CEDAR RAPIDS - Griffin McGrath's latest auto racing endeavor is bringing him back to the track where his racing career started.
The 23-year-old driver from Cedar Rapids is excited for his homecoming. McGrath will be part of the late model field for the ASA Midwest Tour 39th Annual Miller 100 Friday night at Hawkeye Downs Speedway. Qualifying is at 5 p.m. with an autograph session at 6 before races start at 7. The schedule also includes ASAMT sportsmen and trucks and hornets races.
McGrath said this is his most important race of the year.
"I always love coming back here and I only have to drive 10 minutes to get to the track," said McGrath, who has run in two weekly points races at the track this season along with travelling to neighboring states for tour events. "It makes it a whole different layout for our weekend."
As a youth, McGrath occasionally attended the race with his family. Once he started racing at the track while attending Cedar Rapids Washington, McGrath's fondness for it grew. It's a special event to him.
"It's a big race for the guys in the series, but it is a huge race for us in town," McGrath said. "I realize the history and respect it. I look forward to it when it gets put on the schedule."
McGrath said the race so close to home will allow more family and friends to attend the races. It also is nice to see and recognize the fans, unlike when he competes in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He expects a strong following Friday night, and he will get to show them the fruits of his labor.
"They will finally get to see why we spend the stupid amount of hours in the shop and spend way too much money on this kind of stuff," McGrath said. "It makes the whole weekend better."
McGrath, who captured a checkered flag at Milwaukee, Wis., and was second in rookie points last year to Ross Kenseth, the son of Sprint Cup driver Ross Kenseth, sits in 10th in the series season points standings. He has three top-10 finishes, coming in sixth at Madison, Wis., early in the season. The entire summer has been a challenge for McGrath's team, which has managed to run in the top 15 routinely.
"This whole year has been a struggle," said McGrath, noting that they have been working hard to identify the problems. "Last year, we'd come to a track we've never seen and we'd be pretty good. We would only have to make a small change to be really competitive. This year, we're coming back to every track with the same stuff and we're lost.
"It isn't that good, but the competition we run with it isn't awful either."
Some veteran drivers share the same issues this season, according to McGrath. Hawkeye Downs may be the perfect remedy to turn things around. The familiar track should be a benefit, and McGrath is looking forward to take advantage. He has prepared by practicing the last month at the track.
"We really know what is a good time at that track and what a good lap feels like," McGrath said. "We're not going in blind like some of these tacks for us. It's a great opportunity to get on the right path."
Six others with Hawkeye Downs ties will be in the race. Joey Gase and Travis Thompson of Cedar Rapids and Tim Plummer of Norway are among the local drivers competing. Brad Osborn, of Janesville, Bandurant's Thor Anderson and Mason Mitchell, of West Des Moines, all race late models in the weekly points races at the track and will be in the field.
Gase is coming off a 20th-place finish Saturday at the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, making his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut for Go Green Racing. Plummer ran his first race in the ASAMT contest last Friday, finishing 15th after starting at the back of the 29-car field.They will all be trying to end the streak of veteran driver Steve Carlson, who has won the last four Miller 100 races and seven total. Series points leader Andrew Morrissey and Kenseth, who trails by 14 points, are also expected to contend for a title.