“You have to process this stuff quickly. It’s just not something that people take up fast. He’s really, really smart at what he’s doing. You say, ‘Do it this way.’ That’s it. Done. Forever. Never have to repeat it,’’ Longhi said of Kaz’s learning curve, and noted it’s “kind of spooky in that it’s one of those qualities that starts to get you thinking, ‘Hmm, there really is — apart from the basic level of talent — something else here. There is something more.’ ”
Grala’s mental approach draws similar reactions.
Emotions can run high during races as drivers jockey for position and cut each other off. A calm manner and ability to avoid “road rage” confrontations can be critical to a racer’s success, as can the ability to rally a crew.
“He’s poised,” said R.J. Valentine, an accomplished Grand-Am driver and the owner of F1 Boston, where Grala started racing go-karts at age 7. “He’s got a great general demeanor. I’ve been to races. I’ve watched him around a crew. He’s inquisitive, he’s smart, he asks the right questions. A lot of times drivers think they’re smarter than the crew,’’ Valentine said, while the drivers are actually “dependent on them and how they set the car up. It’s a team effort. He’s done extremely well at that.”
Grala is still four years away from meeting the Sprint Cup Series age minimum, and, with five levels to climb before he reaches the series, there is still much work ahead.
Races will last longer, which will increasingly push Grala’s physical limits. And pit stops will be introduced.
He has already begun frequenting the gym to build the lower- and upper-body strength necessary to handle more powerful cars, without power steering, that travel in excess of 200 miles per hour. This regimen, along with an increased emphasis on hydrating, will be critical as summer races stretch past four hours. But Grala said he welcomes the challenges.
What will not change, however, is what happens after the first car crosses the finish line. It will still be declared the victor, a position with which Grala has become quite familiar.
“He’s winning races,” said Valentine. “Most guys maybe get a second or third and maybe every once in a while might have a win. He’s been consistently winning.”
“I think the kid is better right now than I was at my best,” said Darius Grala. “And he’s accomplishing more at his age than anyone significantly older. There is no one in this country doing what he is doing.”
Paul Lazdowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.