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September 19, 2023

Andrew Grady reflects on last year’s viral moment ahead of the 2023 ValleyStar Credit Union 300

When the 2022 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 concluded, one driver had everyone in the United States motorsports industry talking.

It was not the race winner Peyton Sellers.

Attention had been centered on Kinston, North Carolina native Andrew Grady all day after he confronted fellow driver Davey Callihan with a barrage of punches while the latter sat in his car. Contact between the two late in their heat race prevented Grady from racing in his first ValleyStar Credit Union 300.

Grady initially dismissed his actions as nothing more than typical frustrations that boil over at short tracks, but it did not take long for him to realize just how many people saw him express his post-heat frustrations.

“I was standing on pit road, and [fellow driver] Jonathan Findley came up to me 15 minutes later to say [former NFL wide receiver] Chad Johnson tweeted me,” Grady said. “I asked if it was Ochocinco Chad Johnson and he said yes. About an hour later, Mike Tyson retweeted [the fight].

“That’s when I realized we might have a problem.”

The catalyst for Grady’s viral moment took place the night before his heat race.

Grady had plenty of confidence in his chances of a strong Martinsville debut following a fifth-place qualifying run. By being up at the front for his heat race, Grady knew a solid starting position for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 was inevitable as long as kept his car out of trouble.

Optimism for Grady was mostly shattered when NASCAR notified him that he did not pass post-qualifying inspection. Grady’s stellar time was subsequently disallowed, putting him at the rear of the field with only 25 laps to climb inside the top 10 and earn a transfer spot.

With the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 heat races having a historically chaotic nature, Grady knew starting at the back presented astronomical odds against making the big race. Despite this, Grady was not going to let an infraction in inspection cost him an opportunity he had dreamed about since watching his father Tony make laps around the track during his childhood.

Through perseverance and a little bit of luck, Grady methodically fought his way to the top 10. He found himself in a heated-but-clean battle with fellow veteran Brandon Pierce for the final transfer spot by the time the white flag was displayed.

As the two leaned on each other, Grady noticed Callihan sail his car into Turns 1-2 to take them three-wide. Callihan hit the curb and ended up sending both Grady and Pierce into the wall, causing significant damage to their cars while Callihan earned the last guaranteed starting position from the heat into the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.

Andrew Grady brings his damaged car back to pit road after getting caught up in a crash with Davey Callihan during a heat race for the 2022 ValleyStar Credit Union 300. (Adam Fenwick/NASCAR)

Grady anticipated some bold decisions from other drivers on the verge of missing the cut, yet he was puzzled by what he thought was a “banzai move” from Callihan when he was several car lengths behind him and Pierce.

“I’ve been going to Martinsville for this race since I was 2 years old, so I’ve seen all the crazy stuff happen,” Grady said. “Moving a guy for a transfer spot is one thing, but a kamikaze move that tears up $60,000 in race cars is not something I’d be proud of.”

Although Grady was furious, he had planned to have a cordial-but-firm conversation with Callihan once the two made it back to the garage area.

That was until Grady saw Callihan make a hand gesture toward him as he drove by, which enraged him. As Grady rushed to Callihan’s car and started throwing punches, only one thought crossed his mind.

“Please God, do not let one of these sheriffs tase me,” Grady recalled. “At first, I expected somebody to break it up immediately. I’m punching and looking over my shoulders, but nobody’s coming. It kept going and going until my guys dragged me off.”

Infuriated but also slightly embarrassed knowing the scuffle was caught on video, Grady kept a low profile for the rest of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300. Watching Callihan get a lead lap finish only hastened Grady’s desire to put a disappointing weekend at Martinsville behind him.

By the time Grady returned home from the track, his fight with Callihan had garnered 9.5 million views on Twitter. The next day, Grady saw the clip on SportsCenter before he was contacted by CNN, NBC, Fox and other news outlets, all eager to know more about what happened leading up to the fight.

Grady has seen more outlandish events at short tracks during his career and remains confused as to why his confrontation with Callihan ended up going viral. He was enamored by all the attention but admitted to being remorseful about his actions.

“It wasn’t a good look,” Grady said. “NASCAR has always been considered a redneck sport, and we’ve done a good job over the past 15 years trying to change that image, so I kind of set us back. My kids are going to see that, not that I really care because I hope they have the same passion for racing as I do.

“It also opened the door for a lot of trolls.”

Grady’s euphoria from the viral moment wore off once and he his wife became the subject of relentless cyberbullying. The abuse gradually declined over the following weeks, but it made Grady realize how that one decision could have easily ruined his career or enhanced it.

Although he was anticipating a suspension from NASCAR, no disciplinary action was passed down to Grady after the ValleyStar Credit Union 300. Not having to worry about long-term consequences from that day has allowed Grady more time to focus on building up a successful Late Model Stock program with Mike Darne Racing.

With last year behind him, Andrew Grady is determined to make his first ValleyStar Credit Union 300 this weekend. (Photo: Jacob Kupferman/NASCAR)

The 2023 season has seen Grady work rigorously to find efficient speed in both qualifying and race conditions. He emphasized how important time trials are in Late Model Stocks today, especially with the top 20 usually being separated by a couple tenths.

With more than 80 cars expected for this year’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300, Grady said every driver understands that one mistake in qualifying could be the difference between starting at the front or the rear of a respective heat.

“You do not drop the ball in qualifying,” Grady said. “You can feel the tension in the air when we get ready to qualify on Friday night. Usually, all the drivers are joking around and talking, but nobody was talking last year. Everyone was laser focused and it was honestly cool to see.

“Last year, people saw just how seriously we take this race.”

The passion Grady has for Late Model Stock racing was on display for the motorsports to see in last year’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300, but he is hoping for a less eventful weekend while trying to make the 40-car starting grid on Saturday night.

In four attempts from 1999-02, Grady’s dad Tony never qualified for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300. The younger Grady intends to fulfill a lifelong dream of finally getting his family name into the Late Model Stock equivalent of the Daytona 500 on Saturday evening.

“It would truly mean everything not just for me, but my entire family,” Grady said. “My dad blew motor while leading a heat race and got wrecked leading a heat race. Crazy stuff happened to him, so hopefully we can get in. All the wins I have are cool, but making Martinsville is something I’ve literally always wanted to do.

“If I can race my way in, it would be one of the highest points of my career.”

Even though he wants to avoid any confrontations with other drivers, Grady would not mind having all eyes centered on him once again in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.

This time as both a fighter and a winner.