Gaulding not afraid to do whatever it takes
April 25, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
NASCAR Next driver has already gained reputation of being tough on track
Gray Gaulding makes no bones about the lofty aspirations for his still-budding NASCAR career. He's also unapologetic about the use of blunt force on the race track that it might take to get there.
"You don't ever want to punt somebody out of the way and cause something early in the race, but if I know I have to move somebody for a win late in the race, that's something I've always done and that's what I'm going to do because I'm here to win," Gaulding says. "I feel like every driver should have that fire."
If the youth movement that may drastically retool the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster within the next handful of years continues, Gaulding may find himself riding the wave toward his goal of reaching NASCAR's top level sooner than later. It's clearly where he sees himself -- he readily throws out the names Hendrick and Childress in a discussion about his future landing spot. Time will tell if he'll be carrying ready-made rivals -- some of whom he's provoked in short order already -- along for the journey.
"Everybody's going to talk, no matter what you do, but if they're talking about you, you must be doing something right"
-- Gray Gaulding
Gaulding, last year's youngest member of the NASCAR Next class, officially returned to the youth initiative Friday at Richmond International Raceway -- just 30 miles from his Colonial Heights, Va., hometown. The return trip to NASCAR Next comes as Gaulding competes in his second full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East touring division and as he gets his feet wet with a nine-race slate in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Pretty heady stuff for a teenager just two months past his 16th birthday.
"I think what NASCAR Next has done for me since last year just means a lot to be a part of it," Gaulding said. "It was my first year ever in the K&N Pro Series and I was the youngest of the group, so it was a dream come true. Going in to last year, I don't want to say I underestimated anybody, but what they did last year was really impressive getting us young guys out there."
While NASCAR has used the Next program to help identify its future stars, Gaulding has helped make his name known without much outside assistance. If the principle of there being no such thing as bad publicity is true, Gaulding has embraced both the recognition and the notoriety.
Gaulding collected his first K&N Pro Series West victory last fall at Phoenix International Raceway in controversial fashion, abruptly spinning race-long leader Cole Custer half a lap from the checkered flag. While Gaulding said he was aiming for a bump-and-run maneuver, it was small consolation for Custer -- also named to this year's NASCAR Next class -- who said later, "I know how he (Gaulding) races, and I know that he's an idiot and can't control himself."
Gaulding ruffled more feathers in the Battle at the Beach event, drawing a penalty from race officials for rough driving, but his no-holds-barred style may have drawn the most attention in his truck series debut last month at Martinsville Speedway. Gaulding made himself at home at the tight, contact-heavy short track, causing a mild uproar on social media for using his fenders and bumpers on offense more than defense.
Nationwide Series regular Brendan Gaughan was among those calling Gaulding out that day. The most vocal may have been Eddie D'Hondt, spotter for Jeff Gordon, who blasted Gaulding as "donut boy" for his ties to sponsor Krispy Kreme and adding on Twitter, "u might wanna start learning how 2actually race people in lieu of cleaning their clock. U got what u had comin."
Gaulding, confident to a fault, seems to take it all in stride.
"You're going to obviously have a lot of haters," he says. "Everybody's going to talk, no matter what you do, but if they're talking about you, you must be doing something right. A lot of people want to talk about how aggressive I am and hey, I just take it to one ear and out the other. You can't pay attention to that stuff, especially when you're at a professional level.
"Yeah, I am only 16 but I've got NASCAR branded on me, Krispy Kreme branded on me, Chevrolet is branded on me. I'm the fun guy, the exciting kid I feel like everybody likes outside the cockpit, in the truck and the K&N car, but I feel like when I step in that seat, I block everything out. You've just got to go out there and do this one thing, which is win. I'm not just out there doing it for myself. I'm harder on myself than anybody else in the world is. I have sponsors and teams and, especially when the team gives me a good car, you can't be too nice."
Despite the potential for extracurricular distractions, Gaulding has made solid progress in his chase of a K&N East championship. His hopes have been buoyed by three top-10 finishes in four races, including a runner-up effort at Bristol Motor Speedway that briefly made him the youngest points leader in series history.
Will a full-time schedule in one series and part-time duty in another, Gaulding has tried to balance becoming a race-car driver with the rigors of school work and the natural coming of age that goes along with being a 16-year-old. Some sacrifices have been made in achieving the balancing act, but Gaulding said it's all part of the over-arching plan.
"At the end of the day, people might say, 'Oh, his childhood's been taken away,' but this is something I've always wanted and dreamed about is being able to be in NASCAR at a young age," Gaulding said. "I think it all works out. It gets tough at times but I keep my head down and keep working hard.
"I just look out the windshield and not the rear-view mirror and keep on digging and doing the right things."