Auto Racing

Griffin McGrath in a 'good spot' on the racetrack and in life

Cedar Rapids driver returns home for Big 8 Late Model Series, Urbana 5

Griffin McGrath of Cedar Rapids chats with his crew in the pits before last year’s Big 8 Late Model Series race at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. McGrath finished second last year and is feeling good about Friday’s return. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Griffin McGrath of Cedar Rapids chats with his crew in the pits before last year’s Big 8 Late Model Series race at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. McGrath finished second last year and is feeling good about Friday’s return. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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Griffin McGrath was in a great mood Thursday — and it wasn’t just because the sun was finally shining, although that was part of it.

McGrath, 31, is back in Cedar Rapids, visiting friends and family and getting ready to race in Friday night’s McGrath Auto “Clash of the Downs V” at Hawkeye Downs Speedway.

He’ll get to race in front of those aforementioned family and friends, as well as former co-workers.

“That’s the best part for me,” he said. “I love that part of it.”

But it’s more than that, too.

McGrath has spent the past six months in California, going through a 30-day rehab program for alcoholism.

He’s sober and feeling great, “as good as I’ve ever felt.

“I feel as good as I have in a racecar, too.”

That’s a great reason to smile on a sunny day in Cedar Rapids.

He will return to California after racing in Cedar Rapids on Friday and in Vinton on Sunday in the Urbana 5 Memorial program at Benton County Speedway.

He wants to stay in the Los Angeles area for at least a year to “chill myself out a little bit.

“I want to live kind of simple,” he said, “try not to stress myself out.”

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He picked this weekend as his homecoming for a couple of reasons. Friday’s races are sponsored by the family business — “It’s a good event for us,” he said — and the card features the Big 8 Late Model Series, a race McGrath has finished second in the past two years.

“We’ve had cars that were good enough to win,” he said. “I feel confident.”

Last year, McGrath won the pole, his third in this Midwest series, and started at the back of the field. He worked his way up but “we didn’t have time to get up there.”

He also blamed himself for some past mistakes, but said all is good this time. He practiced at Hawkeye Downs Wednesday night.

“From what I could feel, it was good, it was solid,” he said.

McGrath will be joined in the field by Alburnett teenager Brody Willett and Walford racer Brian Gibson, who was third last year, as well as series regulars from around the Midwest.

“it’s a fun race to do,” he said.

Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday with Big 8 qualifying at 6 and hot laps at 6:45. Heat races are at 7:30 p.m., followed by features. The program will include weekly races in hobby stock (two features), hornets and legends. The 48-lap Big 8 feature will be the second race.

McGrath is ready for Friday — and whatever the future holds.

“I’m in a good spot,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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