116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Since 2015, the story has been about the same for Griffin McGrath — get second or wreck trying.
Finally, Friday night at Hawkeye Downs Speedway, McGrath conquered his “demons” and changed the narrative.
McGrath, in his “hot” No. 64 car, took the checkered flag in McGrath Auto’s “Clash of the Downs” Big 8 Series Late Models 48-lap feature race — a race he’s competed in several times since it first came to Hawkeye Downs in 2015, but had never won.
“It’s kind of amazing,” McGrath said. “Those last five laps I started thinking, ‘oh my gosh, this might actually, finally happen.’
“It’s been a lot of years of being really close. It just felt like one of those things that was never going to happen.”
McGrath finished second in the Big 8 race at Hawkeye Downs in both 2017 and 2018. Last year, he wrecked but managed to come back and finish sixth.
“Usually in this race I finish second or I wreck terribly,” McGrath said with a chuckle. “We don’t usually wreck a lot of stuff, but for this race, for whatever reason all the demons come out.”
McGrath, in front of a large crowd of family members and friends, came out of the gates hot with the fastest qualifying time in 19.579 seconds.
He kept the momentum going during the feature race, starting in 12th. McGrath took the lead with 28 laps to go and never gave it back.
“It was really cool to do it on a night where there were a lot of people here,” McGrath said. “I could hear them during my burnouts.”
McGrath credits his crew and everyone who’s worked on his car for his success, particularly his crew chief, Rusty Shadden.
“I’ve been lucky enough to drive that hot vehicle for almost as long as I’ve raced this track,” McGrath said. “Without him (Shadden), it would be very difficult to do anything that I’ve done.”
And it’s not just McGrath who’s seen success in his No. 64 car this year.
On May 13, McGrath took first in the Late Models feature race. Two weeks later, filling in for him in the No. 64 car was Michael Weber, one of McGrath’s crew members and driver.
“I actually had a meeting go too long while I was in Charlotte (last weekend),” McGrath said. “It’s kind of funny, he (Weber) just jumped in and won in it as well. So, it (No. 64) is undefeated this season.
“We found out it’s the car, it’s not me. That’s an accolade to him (Shadden).”
McGrath added that his family also has been crucial to his career success.
“My support system from the family level has been my parents (Mike and Lisa) and my brothers (Tucker and Murphy), big time,” McGrath said. “Really, my dad is the only reason I ever raced. He allowed me to do it while I was in high school and college.
“He allowed me to travel the country and pursue my passion. He was also on the crew. As well as working a ‘bajillion’ hours at the car stores or bike stores, he always came and was our ‘tire guy.’ He’s the one in charge of picking out all the tires. Without him, it would’ve been impossible to do any form of racing.”
Of the 20 entries in Friday’s Big 8 Series race, only five were Iowans — McGrath (Cedar Rapids), Brian Allen (Marion), Brian Gibson (Walford), Mark Ironside (Swisher) and Kody King (Forest City).
McGrath added that the Big 8 races are great for driver development.
“It’s the only traveling limited-late model series in the Midwest,” said McGrath. “It’s a really good development series. It teaches a person a lot of good skills of how to race a car with a little bit smaller tire that’s not as forgiving.”