Gray Gaulding can’t stand to lose.
While that mentality is inherent of every successful race car driver, Gaulding has always taken that approach to the highest degree. He has been known to be overly aggressive at times, unapologetic at others, and always willing to do whatever it takes to reach victory lane.
Set to turn at 18 in February, Gaulding is starting to mature and find his place as both a man and competitor. But make no mistake, he is still driven to succeed like few others in the sport, but he is also more self-aware and selectively aggressive compared to even a year ago.
“I was a sore loser,” Gaulding said. “I hated to lose. It’s not fun. But I don’t whine and I don’t cry when I get out of the car. I’ve just always wanted to know what I could have done differently or better. That’s where I think I’ve gotten better — always trying to learn.”
Gaulding says he gets his competitive attitude from his father, Dwayne, a long-time NASCAR team executive. The need to win was only strengthened by playing stick-and-ball sports as a child and he has carried that mentality with him to NASCAR.
In 43 NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts, Gaulding has won once (at Phoenix after contact with Cole Custer on the final lap) and has championship finishes of seventh and third over the past two seasons while making a handful of starts in the Truck Series.
Gaulding says his aggression was born of driving older cars while at NTS Motorsports and Gdovic Racing that just didn’t have the same technology as those driven by the usual championship contenders. Despite the slight lack of resources, Gaulding has contended and that is a huge source of pride for the Virginian.
“That’s the reason I’ve had to race so hard,” Gaulding said. “I’ve been driving nine-year old cars with a team that just couldn’t afford to spend the same amount of money as the HScott (Motorsports) cars. But we were right there with ‘em.
“It makes me feel good to contend but I’m not winning and I’m never fully satisfied unless we’re winning. I have always been and I always will be aggressive. Holding back isn’t in my vocabulary and laying down isn’t my job. I’m going to race as hard as I can.”
With that said, Gaulding admits that he has learned a lot having to points race over the past three years. While he wants to win every time out, he has learned that it isn’t always feasible, forcing him to get the most out of the car — even if that means having to settle for a top-5.
“There have been times this year (in K&N) where I could have moved someone out of the way and I think people expected me to,” Gaulding said. “But I think I’ve learned to pick my spots. You can’t risk getting a black flag or tearing up race cars when you’re racing for a championship.
“You can still drive hard and understand when you’re supposed to go for it.”
Gaulding can expect to go for it for it during his final three races of the season — a short stint with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the No. 54 Camping World Truck Series entry. He will make his debut with the team on August 30 at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course in Bowmanville, Ontario and follow it up with starts at New Hampshire and Martinsville.
He has chosen to focus on this rather than finishing his K&N career and added that this is the opportunity he’s spent his entire life preparing for.
“You never want to put pressure on yourself because that’s when you make mistakes,” Gaulding said. “But I know I can get the job done. This is the best equipment I have ever driven and this is a huge opportunity.
“There are no excuses, no nothing if I don’t. I’ve been in tough situations before, having to drive top-10 cars to the front — like when we finished fourth (at Bowmanville) last year. So driving the best trucks in the sport only makes me hungrier. It makes me want to dominate.”
So while a lot has changed for Gaulding over the past two seasons, his will to win has not.
Now paired with KBM and a truck that has already won this season with Christopher Bell, Gaulding expects to lay everything on the line this fall to meet his own lofty goals and expectations.
“I look at this like it’s the final three races of my career,” Gaulding said. “If everything goes well, we might be able to do more of these next year. But nothing is promised to you in racing and I have to make the most of this.”
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