By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
BK Racing arrived at Daytona International Speedway last Saturday morning, unloading a white unsponsored No. 23 Toyota. Gray Gaulding also arrived as a spectator without a secured ride in Sunday’s 60th Daytona 500. Rumors ran like wildfire on who’s driving the car but hours later, the 20-year-old Colonial Heights, Virginia native was confirmed as the driver.
Now entering Thursday’s Can-Am Duels, Gaulding, with Earthwater as his primary sponsor, will enter the weekend with a positive attitude despite the ongoing off-track drama involving his race team.
The Ron Devine owned operation is facing a lawsuit after owing more than $8 million in unpaid loans and fees. However, a temporary restraining order prevents Devine from selling his assets and charter to another Cup team.
A court hearing was to be held on February 5, but at the request of Union Bank & Trust, the hearing was postponed to Thursday, the same day the Can-Am Duels will take place.
While the team’s future is uncertain, Gaulding said he’s focused on his job, but hopes there’s a positive outcome during the hearings and it shouldn’t affect their team’s attempt of competing in the Great American Race.
“My job is a driver,” Gaulding said during Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day. “I don’t really know any background on what’s going on. I know something’s going down in court. Hope all things are positive, but I just got to keep a positive attitude. This is the biggest week of my life, my career and the biggest race of my career. I just got to stay positive and do my job. My role in what I was hired to do was to come drive and that’s what I’m excited to do. Will see tomorrow, but the plan is that we’ll be racing the Duels, trying to get us a good starting spot for the 500.”
Gaulding said he’s expected to run for Devine’s team beyond the Daytona 500 with a goal of finishing in the top-20 at non-superspeedway tracks.
“I love racing for a team like BK Racing, everyone looks over us. At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is get better every single race and improve our program,” Gaulding added. “I know we’re not going to go out there and win at Atlanta or one of the non-superspeedway tracks. Our goal is we want to run in the top-25, run in the top-20 and to go achieve those goals, you got to set goals. That’s what I’m excited about.”
Gaulding added Devine is ecstatic about racing in the Daytona 500 and has Devine’s back through thick and thin.
“Hearing Ron want to put me in the car and knowing that he believes in me to go out there in his race car, in the biggest race in the world. It kind of shows now much he’s got my back and for that I got his back too. He’s a good guy. I know BK Racing has been through some heartaches the last few months, but in the end we’re a team. We’re going to stick together and we got each other’s back and we’re not going to let anybody bring us down.”
Running Thursday’s Can-Am Duels and competing in the 500 for the first time is also a dream come true. Gaulding said he wasn’t sure if he’ll even race at all in NASCAR’s prestigious event.
“I didn’t know I was running the race, but we planned on it couple of months before. This business is tough. Some things work out and some things don’t, but I was just a lucky guy to get that call and to be in the Daytona 500 is the biggest call of my whole life.
“This is the race that I looked forward to watch and wanted to be in my whole career. I can’t thank BK Racing, Ron Devine and everybody enough that’s gotten me to that point. Even my family with all the sacrifices they’ve made. I would say, it’s kind of a Cinderella story to be honest. As much hard work and all the things we do to try to get to where we are and to know that I’ll be taking the green flag Sunday is really amazing.”
During opening practice, everyone but Gaulding ran laps at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Gaulding said it just another layer to both he and Devine’s adversity in their NASCAR careers.
Against all odds, the No. 23 team participated during second practice and clocked in with a time of 50.239 seconds, 5.614 seconds slower than William Byron. It was the slowest among 40 cars.
Despite running practice laps, Gaulding didn’t attempt a qualifying lap Sunday and will start 20th in the second Duel race.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, but things happen. BK Racing and myself, it’s not really that big of a deal because I fought adversity my entire career,” Gaulding said. “It’s another bump in the road and you just got to be pushing no matter what’s thrown in your way. I’ve had many curve-balls thrown in my way and my career. I just got to keep my head forward, be positive and go out and do my role. The team did their role, the car was ready. Obviously we had a little bit of a motor issue, but I think we got that behind us now.”
In 29 previous Cup starts, Gaulding’s breakthrough performance came at Talladega Superpeedway last October, finishing ninth after surviving the attrition in the closing laps. It was also BK Racing’s third-career top-10 in six seasons.
Gaulding said he’ll have the same attitude as he did at Talladega and doesn’t expect to ride in the back to avoid the carnage.
“I think we’ll be competitive. Single runs speed, we knew we weren’t going to be fast but I felt like the BK guys made a bullet as far as when it gets to the draft. Last year at Talladega, I got my career-best finish and we were up front all day,” Gaulding added. “I kind of have that same attitude going into Sunday is you got to attack. When I got that finish at Talladega, I attacked all day long. Whether I got in a wreck or whatever, you just got to roll with the punches and be aggressive.
“I don’t see myself changing my attitude as far as ‘we’re going to back or trying to miss the wreck.’ I’m going to go up there and try to lead the thing. I’m going to do the best I can to get as close to the front, so when that big wreck does happen, I hope I’m not in it,” said Gaulding.