Kristopher Graver and his tight-knit group showed in 2014 that they could contend for wins and outrun drivers with experience beyond his years. The Lehighton, Pennsylvania driver in his early 20s made a low-budget effort work, resulting in his first Modified championship in only his second full season in the headlining division at Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA). The savings came from everywhere, including the equipment they utilized to get to the facility.
“We tow to the race track in a 1986 GMC Cube Van and an open trailer my pap and his friends built at Vo-Tech back in 1972,” Graver told Speed51.com powered by JEGS after being recognized at the recent Eastern Motorsport Press Association convention Night of Champions.
All the hard work and pinching pennies paid off by season’s end with three feature victories to add to Graver’s total of already more than 30 among various divisions in only a few short years competing at the track.
After spending a consistent rookie season in the class familiarizing himself with the ground-pounding machine, he decided to step it up on the aggression level and showed his ability to run with the track’s biggest names. Still, it was not until the early summer and initial race wins of the season that he thought accomplishing such a feat or even making it from one week to the next could be a reality.
“Definitely the wins in June made me think ‘maybe I’m going to be able to do this,’” said Graver. “At the beginning of the year I didn’t think it would be possible with the equipment I have compared to everybody else and people like Eric Beers, Earl Paules, Don Wagner, John Markovic; these guys have been racing forever, longer than I’ve been alive. Racing against that and to be able to come here every week and do well and end up with this championship is amazing.”
Competing with that caliber competition with a Modified chassis nearly 20 years old and an almost entirely in-house effort is certainly remarkable, but he has received a good amount support along the way to keep on going.
“We got the motor out of my (Mahoning) Dirt (Modified) car and my paps, my uncle, and I rebuilt it from the ground up,” explained Graver. “We got all of our parts in the machine from RPM in Lehighton. We put the motor together ourselves and were chasing money to get from one week to another. During the year all we did was buy some decent tires.
“I’ve got to hand it off to my crew, my sponsors, JRi Shocks for coming on with us. Probably within a 100-mile radius we are the only ones on an asphalt Modified with JRi’s. I can’t thank everyone enough who got me to this point, and hopefully this will take me somewhere.”
In addition to his success in a Modified, Graver turned heads in the unique and vastly different SpeedSTR machine. An injury forced Eric Beers out of a Rich Tobias-owned car during a special event in June at Mahoning and Graver was suddenly tapped to drive. Later that day he was the victor. To prove that it was not simply luck, the versatile racer returned during the Octoberfast weekend to win again in the same car. That win led to his first of future opportunities.
“Richie told me before that day that if I went out and won again I would get a chance to run at Grandview in a SpeedSTR,” said Graver. “I did and went and timed ninth out of 20-some cars there in my first time being on dirt. I finished second in my heat race which was above my expectations and drew pole for the feature.”
From there, Graver’s dirt debut did not go as smoothly. Without knowledge about the top side of the track being watered down, he lost several positions from the start running the bottom. Once he figured out what was taking place, he began to reel in the next car until a caution flew. Unfortunately, after that yellow his night ended in the wall and with a barrel roll down the backstretch.
Despite that up and down night, his overall performance throughout the season has led to a full opportunity with area car dealer and SpeedSTR team owner John Kovatch at Action Track USA (PA) on Wednesday nights as well as the USA All-Pro Tour for 2015.
“I’m looking forward to going to different places and stepping out of my comfort zone and getting some track time on dirt,” said Graver. “That’s my main goal. I love dirt racing, I love watching it, and with that Grandview ride I fell in love with it. It was so much fun.”
Not only is Graver excited to compete for those reasons, but also it is for a good cause.
“I got hooked up with Kovatch Motorsports, and not only do I get to do what I love, but all the proceeds that we get go to charity,” said Graver. “It’s a really, really good deal. Hopefully I can catch on real quick.”
While the main focus will be on the SpeedSTR, Graver still has plans to compete in the Modified at Mahoning and perhaps go for another championship.
“Right now we’re planning a full season, but if it comes down to the nitty-gritty then we’re going to go with the SpeedSTR,” said Graver. “If it comes down to it then we’re just going to run select shows with the Modified and run the Gamblers Series, but for now we’re planning on a full season for both.”
When Kris Graver returns to Mahoning in April for Opening Night it will be the same operation that enjoyed success in 2014.
“Same old ’96 Troyer.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo Credit: Kris Graver Facebook