driver. Because I’ve run a lot of road courses, actually run a lot of ovals and I had never run dirt until Eldora this year, but now I can say I’ve even done that. So I have covered just about everything. Sports cars, stock cars, I’ve even tested an open wheel car once at Bondurant out in Arizona. So I’ve driven just about everything there is and won and had success at every level that I’ve been at so far.
And I think, for me, that’s really built me up as a driver to know these different disciplines of racing, and that’s why when you get to the Truck Series and we have a road course race, we have mile-and-a-halves, short tracks, superspeedways, even a dirt race, we have it all. And I think that’s important to have a diverse background in racing and be able to do all of those and try to be competitive at each of those kinds of tracks.
Segal: Yeah, all that experience that you talked about definitely can’t hurt anything. It’ll certainly help. You competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year. That must been pretty fun. Take me back there. What was that like?
Grala: It was very fun. Yes, I drove a Lamborghini for Chage Racing. I hope I get the opportunity to do that again next year because I’d say that’s one of my favorite races of the whole year. Because coming from NASCAR primarily, IMSA is just a total change of pace. It’s more engineering oriented, which of course, is interesting to me, while at the same time it’s a totally different kind of driving, different kinds of teams. I mean that hauler we had for the IMSA race had little espresso cups with Lamborghini symbols hanging underneath the cabinets. That’s not something you’re going to see in NASCAR.
So it’s cool to get out there and have a weekend where it’s a completely different atmosphere from what you’re used to. And I’m sure those guys would feel the same way coming to a NASCAR event. It’s just a change of lifestyle out there. So that’s cool to do and I’d love to do that again if I can.
Segal: There’s a whole lot of racing that a lot of people don’t know about, but it’s cool to see you getting involved in different types. Your father, Darius, he raced sports cars as well. What kind of impact has he had on your racing career?
Grala: Well, he’s taught me everything I know about race craft, about driving on road courses, setting up passes. But, he has never in his life made a lap on an oval. So once I transitioned to ovals at age 10, and Bandoleros, he kind of helped me from an outside perspective obviously, but not really speaking from experience. So from the age of 10 to now, we’ve kind of worked together learning all of this. But I can tell you when we go for the Rolex 24, that’s something that he’s done before, that specific event as well, that’s when he’s really in his comfort zone out there.
Segal: It seemed like you were in your comfort zone earlier this season at Daytona International Speedway. Obviously, you won the season-opening race in only your 10th career start too. And you became the youngest winner ever at Daytona. Take me back to that weekend. That must’ve been an incredible weekend for you.
Grala: It’s funny that you say that about comfort zone because that was most definitely not my comfort zone. That was the first race of my life that I’d done on an oval that’s bigger than Gateway (Motorsports Park), which is a mile and a quarter. So I frankly had no idea what I was doing. But over the course of those 100 laps, I learned quite a bit.
So at the end, I was able to set myself up running in the top five. I would say had that wreck on the last lap not happened, I probably would’ve finished third to fifth, which I would’ve been pumped about. My first superspeedway start, not a scratch on the truck, I’ll take a top five. I think anybody would. And then it all unfolded ahead of me. I saw it happening, I could tell what was going to happen. I was able to miss it and the smoke cleared and there was nobody in front of me. And that was quite a different feeling.
Segal: You go from the highs of highs in Daytona to the lows of lows at Mosport. Of course, I’m referring to the incident with Austin Cindric. In your racing career, Bandoleros, legends, all that stuff, have you ever put the bumper to somebody and have you had somebody do that to you as well in the lower ranks?
Grala: Well, I think to be successful in racing, you have to move people out of the way, you have to be aggressive. And actually you bring up bandoleros, I was teammates with Austin Cindric in bandoleros for years. So we’ve raced against each other plenty. Personally, if you’re going to move someone out of the way, you’ve got to be on their bumper and give them a gentle tap so you get around them but they keep going or. You know they say rubbings racing, a lot of people used that term in regard to the race at Mosport a couple weeks ago. I didn’t consider that rubbing, to be rubbing would’ve been door to door.
If you’re going to rub me door to door, or you’re going to push my bumper, go for it because I’m happy giving that back to you. That’s just racing. But from three truck lengths back to my bumper, that is not a rub, that is not even a bump; that’s a blatant wreck, a dump if you will. For me, you ask if I’ve ever done that, no I haven’t. That’s not how I race, and I don’t anticipate myself making that move in the future. That’s just not my style.
Segal: This season you have nine top 10s in the No. 33, four top fives, one pole and of course that win in Daytona. I know you want to be better and you’re getting better every week, but how has the season gone from your perspective?
Grala: Well, we definitely had a rough patch during the summer luck wise. But we never lost our speed. I’d make a mistake or we have a mechanical failure. We blew up at Bristol, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time it seemed. Eldora was totally out of my comfort zone. I’ve never done a dirt race and I was running like up in the top five and unfortunately got caught up in the Christopher Bell incident. So just some random stuff that no one could anticipate that unfortunately really took a toll on our points. I think it was like five DNFs in six races, or four in five races or something like that, which is really unfortunate. But we stayed strong. We’ve had speed like I said.
Segal: If you put yourself in the right position, luck is going to find your way and for the most part if you put yourself in a good position, good things will happen. Is that kind of a thing that you and your team are going to just take into account every single week — taking care of our business and if bad luck happens, so be it, but better luck is on the horizon?
Grala: Exactly. We’re gonna race just like we did in Canada a couple weeks ago. We executed, we had good pit stops, our strategy was good, I made minimal mistakes on the racetrack and we put ourselves in position to be leading at the end. Those were the things in our control and that’s all we can do. And things that are outside of our control, then and in the playoffs, we can’t spend our time and energy worrying about those things.
All we can do is focus on the best that we can possibly do as a company and we did a good job of that in Canada. I expect we’ll be able to do a good job of that going forward. Luck will be what it will be, but we’ll give ourselves the best chance that we can to be successful outside of that.
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.