When the pit sign-in started for the Battle of the Beach in 2013, the first driver in line was Kaz Grala. He went into the event at Daytona International Speedway a relative unknown in the Late Model Stock Car world. He had done well in Bandoleros and Legends Cars before, but the Late Model scene was a whole different ballgame for the then 14-year-old.
In the end, Grala proved he belonged. The Westborough, Massachusetts resident became a contender and a consistent front-runner in the Late Model Stock Car world.
"I've learned a lot, starting with the Battle at the Beach. For that being my first race," said Grala, now 15. "I may have been in a little over my head with that being my first race. It was a fun race though and a little crazy and glad I was there."
Grala finished the race that day. In fact he started seventh in the near 30-car field. The tricky track took its toll on the raw rookie who ended up 18th.
"I was a little nervous starting at Daytona. It was my first time racing with other Late Model Stocks. It was exciting because I didn't know what to expect."
From there, Grala made step after step towards a solid rookie Late Model season.
"I picked up the rookie experience all year long with Jay Hedgecock around the North Carolina and Virginia with some local shows," said Grala. "Then I ran with Falcon Racing in the UARA series. Had a great time. That's a great series."
The crowning moment came in June at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) at the Banjo Mathews Memorial. The track has been tagged as the birthplace of NASCAR stars, it only seemed fitting that a first win could come as such a historic track.
"Hickory was the highlight of the season," added Grala. "I remember thinking, 'I don't know what just happened.' We beat the locals there and it was such a huge race. We just really played it well throughout the race with the tires and we had some left at the end to make the pass. It just happened that if you're competitive and you're fast every week that eventually it will all come together for you."
Hickory was the best moment, but for a young driver like Grala, running the "Cup" tracks was also memorable.
"Daytona and Richmond were two of my favorite races," added Grala. "I was still learning at the time and it was such an honor to even make the shows and they were so early in the season."
As of recently Grala is not sure what 2014 will bring. If it is another year in Late Models, then it's a safe bet he will be a consistent threat for victories throughout the Southeast.
"We're hoping to do some K&N stuff as well as some LMSC stuff. We don't have anything finalized as of yet, but we're working on it."
With so many drivers trying to make it to the top there is one thing that Grala has over the rest of crop. His full name is on that can't be forgotten. He's the only Grala and the only Kaz. Grala also has a unique number in the 3 ball.
"Kaz is my full name, it's unique for sure and so is our number with the circle around it. People can identify with both things. I appreciate my parents for that."