TULSA, Okla. – Justin Grant appeared a bit awestruck at sitting down next to Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson during Saturday night’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals post-race press conference.
It wasn’t due to the fact that he’d just finished on the podium at the biggest event in midget racing, because he’d done that before, but instead because he’d accomplished the feat with a RAMS Racing team that lacked the same level of resources as the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports squad.
There Grant was, lurking and pressuring both Larson and eventual winner Bell in the final stages of the 55-lap championship A-main Saturday night and proving that despite all the adversity he’d faced during the latter months of the previous season, he still deserved a place among midget racing’s elite.
Two months earlier, Grant was coming off a split with Clauson-Marshall Racing, the team he had driven for the past two seasons. Saturday night, he outran all nine CMR entries and took the fight to KKM, the winners of the last five Chili Bowls inside the Tulsa Expo Center.
He admitted after the race that he didn’t have a car capable of challenging for the lead when the two Toyota drivers began fighting each other on the final lap, but that he was still pleased with the final outcome.
“They’d have to get caught up pretty bad and it would’ve had to have been something pretty drastic,” said Grant of trying to catch Bell and Larson. “We were a bit free at the end. We could make decent lap time, but we weren’t very racy and I don’t think would have been really able to change lanes and run up against them.
“In spite of that, this is a great run for us,” he added. “We’re happy and I know the crew is pumped.”
Grant’s performance didn’t go unnoticed, either. In fact, it was the subject of lengthy conversation by the team owner whose cars edged him out for the top two positions in Saturday night’s 55-lap feature.
Keith Kunz heaped plenty of praise on both Grant and RAMS Racing after seeing the effort they put in to chase down and battle with his cars throughout the Chili Bowl headliner, as well as for his preliminary night victory the night prior on Friday.
“I’ve been a fan of Justin for a long time. He’s a good racer and a clean racer,” noted Kunz. “You know he’s done things the hard way and makes a living and racing midgets and sprint cars. He made a change here just recently of car owners, going to RAM Racing. They went out and bought some cars just like ours from Spike – pretty much did the whole package and everything. They have a different motor program than we do, but the chassis and shocks is pretty much the same.
“Justin came to me and asked me a little bit of advice and I kind of gave him a baseline to start the week with, and he took it from there,” Kunz continued. “I was pretty happy when he won Friday. If we couldn’t win it, I was real happy that he won it Friday night. That was pretty cool, and having him sitting up here with one of our cars is pretty sweet as well.”
Hearing those words was something that stayed with Grant throughout the remainder of the night.
“A run like tonight … and hearing (Keith) say all of that is definitely gratifying, especially after the last couple of months of work and making a change with teams and everything,” admitted Grant, who delivered owner Rick Young his first major midget-car victory. “We kind of jumped into this with not much there, and really built from the ground up in a couple of months. We figured the best way to get started quick was to emulate what these guys were doing. They are winning all the races … so we tried to copy that as much as we could and went from there.
“Obviously this week, it paid off in a pretty big way.”
That payoff came in large part due to the spirit of the RAMS Racing operation, something that Grant feels sets the team apart from some of its competition.
“We’re small in size, but big in heart and effort,” Grant said. “Rick Young and everyone at RAMS Racing has given me everything I need to compete, and I don’t think that being a single-car effort has held us back at all. Working with them has been a blast and they’ve given me the environment I need to thrive in and to be successful.
“I hope this is only the start of great things for us, because we have no plans of going away now.”