Fans who came to South Boston Speedway to "Holla for Grala" were not disappointed Saturday evening, cheering over the roar of the engines as their driver, 16-year-old Kaz Grala, took the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) South checkered flag after a dominant performance.
Driving the No. 51 ToyotaCare Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Grala spent the rest of the weekend celebrating his first ever Super Late Model triumph, which happened to come in his first ever appearance on the prestigious PASS South circuit.
"I'm pumped up still, sitting on cloud nine," Grala told Speed51.com Powered by JEGS Monday morning. "That was a really awesome night for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It was my first ever pole for anything in stock cars and then my first ever Super Late Model win and my first win in a stock car at South Boston Speedway, a track I've really come to like.
"Honestly, when we went there, I didn't really know what we had to work with. I'm new with these cars and this team and we're still figuring some stuff out. What we figured out, though, in practice was that we had a very, very good long run car."
A good long run car paid off for Grala in the race as the 150-lap event was chock full of long runs.
"We were lucky to have plenty of long runs, including the one right to the end," said Grala. "We had a good battle with Jared Fryar early, but we managed to work our way by him before halfway and take off from there. I think if we had gone green-white-checkered, I would have had to fight pretty hard with Clay [Rogers, runner-up]."
Grala's enthusiasm and joy after the victory is by no means surprising. The youngster has earned a good reputation for his upbeat personality and friendly relations with fans and media alike. But even Grala's boundless optimism was tested in recent weeks as – prior to Saturday – his first few starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports were subpar.
While KBM Super Late Model teammate Christopher Bell has been setting the world on fire, Grala's first two KBM Super starts resulted in finishes of 15th at Southern National Motorsports Park (NC) and 16th at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC).
"Yeah, my confidence was slightly down after the first couple of races," Grala conceded, "but I knew we were going to be okay. The first two races I feel like we were competitive. We just didn't have luck on our side. We knew at some point our luck was going to change, and when it did we would be in contention for a win. So I simply went into this weekend hoping this weekend would be the one.
"Kyle Busch Motorsports is a very successful organization with a ton of different winners over the years, so it's definitely an honor to join my name to that list. Even after those first races, I felt like part of the family as soon as I met those guys. Now I definitely feel like part of the family. They have just an amazing winning legacy."
With the first Super Late Model victory checked off, Grala is by no means done setting ambitious goals for himself in 2015. The second half of the season will have the young driver get about as much seat time as one can get across multiple styles of stock cars.
Grala, who is the full-time driver of the No. 3 Kiklos Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil Toyota for Ben Kennedy Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, told Speed51 that the BKR team will also field a K&N West car for him in a few weeks at Sonoma Raceway (CA) as well as Phoenix International Raceway (AZ) in the fall.
Kyle Busch Motorsports is still working out Grala's schedule, but Grala said his next race for the team will be the PASS AIM Recycling USA 250 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 5. And while Super Late Models will continue to be his main focus at KBM, Grala said to expect to see him and the KBM team at the Late Model Stock Car MDCU 300 at Martinsville Speedway (VA) in November, and the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida in December.
"I'm really looking forward to Loudon," Grala said. "It's going to be really unique getting to race a Super Late Model on a big one-mile track like that. There's rarely ever any opportunities to do that. It's a home race for me; my house is only about an hour away from there. So I think it's going to be a blast."
- By Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com Southeast Editor - Twitter: @thethirdturn
- Photo credit: Joe Chandler/Gazette-Virginian