At the beginning of the season, Kaz Grala was slated to drive the full NASCAR XFINITY Series season for JGL Racing and compete for Rookie of the Year.
The pairing started out with success, with Grala scoring a fourth place finish at Daytona International Speedway in his NXS debut. Fast forward to three months later, and JGL is releasing Grala and shutting down the No. 24 team.
Grala was left without a ride just 10 races into the season until Fury Race Cars, a team that has primarily fielded super late models and modified cars at the regional level, started an XFINITY team and introduced Grala as the driver of its No. 61 for the next four races on the schedule, with more races if the team can attract a sponsor. Fury is owned by crew chief Tony Eury Jr., short track ace Jeff Fultz and Grala’s father, Darius. Many of the crew from JGL’s No. 24 came over to Fury’s No. 61, including crew chief Shane Wilson. JGL also gave the team three of its cars as a part of Grala’s severance package.
The team’s debut was at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday (May 26). With zero owner points, the team had to qualify on speed on a day where heavy rain showers would sprout up out of nowhere. Grala made the race and finished in 10th. We caught up with him before and after the race.
Michael Massie, Frontstretch: So you just made the race, the rain held off. You had to have been worried this morning, right?
Kaz Grala: Oh yeah. When I walked into the track with my hood up, pouring down rain, it was not looking good for us. Obviously, we had no owner points, no previous race attempts, so we wouldn’t have made the race had qualifying rained out. But luckily, we got qualifying in. Not only that, we’re 16th, so we’re pretty pumped up about that. I mean, I’m a competitor, I’m a racer, I want to be first, right? But we have to acknowledge the small victories.
Massie: So from the sounds of it, it’s the same race cars from JGL and the same team for the most part, right?
Grala: A lot of similarities. Not everything is exactly the same, some things are a little different, a little new, a little old. It’s basically, in just over a week whatever could be gathered, materials-wise, to make this weekend possible. Luckily, for me it’s a lot of familiar faces around the hauler here — not only from the first 10 starts this year with JGL, but people I’ve known for years through Fury.
Massie: You got Shane Wilson to come over. How big was that?
Grala: Huge. I was lucky to get to start the year with Shane Wilson. He’s unbelievably talented. Very experienced, which I think as a rookie, that’s as important as anything. If you watch the way he works, he doesn’t make too many mistakes.
Massie: Speaking of crew chiefs, now you’re working with a guy, Tony Eury Jr., who’s worked with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Cup level. How hands on is he in the process, and how beneficial is it to work with him?
Grala: Well he’s been integral at the shop, just helping all of the guys that did come from the [No.] 24 car kind of get acclimated to Fury and show him how they do things over there…We wish he was here with us this weekend, he had prior arrangements with Danica [Patrick] to be at the [Indianapolis] 500. We look forward to next week at Pocono, we should have Tony with us and get a little bit of his two cents and knowledge.
Massie: Dude missed his team’s debut, right?
Grala: I know. Well, I mean had we known we were going to make a debut more than probably eight or nine days ago, he probably would have made the arrangements to be here, but it was of course a little bit of a last second deal. Hey, it’s the Indy 500, can’t say I blame him. He’s going to be having a lot of fun there.
Massie: Is that anything you have on your horizon, Indy 500?
Grala: That takes some guts to drive one of those cars. I don’t know. That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I would, but I certainly enjoy watching it. I’ve been to the race a few times and enjoy seeing it. I actually did the double in 2014, I went and watched the Indy 500 and then came here and watched the [Coca-Cola] 600, so that was something I was excited to be able to do once in my life, but at least for now, I’m going to stick to this whole roof over my head thing.
Massie: One of the other guys involved in Fury is Jeff Fultz, and I think he was racing last night at Concord Speedway, so the guy’s still racing. How instrumental is that to have a short track ace like that?
Grala: Jeff Fultz has won more late model races in the country than anybody ever has, and he’s raced here in the XFINITY level before himself. A few years ago, but he knows what it takes to race at the national level. Between him and Tony, we’ve got plenty of experience. Fury has never been at a national level, but that doesn’t mean that a lot of guys there haven’t been…Of course, Fury comes from Fultz and Eury.
Massie: Definitely one of the coolest team names, I’d say. Another thing I like a lot is the font your number is in. It reminds me of a pool ball. All of your cars have a unique looking number. Is part of that your idea or your dad’s idea?
Grala: I’ve always had the circle around my number. That came from my dad, when he used to race sports cars, he didn’t always, but he often had a circle around his number. Right from when I started out, I put it around there and haven’t taken it off since. To me, some numbers, depending on the font and the actual numbers themselves, can be difficult to fit in the circle so it hasn’t come without its challenges, but the [No.] 61 I really like. I think it fits nicely in there. It’s really bold to; I feel like, from the grandstands, you can read it down the backstretch. I didn’t pick the number itself, I left that up to the team, and with the team being a huge producer of modifieds, 61 was an iconic number for them. So they were all excited about getting to run the Richie Evans [No.] 61.
Massie: I got to ask, what exactly happened with the JGL situation? Because at the beginning of the year, it sounded like you guys were doing the whole schedule
Grala: That was the plan. Unfortunately, the team owner over there [James Whitener] at JGL was diagnosed with liver failure a couple months ago, and he’s on a transplant list now. So financially, that impacted it. He would have loved to have kept running me, and we left on great terms, but he financially support it. He was able to give us three cars and kind of say, “whatever you’re able to do, good luck and sorry about this.” From that is where this program came from, so we’re grateful to him for giving us this opportunity.
After the Race
What a dream come true getting to dice it up with the big boys! So unreal what everyone @FuryRaceCars has been able to accomplish already, and we haven’t even existed for 2 weeks! A top-10 in our debut today. These next 3 races are going to be a blast, & hopefully more after 🤞🏻
— Kaz Grala (@KazGrala) May 26, 2018
Mike Neff, Frontstretch: Was it eight days ago this thing was laying in pieces on the shop floor and you come home with a top 10 finish?
Grala: Pretty much, yeah. It’s pretty crazy to me how much we were able to do in a short amount of time, but when you’ve got great people with Fury Race Cars who are not afraid to work and work long hours, that’s what you’re able to accomplish. So this is a huge tribute to them and what they’ve been able to do. I was driving as hard as I could in that race there because I didn’t want to be the reason they didn’t get the finish they deserved after working so many hours.
Neff: Now did you ever take an opportunity while you were driving to look in your mirror and realize behind you, you had cars that were backed by Richard Childress Racing, [Team] Penske and Roush [Fenway Racing]?
Grala: And [Joe] Gibbs, yeah, that was a surreal moment; not only the cars out my windshield, but you’re right, the ones out my mirror. What we’ve been able to do in only eight days with the people that we have is pretty crazy.