From First Time Winner to Impressive Valley Star Credit Union Debut; Grayson Cullather Reflects on Martinsville
The 2017 Valley Star Credit Union 300 has come and gone and in all honesty, it may have been the most hectic, incredible and fan-filled race to date. Eighty-four cars took time in group qualifying the night before on the half-mile paperclip. One of those drivers was 16-year-old Richmond, Virginia native, Grayson Cullather. In just his second full season in Late Model racing, Cullather was coming into the weekend fresh off his very first career win at his home track, Southside Speedway.
Other than the Hampton Heat at Langley Speedway earlier this year, the Valley Star Credit union was just the second race of his young career where he has raced this many laps, with this many cars and it did not seem to phase him. Cullather laid down a 20.530-second lap on Friday night to earn himself a twenty-fifth qualifying position… out of eighty-four cars… in his first attempt at the race. Cullather’s time was just a little over a tenth of a second off the pole.
After the top two times were thrown out by officials, Grayson would official be scored twenty-third on the charts, lining him up seventh in his heat race. He would hold onto a tenth place finish in his heat race, even after getting turned around coming to the checkered flag, to earn the final transfer spot into the big show.
“It was what I expected at the beginning of the weekend and the first twenty-three laps of the heat race,” Cullather said. “Those last two laps and coming across the line backward after being turned on purpose, that had to be the most stressful laps I have ever driven. When I made the race I just felt the weight off my shoulders. I just relaxed in the trailer and got plenty of fluids before the feature.”
His efforts were enough to keep him out of the always hectic last chance qualifier and locked him into the thirty-second starting position on the grid. With a total of forty-two cars taking the green flag he really only had one way to go – forward.
“My spotter, Jesse Vaughn, just took the race as it came,” Cullather explained. “We said that we were just going to ride for the first one hundred fifty laps to see what would happen and just capitalize on the mistakes that other people were making.”
Capitalize on others mistakes and keep the car clean proved to be a good strategy as Cullather found himself in a good position at the halfway break. With cars falling out of the race left and right, Cullather slowly climbed his way up the leaderboard and almost found himself in the top ten after setting a goal of just making the race in his first attempt.
“It gives me confidence,” Cullather said about his twelfth place finish. “Knowing that I can run with some big names. My team was happy I was able to make the show my first time and had the car to be able to pass cars during the race.”
For those who may not know much about this young driver, Grayson comes from Southside Speedway, one of the few tracks in Virginia that do not run the NASCAR banner. NASCAR or not Southside Speedway has seen its fair share of NASCAR legends racing on its surface. It was the original home of the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. Southside’s Late Models, however, run forty lap features on eight-inch tires; this weekend was certainly a test for Cullather.
“It was really hard,” Cullather confessed. “I wasn’t feeling the best before the race as it was. Probably just because of nerves. At the halfway break I actually got sick right before we went back out. After that I felt fine for the rest of the race, it was just nerves.”
With only a couple more races left in 2017, the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National and Myrtle Beach 400 we asked Grayson if he was going to continue this momentum and give those other two races a shot. Given a long hard season and the effort it goes into pulling off a Martinsville weekend, his answer was very understandable
“We have put some thought into running Southern National or Myrtle Beach,” Cullather told The Weekly Racer, as we were finishing up our interview. “But right now we don’t know what our next race is going to be at this point.”