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Tualatin teen races toward NASCAR dream

Horizon Christian junior sets sights on speedway


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JON FERREY PHOTOGRAPHY - Gracin Raz behind the wheel of his vehicle, a 2010 Hamke straight-rail chassis with a Chevy Impala body and a 625 HP eight-cylinder engine.  If you ask Gracin Raz what he wants to be when he grows up, you’ll find the Horizon Christian High junior’s answer hasn’t really changed since he was 3: race car driver.

He didn’t really get serious about it until he was 5. That’s when he heard the call of Quarter Midget Racing at Alpenrose Dairy.

“I heard the cars go, and I had a sense of urgency to go watch them,” Raz said.

He began his career in earnest at the age of 6 — “I got into racing a couple days after my brother was born, that’s how I count it,” he explained — and he’s picked up the support of his family and a handful of sponsors along the way.

Now, the 16-year-old drives a 2010 Hamke straight-rail chassis with a Chevy Impala body, propelled by a 625-horsepower, eight-cylinder engine, and competes as often as he can.

“It’s a real balance between my racing program and my brother’s racing programs,” Raz said. “He’ll have around 10 as well this year.”

Still, he adds, “I’m a first-generation racer in our family.” Despite his father’s nearly lifelong love of watching indycar races and attending events at the Portland International Raceway, Raz said, “I was the first one to really be racing cars.”

Aside from his parents signing off on his taste for risky competition — they accompany him to races, sometimes hauling his vehicle behind the family motor home — his mother, Cindy, plays a savvy public relations role in Raz’s blossoming career as a driver. As owner of his own garage, called Master Wrench, Raz’s father Kurt lends his technical skills and sponsorship.

“My dad owning his own mechanic shop has always been helpful,” Raz said. “When there’s a problem, he can diagnose it, and we can order parts online.”

Hopefully, the backing of his family and excellent track history thus far will propel Raz to where he wants to be: on the Hendrick Motorsports team.

“My ideal dream would be as a full-time driver for them, and to be able to race all 36 races of the NASCAR series and make it my living,” Raz said. “I could live a racing life. I’d go out every single weekend or day if I could.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Gracin Raz, a junior at Horizon Christian High School, expects to compete in 10 races this year, many of them with NASCAR-caliber drivers.For Raz, of course, it’s the adrenaline rush of going 120 miles per hour or more and racing inches away from his competitors.

“That’s just the blast of it,” he said. “I love the competition. I’m extremely competitive — I can do rental go-karts, and I’ll be just as competitive there as I would be at the race track.”

His next race is the Apple Cup series on April 12 at Yakima Speedway, where he sounds most eager to go fender-to-fender with Cameron Hayley, a 17-year-old Toronto native whose star is on the rise.

“He’s a young talent, and he’s definitely going to be making it and moving up the ranks in NASCAR,” Raz said.

Not that any of the lesser-name drivers have ever let him down.

“I always have great competition,” he said. “It’s never a blowout.”

What most attracts him to the speedway?

“Trying to control the uncontrollable — it’s amazing,” he said.

But the hobby does have a significant cost.

“It’s definitely expensive, especially if you get involved in an accident,” Raz said. “That’s never fun, trying to get that back together.”

Luckily, he added, “Staying out of trouble on the track has been really one of my strengths. I’ve always been able to bring the car home in one piece, I didn’t get involved in a single accident last year.”

But the cost isn’t only monetary, it’s time.

He admits his main cadre of friends is comprised of “racing buddies,” and even his other extracurricular activity, participating in the DECA organization, is in support of what he hopes can be a livelihood on the track.

“My sole purpose of taking that was to help market myself, so I can promote myself in the best possible way I can,” Raz said. “I (hope to) learn the mind of a businessman, see what they want in their perspective, and try to apply that as a driver.”

Although he’s optimistic about his chances at a long racing career, he plans to at least get his general education course requirements for college out of the way.

“I’d like to not really major in anything, but just keep my options open,” he said.

But, he added, “I’d like to go into a college back east — Virginia or North Carolina.”

North Carolina being, of course, where four of NASCAR’s main offices are located, as well as several of its major speedways.

“Even if I’m not driving, I want to be around racing,” Raz said.

For more information, visit gracinrazracing.com.