NASCAR Next driver Gray Gaulding’s lifelong journey will take him up to the XFINITY Series in August when he makes his series debut for Roush-Fenway Racing.
Gaulding has raced his way through the ranks from Bandoleros to Late Models to Trucks. Las week, the 18-year-old from Colonial Heights, Virginia signed a deal to run at least two XFINITY races with Roush.
“This is a really good opportunity,” Gaulding said in an interview with POPULAR SPEED. “Especially to being able to sign with Roush Fenway Racing is really cool. I’ve looked up to Jack [Roush] and his entire organization my entire racing career. He’s a legend in this sport. To race for him is a true honor.”
As of now, Gaulding will make two appearances for Roush-Fenway, his first at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in August and his second at his home track at Richmond International Raceway in September.
Additional races could be added for Gaulding.
“Richmond is my home track and Bristol is my favorite track,” Gaulding remarked. “Those two are good for me. Those two probably won’t be the only ones. Roush Fenway, their marketing team is getting everything figured out to search for more partners to get me into more races.
“I’m not sure which other ones I’ll do. For sure, Richmond and Bristol. I love running Bristol. Most fun race I have is going there. Going to Richmond is cool because it’s like a homecoming for me. All the kids I went to school with, my friends and family come out to the races to support me. That’s one race I always circle to win.”
Something that both tracks provide for Gaulding is familiarity. Gaulding has raced in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at both Bristol and Richmond and has also raced a Late Model Stock Car at Richmond.
“It’s really important to have laps at a track you’re going to go to in a different car and motor,” Gaulding stated. “I should’ve won the K&N race there in 2013. That’s where I broke Chase Elliott’s record for youngest pole sitter. Going there and having laps, knowing grooves. I’ve been studying last year’s race to see if it gets loose or tight. Having laps at Richmond means a lot but it’s a different vehicle with a different feel.
“I’m looking forward to strapping in and hopefully going out and making some noise.”
Like many before him, Gaulding started out in Bandoleros, then moved to Legends cars before progressing to Late Models and eventually the NASAR K&N Pro Series. Where Gauding has stood out his entire career is that he’s raced in every level at the youngest minimum age.
Gaulding was the youngest driver to ever win a race in the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Model Series when he won at Wake County Speedway in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2011. In 2013, he became the youngest driver to win a pole in the K&N Pro Series at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida and then became the youngest race winner in series history at Phoenix International Raceway.
However, when Gaulding started racing, NASCAR wasn’t where he envisioned he would be.
“When I grew up racing, I started racing motorcycles and saw my future in motorcycles,” Gaulding commented. “When I turned nine, got a Bandolero and won my first race. That got me hooked up in stock cars and that’s where I wanted to be, running NASCAR.
“I’ve won in Legends, I’ve won championships in Legends and Bandoleros. Once you get in the 12-14 age, start to get older, some kids are just getting out of Legends cars at 12, 13. Just to know I signed with Kevin Harvick and was racing in a 700hp Super Late Model. That’s insane looking back now.”
As Gaulding progressed as a driver, so did his career. Instead of dominating at one track in one style of racecars, his father, Dwayne, brought him up to the next level when he was ready.
“My parents always moved me up when I was ready to move up. I never stayed in something and consistently dominated. What’s the point of staying? I raced bigger, better, older competition like Jay Fogleman, guys who cut their teeth racing on short tracks. Every level I’ve raced in, I’ve raced at the highest level for my age.”
After racing in Super Late Models, the next step for Gaulding’s career was the K&N Pro Series, which would prepare him to race in the Camping World Truck Series. Even when he moved up into the K&N Series and the Truck Series, he was still the young buck.
“Once I moved out of Super Late Models and into K&N and Trucks, the competition was better and I was still the young buck. Every level, I’ve been the young guy coming in,” he said. “I think it’s been fine with me and I’ve really enjoyed it because the competition is so stiff and I’ve learned so much racing those guys who been in that level longer than I have.
“In Trucks, racing against Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, racing with them is really cool. Racing with them at 16. Who would’ve thought I’d be in the top levels at 16?”
It was five years ago when Gaulding was racing Super Late Model. For Gaulding, those five years seem so short.
“I just turned 18 and I’ll be running for Roush Fenway in a few months. Lots have been going on, been very fast,” he said. “Seems like just yesterday I got in K&N and I’ll be strapping in an XFINITY car. I learned a lot and can’t wait to strap in at Bristol.”
Racing doesn’t just require talent but also requires money so, while he works hard on the track, he works just as hard off the track to get sponsorship and funding to compete. Gaulding’s marketability, however, has made him the target of criticism by some in racing who disparagingly call him a “rich kid.” That doesn’t matter to Gaulding because he gets respect from his peers where it matters – on the track.
“I think, those guys give me respect because they know I’m fast, I’m a competitor,” Gaulding explained. “I’m not just making laps and in the way. When I get in the car, my goal is to win the race, to be there when it counts. I haven’t had many people call me a ‘rich kid’ because, if they know me, they know me and my family came from nothing.
“We work our guts off to get where we are. People who say I’m a rich kid or whatever, they don’t know me because we’ve worked countless hours and time and effort has gone into be being where I am now. A lot of work and effort has got me to this point.”
Gaulding has held the help of his father, 43-year-old Dwayne Gaulding, but the elder Gaulding said it’s Gray’s hard work that deserves the credit.
“It’s just been amazing,” Dwayne Gaulding said. “I’ll be honest. I’d love to take credit but I’ve got to give it to Gray. That kid has wanted to work day in and day out to make it happen. I’d get discouraged at time because racing is a tough sport especially with kids paying for rides.
“I’ve said, the day you quit working is the day you quit racing. He said he wants to associate with the right company and right team. The kid set out and we’ve worked very hard. He’s had many meetings with lots of teams. The Roush team has treated us like gold. It’s been an amazing journey so far and just a short one.”
No matter how far Gray Gaulding gets, whether it’s just XFINITY or Cup, he knows he can look back and say it was hard work that got him there.
“When we can look back at this and know we worked our tails off to get this deal, with our partners like Krispy Kreme and Ford and so many people supporting me… at the end of the day, we know hard work is what pays off,” he said.
“Every series I’ve run in, I’ve gained respect with the guys and I’ve always been the young guy, very aggressive. I know when to be aggressive when it counts and when to be smart and that’s where I get respect the most.”
Containing aggression is one of the key things Gaulding has had to learn throughout his career. When he made his K&N Pro Series debut at Daytona in 2013, he got a little too aggressive while leading on the final lap which prevented him from scoring the victory.
“I spun Michael Self going into turn one, not intentional, in the moment kind of deal,” Gaulding said. “Drove in too deep, spun him out, going into turn three, blew the corner and, I laugh about it now because I had a five car lead and could’ve broke early and still made it. I hate I gave one away. I was just a rascal that didn’t know a ton about the car. If I knew what I know now and could go back in time, I wouldn’t make that dumb mistake.
“Finished second, great first outing but I know not to do something that stupid and learned from it.”
The race at Daytona, which was held on a temporary 4/10-mile course setup along the Daytona Superstretch, was Gaulding’s introduction to primetime. It was a race at Daytona, it was nationally televised on SPEED (now FS1) and it was his K&N debut.
“That was a really cool moment for me,” Gaulding explained. “What’s funny was my birthday was five days before that race so I just barely made the cutoff to run that race. It’s Daytona. Live on TV. NASCAR.
“Everybody’s watching and I drove every lap like it was my last. Daytona’s so special to me as a driver as it is to every driver. Everybody wants to win there. I cut my teeth in that race. Started eighth or ninth and moved to the front.”
Off the track, Gaulding’s personality is attractive to fans, sponsors and the media. Gaulding is charismatic without being ‘vanilla’. One instance of his down-to-earth personality was displayed during an interview with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie in 2013 when he flirted with the Fox Sports reporter. That moment is something Gaulding says people still talk to him about to this day.
Dwayne Gaulding says he wishes every parent could spend time with his son or have a son like Gray.
“I wish every parent had an opportunity to be with Gray Gaulding because they would cherish what being a parent is about,” the elder Gaulding said. “I’m just thankful to God every day I have great kids like Gray, McCall and Kennedy that any parent could spend six weeks with. It’s been an honor.”
Already this season, Gaulding has made a start in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards at Daytona, scoring a ninth place finish.