Last December, Kaz Grala made his first visit to Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway with a bold goal in mind: to qualify and race in both the Snowflake 100 and Snowball Derby. He accomplished both of those feats. Now after an adventurous past 12 months, the Massachusetts born driver is ready to do it all again with hopes of capturing a checkered flag or two.
Even though Grala has been busier than ever, he has spent very little time racing Late Models in 2016. He has spent most of his time running part-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, while also running a partial NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule. In addition, he also participated in one of America’s greatest Sportscar events, the 24 Hours of Daytona back in January.
All and all, he is very pleased with his 2016 season, especially with his time in the Trucks.
“It’s gone very well, I’ve had good runs in the Trucks. I’ve been really fast,” Grala told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “There’s been a couple times where we had some bad luck, but hoping to end on a high note this weekend at Phoenix then start thinking towards the Snowball Derby.”
Derby week will mark his first time actually racing a Late Model since the Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway back in March. Despite the time away, Grala returns to Five Flags with knowledge and experience from 2015, plus solid entries from Fury Race Cars for the Snowball and Ben Kennedy Racing for the Snowflake. He also believes his Truck Series time can be of great benefit to navigating one of the Snowball Derby’s unique challenges.
“We were solid last year but we definitely wanted to be a little bit better,” Grala stated. “It was my first Derby, so I was just starting to figure the track out and how to manage a race that long. I had never been in a race that long before then so I kind of had no idea what I was doing. But this year I think I should be better with that, especially with the pit stops. After doing some Truck races I’ve got a much better idea of how to do those.”
After placing 10th in both events last season, Grala learned just what a challenge it is to prepare for one of the events, let alone two.
“I did double-duty last year and I was very busy. I said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to do that again, it was too busy.’ But guess what I’m doing this year,” he said with a laugh. “I’m doing the double, I’m hoping to come out with two good finishes, maybe two trophies and shoot for the best there.”
Once Grala makes his final Truck start of 2016 at Phoenix Friday night, it is all systems go for Derby prep. With two different race cars for two different races he will need all the track time possible for both. Grala will be putting a lot of faith in his teams, especially the Ben Kennedy team preparing his Snowflake Pro Late Model.
“I haven’t tested or driven either car yet. I’ve actually never sat in either car. So it should be interesting,” Grala explained. “We’ve got a test coming so that will be very telling. I’m going to test the Snowflake car very briefly, most of the work is going to be done by my crew chief Mike Fritz as far as the driving and the testing, because I’m going to be spending most of my time in the Snowball car. Hopefully we can get some good communication going and hope that car ends up running well.”
With time being so limited, Grala knows it may come down to race time itself to find that perfect setup for Five Flags Speedway.
“We’ve got a limited amount of time, one test. Then practice there, which is about half the amount everyone else has because when you run the double, you’re bouncing back and forth,” Grala said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to get the cars driving properly very quickly then we got a whole 300 laps in the Snowball to really fine-tune on it.”
The 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off on Wednesday, November 30 with the Cat Country/WEAR TV3 Green Flag Pit Party and Qualifying Order Draw Down.
Thursday, December 1 will see the Super Late Models take to the track for the first official Snowball Derby practice. The night will be highlighted by a 30-lap race for the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers and a 50-lap event for the Dock on the Beach Sportsmen division.
The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday, December 2 during NASH FM 102.7 Pole Night. The Faith Chapel Super Stocks and the Modifieds will each run 50-lap features.
The Pro Late Models take center stage on Saturday, December 3 for the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. The 50-lap Last Chance Qualifier for the Snowball Derby and a 50-lap feature for the Beef O’Brady’s Pro Truck division will also run on Saturday night.
Then on Sunday, December 4 the green flag will fly over the the 49th Annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race will begin at 2 p.m. CT.
For more information on the 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway, visit www.snowballderby.com. All media credential requests and inquiries for the Snowball Derby can be sent to Pat Bryant at [email protected]
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-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com