Teenager Gaulding growing up fast on NASCAR tracks

Last modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
LOUDON – When most kids were still choosing their favorite superhero or breakfast cereal, Gray Gaulding was choosing a career path.

“It’s so funny, when I was 3 I wanted to be a NASCAR driver and a dirt bike racer at the same time,” Gaulding said. “At 3 years old you think you can do that, but once you get to 8 or 9, you realize you have to pick one, and I picked NASCAR.”

It turned out to be a wise choice. Gaulding, now all of 15, is in eighth place in the K&N Pro Series East points standings. After yesterday’s

qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Gaulding and his No. 20 Krispy Kreme Toyota will be starting ninth in today’s North American Power 100 at NHMS.

“The Magic Mile has always been a huge deal for me,” said Gaulding, who lives in Statesville, N.C. “I’ve been looking at the schedule all year and looking forward to this race.”

Gaulding has seven top-10 finishes this season, including a third-place result in the last K&N East race in Greenville, S.C., on Sept. 2. He also became the youngest pole winner (15 years, two months, 15 days) in NASCAR history when he turned the trick in Richmond, Va., back on April 24, but he only holds that distinction by a few months.

Cole Custer won the pole in Iowa on Aug. 1 at 15 years, six months and nine days. He then became the youngest race winner in K&N East series history when he won the Iowa race, the Pork Be Inspired 150. Custer will sit on the pole again today after recording the best qualifying lap in 29.659 seconds (128.42 mph).

“When I first started I was the young guy and now we’ve got even younger guys in the sport,” said 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski, the K&N East points leader who qualified second yesterday. “So it’s fantastic for the sport. We definitely need some more youth in the sport and I think NASCAR will benefit as a whole from these guys getting into it. This series is for up-and-comers.”

Gaulding has been up and coming at top speed for years. After getting a pair of Bandolero cars on his 10th birthday, he won the first Bandolero race he entered and four of the first five. He became the youngest winner of a Pro Legends race at age 12 and the youngest to win a Super Late Model event at 13. He also became the youngest driver to win the PASS (Pro All Stars Series) Rookie of the Year award at age 13.

Even though he ditched the dirt bikes years ago, all that early racing prepared Gaulding for his precocious start on four wheels.

“The dirt bikes taught me about throttle control, and throttle control is a huge part of anything racing-related. To convert that over to stock car racing, you use your foot instead of your hand, but it’s all about throttle control and being smooth,” Gaulding said. “What we say in NASCAR is smooth is faster, and the dirt bikes taught me to be smooth and not over-drive, and when you get into a stock car the first thing you’ve got to do is not over-drive.”

Gaulding’s smooth driving and rapid ascent has definitely attracted attention. In June he was one of 13 drivers named to the NASCAR Next roster, a program designed to spotlight young stars and prepare them, and the fans, for their eventual rise to the Sprint Cup Series. He’s also signed on to run in some Camping World Truck Series races next year, although no official word has been released.

“Unfortunately we’re not allowed to announce anything yet, but it will be in a Toyota Tundra,” Gaulding said. “And I’m really looking forward to 2014 because the Truck Series will have a whole new aspect. NASCAR just announced they’re going to be changing the noses and tails on all the trucks, so everybody is going to be on a level playing field.”

While Gaulding supplies quotes like a seasoned pro, he definitely looks his age – 5-foot-3 with a baby face – and he still relies on support from his father, Dwayne, and grandfather, Whirley Gaulding, who go to all his races. He also finds time to actually be a teenager.

“Everybody thinks I’m so busy I must have no social life, but that’s not true. I’m still able to see all my friends when I’m home,” Gaulding said. “When I’m not in town I have a laptop and I do home school, but when I’m in town I’m able to go to school, and that’s like the ultimate dream. … I’m so happy with where I am in life. I’ve always dreamed about getting this opportunity in NASCAR, I have my family supporting me, I have a lot of friends I can go home to and be a 15-year-old, so I think life is great.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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Complete results from yesterday’s qualifying for the Sprint Cup, K&N Pro Series East and Whelen Modified Tour, C2.