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Fender To Fender: Kickin’ It With Kaz Grala

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NEWTON, Iowa — If you have not heard of Kaz Grala yet, it’s time to get yourself familiar.  Grala, 15, is currently the youngest full-time driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and pilots the No. 31 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports.  Grala spent some time talking with Rubbings Racing recently when the series visited Iowa Speedway.

Entering Iowa, Grala was ninth in the championship standings with one top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts.

“I mean it’s definitely exceeded them,” Grala said when asked how this season has compared to his expectations.  “I was just hoping to get some top-10s.  I wasn’t even thinking about top-fives.  So that was pretty cool that we were able to get that top-five (at Langley Speedway).  Especially since we started 18th in that race, so that was a lot of fun.  We’ve been doing good, just being solid, and that’s really what we were looking to do.  It’s our rookie season.  We’re just doing our best out there.  Trying to figure out these tracks.  Trying to figure out the cars.”

“We’re pretty good in points right now in the top-10.  If we log some more solid finishes I think we can move up a couple more spots.  We’re pretty close to the guys right in front of us so I’d like to finish strong in the points and just end on a high this season.”

Grala went on to finish eighth at Iowa and fourth the following week at Watkins Glen, earning the best finish of his career in the K&N Pro Series East.  Grala moved up to the sixth spot in the championship standings after those two strong runs.

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Brian Eberly/Rubbings Racing

This weekend, the K&N Pro Series East heads to VIRginia International Raceway for the Biscuitville 125, marking the second straight week the series will turn both left and right on a road course.

What sort of strategy does Grala follow when he gets to a track for the first time?

“Once I’m here, once I get the feel for the track, I talk to my teammates.  Scott Heckert’s been especially helpful to me all season.  He’s got a really good driving style, really similar to mine, and he really understands the cars so I can just talk to him and ask him really specific questions about what he’s feeling, it helps me a lot.”

Grala elaborated by giving a specific example of Heckert’s advice this season.

“The first time we were here (at Iowa Speedway) this season, we were ok in practice, I think we were like 15th or something, so we weren’t bad, but we weren’t anything great.  I talked to him after practice about sort of his mental thoughts behind qualifying here, and he gave me some tips and I went out in qualifying and qualified sixth.  So that was really good.  He definitely knows what to say and what the cars doing so he’s a big helper for me.”

Grala continued to emphasize just how important his entire Turner Scott Motorsports team, which fields five entries in the K&N Pro Series East, has been this season.

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Brian Eberly/Rubbings Racing

“It’s great to be with a big team.  You get a lot of recognition.  You get to do some cool appearances and interviews.  But the biggest thing, of course, is just the people.  I have a lot of teammates that I can ask for advice who all have experience.  I was the only guy on the team coming in this year that had never driven a K&N car before in New Smyrna.  It’s a really good team atmosphere where we can all help each other out and help each other get faster.”

While Grala is in his first K&N season, the guy calling the shots for him from the spotter’s stand, Mike Calinoff, has a plethora of experience.  Calinoff spent 12 years as the spotter for Matt Kenseth, winning the Sprint Cup Series championship in 2003 and the Daytona 500 in 2009 and 2012.  Calinoff was also the spotter for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s back-to-back Nationwide Series championships in 2011 and 2012.

“He’s a great spotter.  He tells me clear better than anyone else I’ve ever had,” Grala said with a laugh.  ”Obviously he’s worked with a lot of great people.  He can kind of tell me what my weaknesses are and what my strengths are just because he knows what you’ve got to be able to do to get things done.”

Calinoff won’t struggle finding the No. 31 car this weekend, as Grala’s Chevrolet will be sporting a bright yellow paint scheme.  “We’re trying to mix up the colors a little bit and keep it fun,” Grala said.

Grala doesn’t let the time spent racing interrupt his school work, receiving most of his work ahead of time and completing assignments while traveling or on Sunday evenings.

“Either way, by the time I come in on Monday I’ve got everything made up.  If I didn’t keep good grades, there’s no way my parents would let me do what I do.  So I kind of know that I need to keep those up and I do what I need to do there.”

Grala comes into Saturday’s race at VIR having tested at the track in preparation for the race.  It’s safe to say he learned some things that will definitely help him during the course of the 55 laps on Saturday afternoon.

“Towards the end of that test I was feeling pretty confident because we started getting pretty quick.  The thing that I figured out that I had no idea all day is that brake pedal is there.  I did not know how hard I could press that.  I thought I was pressing it as hard as I could.  I didn’t understand how Heckert was running in so deep and then all of a sudden I pushed it as hard as I could possibly push it and we went in like another hundred feet deeper, it was crazy.  So that was a huge learning curve.”

“I think it will shake up the lineups,” Grala said of the back-to-back road course events.  “I think people will be moving all around.  The frontrunners to the middle, middle runners to the front, back runners could be moving up.  Who knows.  It should spice it up.”

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About Brian Eberly

Brian Eberly (@beberly18) is a Certified Public Accountant and Manager of Field Accounting at a transportation company, but when he isn’t at the office you can most likely find him at a racetrack, watching a race on television, or following the action on social media. Eberly became interested in NASCAR in the nineties when Jeff Gordon was dominating the scene, and became hooked when he attended his first race with his dad in 1999 at Michigan International Speedway. Eberly has been writing about NASCAR since 2012 for various websites. An Illinois native and Northern Illinois University graduate, Eberly travels throughout the Midwest covering racing events in multiple series. When not following racing, he can be found on the golf course (usually trying to find his golf ball) and following the Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, Bulls, and of course the NIU Huskies.

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