Posted By: Brian Eberly – Follow at @beberly18
March 26, 2014
When the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rolls into Martinsville Speedway for the running of the Kroger 250 this Saturday, there will be a fresh face in the field. Gray Gaulding, who turned 16 last month, will be behind the wheel of the No. 20 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports, making his debut in the Camping World Truck Series. Gaulding spoke exclusively to Motor Racing Digest this week leading up to his Truck debut.
Gaulding and his team tested last week at Martinsville and despite the less than ideal weather conditions, it was a worthwhile test.
“We learned a lot. It’s a lot different than racing in the K&N Pro Series. Everything changes. The teams change. I mean it’s still under NTS Motorsports’ banner, but I’m able to work under my crew chief, Jeff Hensley,” Gaulding said. Hensley has three wins at Martinsville Speedway, with two of those coming in the Camping World Truck Series.
“You’re going to have to really keep up with the track because the track’s going to gain so much grip when the Cup guys get out there. When you’ve got 40 Cup cars it’s going to lay a black stripe down in the groove so it could work out for us. We were a little bit loose at the test. I think it’s going to be a good learning curve for me I’m really looking forward to it.”
One nuance to this weekend for Gaulding will be live pit stops, something that doesn’t occur in the K&N Pro Series.
“I think it’s going to be awesome to be able to do pit stops for the first time on a professional level in the Truck series. At Martinsville I was doing some test runs and it’s going to be, when you get 36 of them going down pit lane at 35 mph it’s going to be pretty tight. Probably the biggest thing for me as well is making sure you don’t speed on pit road. At the test my tach and everything was set for 35 mph so I know where I need to be, but you can’t be but a little bit over the speed limit and they’ll call you for it so that just shows you’ve got to make sure you hit it right and perfect.”
Once Gaulding slides his No. 20 into the pit box, the crew going to work on his truck will be one of the best in the business. “My pit crew is going to be Jeff Gordon’s pit crew. I can’t wait to work with those guys.”
Gaulding is also running the full 2014 schedule in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (KNPSE) under the NTS Motorsports banner in the No. 20 Krispy Kreme Chevrolet Impala. He finished an impressive second at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Pitt Lite 125, the third race of the season, and took a four point lead in the series standings. Gaulding struggled this past weekend at Greenville Pickens Speedway, finishing 11th in the Whitaker Chevrolet 150.
“I feel like Greenville was an absolute wreck man. It was horrible. Our car would not turn in the center of the corner. Both NTS cars, we showed up with the absolute wrong set-up is what I’m thinking. We had a competition meeting and there’s no reason why us leading the points should be running 11th. You have your bad days, that’s understandable. But when you have this opportunity to go after championships you can’t run like that. We shouldn’t of even finished 11th. Our car was that bad. I think we had an 18th to 20th place car and that’s not what you need out of a championship contender. We’re going to come back to Greenville and test and make sure we get the first Greenville out of the way.”
While Gaulding didn’t feel that the performance at Greenville was worthy of a championship contender, championships are won by turning those bad days in to better days. In four KNPSE starts in 2014, Gaulding has recorded three top-10 finishes, led 36 laps, and completed all 582 laps run with an average finishing position of 6.8 Gaulding sits third in the standings, only nine points behind leader Ben Rhodes.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is back on the track on April 25 for the Blue Ox 100 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. “Richmond I feel like we’re going to be really good,” Gaulding said.
Gaulding is already the youngest winner in K&N Pro Series history, winning the last race of the 2013 season in the K&N Pro Series West at Phoenix International Raceway last November. He is also the youngest ever K&N Pro Series pole winner, in both the East and West divisions. His Truck Series debut at Martinsville has special meaning to the teenager from Colonial Heights, Virginia.
“I think it’s going to be awesome. It’s a dream come true for me. I’ve been racing in K&N and I’m the youngest winner in the K&N Pro Series and the youngest pole sitter so we’ve been able to break some really cool records. My hometown and all my family and friends are just a couple of hours away so everybody’s going to be there watching me and supporting me.”
While Gaulding is excited to make his debut, he has set lofty, yet reasonable expectations.
“As a driver and competitor you want to be able to win each and every time you get out there on the race track, but I feel like I can go toe to toe with these guys. The ultimate goal is to get a top-five, top-10, but at the end of the day you want to win so I’m going to do everything I can to win. I’m looking forward to it.”
Gaulding’s teammate this weekend is a familiar face. Chase Pistone will be behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet Silverado for NTS Motorsports. Pistone fielded a Legends car for Gaulding and was his crew chief when Gaulding captured the Young Lion Legends Cars National Championship in 2010.
“It’s so cool to know that just a couple years ago he was my crew chief in the Legends cars. We won a lot of stuff and we won the National title to be the youngest to do that. I never thought he and I would ever be teammates at one of the top three levels of all of racing. The fact that he’s my teammate and I can call him my teammate is really cool.”
Gaulding is scheduled to run in eight Truck Series races during 2014, a number that is limited due to Gaulding’s age. Beginning with the 2013 season, NASCAR allowed drivers as young as 16 years of age to compete in the Truck Series on ovals a mile or shorter in length and on road courses (the previous minimum age requirement was 18).
“My favorite and I’m really looking forward to going there is Bristol,” Gaulding said when I asked him which track he couldn’t wait to run. “Can not wait to go to Bristol. The Trucks race under the lights, so I can’t wait to go there for that. But also Dover. Bristol’s my favorite track and Dover is my second favorite track. So I feel like those two I’ll be able to run well at.”
As for the most difficult track on his eight race Truck Series schedule?
“The one, I’m not going to say it’s going to be difficult for me, I love road racing, but you’re going to be racing against a lot of better road race drivers. Obviously it’s Canadian Tire and so you’re going to have to be smart on the transmission, the engine, etc. I really don’t think any of them are going to be difficult but I feel like it’s going to be tough to learn knowing I only have eight races but I feel like I’ll be able to catch on pretty quick.”
Gaulding indicated the team has plans to test at Nashville, which will help them prepare for Dover because the surface is pretty similar. He and crew chief Jeff Hensley plan to test some new packages and log some laps.
Gaulding has sponsorship from Gemini Southern, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and TruMoo Chocolate Milk. Krispy Kreme receives hundreds of proposals to sponsor racecars as the company has its headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., near the Charlotte hub of NASCAR.
“That’s the thing with Krispy Kreme, they age from nine to 90, is what the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) always likes to say. Not only do the kids love it, the adults love it. It’s a fun brand, it’s a good brand.”
Gaulding also does motivational speaking at school’s across the country.
“When I’m able to go out and talk to schools, I enjoy that kind of stuff. I tell them you never give up, some people will try to put you down and say you’re not big enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not strong enough, but at the end of the day you have to have faith and believe that you can do something you love to do.”
With a schedule such as Gaulding’s, one might be left to wonder what he does when not racing?
“I enjoy playing basketball at our house. Playing with friends and just doing normal, fun stuff. My life’s a little bit different than a normal 16 year-old. But I love going to the gym and training. I do that just to be healthy also not only just to do it for racing. I’m an active guy and I like to be outdoors.”
The Gaulding home also has something you won’t find at most households across America. A go-kart track in the backyard, used by Gaulding for both fun and training.
“I do all my training and stuff out there. The race track we have at our house it’s a lot of fun to be able to go out there. We’ll get all our team guys out there and race go-karts and have fun. It’s also good training to try to do 300 or 400 laps sometimes and just try to be consistent and hit your line, hit your marks every time.”
One interesting fact is that Gaulding will be unable to drive himself to the track for his Truck Series debut, as he does not have his driver’s license.
“It’s pretty funny that I can’t even drive on the road but I can drive at Martinsville in one of the top levels of NASCAR. It’s a little bit different down here you have to do a two-week process but you can’t miss a day,” Gaudling said regarding the Graduated Licensing process used in the state of North Carolina. “Obviously already my schedule just can’t fit in of doing it for two weeks straight.”
Gaulding and his NTS Motorsports team will hit the track at Martinsville on Friday for two practice sessions in advance of qualifying and the running of the Kroger 250 on Saturday.
Note: When this interview was originally posted, Gaulding was thought to be the youngest driver ever to start a Camping World Truck Series race. On Friday afternoon, NASCAR confirmed that in fact Casey Atwood was the youngest driver ever, at 16 years, 0 months, 6 days. Gaulding will be 16 years, 1 month, 19 days, making himself the second-youngest driver ever to race in the Camping World Truck Series.