AVONDALE, Ariz. — There was no burnout. After he took the checkered flag in Friday night’s ARCA East/West combination race at Phoenix Raceway, Taylor Gray drove a reverse victory lap.
When he got to Victory Lane, the 16-year-old, climbed to the roof of his car and pointed skyward.
His triumph came three days after tragedy.
Steven C. Stotts, the hauler driver for David Gilliland Racing, died Tuesday in a crash on a Texas interstate driving the team’s cars and equipment to Phoenix. Stotts was 54.
John Zaverl and Michael Mizzelle also were in the vehicle and were injured.
Gray’s black car Friday carried the names of Stotts, Zaverl and Mizzelle over the driver’s side window.
“I think Steven was looking over us tonight,” Gray said after his first career national ARCA Menards Series victory. “I definitely think he wanted this for us, and we wanted it for him.”
Gray took the lead on Lap 138 and held on through two restarts to win a race extended to overtime by four laps. Daniel Dye finished second. Sammy Smith was third and followed by Rajah Caruth and Jake Drew.
“This whole weekend was for Steven, Michael and John,” Gray said. “I’m still upset about the whole situation, so it’s hard for me to fully enjoy the win. This win is for them, not for anybody else. All glory to them. They went through a horrific thing that not a lot of people go through at all.”
The victory also was meaningful for Gray in another way. He suffered a fractured L4 vertebra in a single-car accident last August.
“With my personal accident, I feel like what got me back as quick as I did and as healthy as I did, I just want to race, that’s all I want to do,” said Gray, who will turn 17 on March 25.
“I almost kind of forced myself. There were some days I didn’t want to go to the gym and recover and I made myself. I almost kind of had a Floyd Mayweather mentality. Just wanted to race. Wanted to get back. Wanted to win is what got me recovered as fast as I did.”
A special win for @dgr_racing.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) March 12, 2022