In the U.S., stock car racing is the dominant form of motorsport, but sports car racing has gained quite a bit of popularity as well. From the fans’ perspectives, the two categories couldn’t be more different, and according to Kaz Grala, that remains true from the drivers’ points of view.
Grala has been pretty busy in 2017, racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Rolex 24 at Daytona, on top of being a full-time driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Jumping between series hasn’t negatively impacted his performance, though, as he became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR national series race at Daytona International Speedway just weeks after competing there in the 24-hour sports car race.
Although the ultimate goal in IMSA and NASCAR is to cross the line before the other cars — as it is in all of racing — Grala said drivers have to approach the types of races in two very distinct ways.
“When you think about sports car racing, I know I personally think more about racing the track, when you’re just focused on driving the car on track to the best of your ability. And if you do that enough laps in a row, you’ll pass other cars, you’ll gain positions,” Grala told NESN Fuel. “Whereas in NASCAR — since it’s an oval, there’s more cars in the field and it’s a smaller track — everybody tends to be much more clustered together. That just makes it that much more competitive and ‘race-y.’ ”
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The 18 year old has driven Change Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan in the GT Daytona class during the past two Rolex 24 races, but this year there was the added variable of rain, which Grala rarely encounters in NASCAR. One of his co-drivers was inside the cockpit during the wet-weather portion of the race, but he got some experience in the wet during practice.
From dirt tracks, Grala has experienced driving with little grip, but he learned racing in the rain is a whole other animal. With standing water and slick painted lines, drivers are forced to think on their feet.
“Well I mean, as a race car driver, I guess our job is just to be thrown into the car and figure it out in there. That is kind of what we do, but it’s certainly much more easily said than done,” he said.
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In making a name for himself on ovals in NASCAR, Grala said he’s gotten used to racing the heavy stock cars that are relatively simplistic in nature. As a result, he’s been forced to adapt his driving style each time he hops inside the Huracan, which has lots of driver aids including ABS and traction control.
“You can kind of trust the systems a little bit, and it’s surprisingly difficult to trust those systems when you’re not used to having them,” Grala said.
Considering Grala said the Silverado he drives in NASCAR likely would end up in the wall if he drove it as hard as he has to drive the GTD car, it’s safe to say there isn’t a lot he can carry over from IMSA. However, that’s not to say he doesn’t think competing in both categories is beneficial.
“I feel like driving in both series, in both different cars, just strengthens you as a race car driver, and you’re just more adaptable going between the two.”
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