HAMPTON — Gray Gaulding measured all of 4 feet, 5 inches in April 2010, the first time he raced to Victory Lane at Langley Speedway. He stood plenty tall, though, as he explained repeatedly bumping a rival before passing him for first in their class in a Legends national qualifying race.
"A man's got to do what a man's got to do," said Gaulding, age 12 at the time.
The memorable line produced an uproar of laughter from the large opening night crowd, but was closer to the mark than many knew at the time. Just two years later, NASCAR star Kevin Harvick, Gaulding's mentor, would label him as a "mini-adult" in a Sporting News article.
And, indeed, Gaulding is moving closer to big-time stardom as he returns to Langley for the first time since 2010 on Saturday for the K&N Pro Series East Visit Hampton VA 175. Gaulding is the youngest of 13 drivers selected by NASCAR earlier this month as a future star of the sport.
The Colonial Heights native also is the youngest K&N driver, at 15 only recently having met the age limit for a NASCAR regional series. Gaulding is holding his own, with a second-place finish in a season opening showcase race at Daytona Beach and a pole at Richmond International Raceway.
"That was a huge opportunity for my team, myself and all the other competitors," Gaulding said of Daytona. "That's Daytona; it's the world center of racing.
"Every (Sprint) Cup owner was there and it was live on Speed Channel. It was my time to shine, my first race ever in a K&N car, and though I wanted to win, I'll look back in 10 or 15 years and say 'How cool was that?'"
Cooler still would be getting his first K&N win, and he comes into Langley with some confidence. He followed up that qualifying win with a heat win and a victory in October 2010 in the Legends Cars Young Lions national championship race that was every bit as memorable as his earlier performance.
"I sat on (Sean Shalvoy's) bumper for 49 (of 50) laps, then got a caution and knew what I needed to do," Gaulding recalled. "It was kind of do or die right there.
"I remember going through the gear box, had a good restart and went through Turn 1, never touching him. I think he looked in his mirror, and as soon as he did I was there for the attack.
"I got up beside him, went through (Turns) 3 and 4 and won the race. He put me in the wall after the race and our car got tore up, but that was the last thing I was worried about.
"We won and I'll never forget it."
He comes to a different Langley as a different "man," now 5-foot-4, his climb up NASCAR's ladder accelerating as quickly as his growth. He says he'll run 10 Camping World Truck Series races next year, the first being in March at Martinsville, and is "99.9 percent sure it will be in a Toyota."
Langley's track was repaved earlier this year, so he tested here a couple of weeks ago. He's found that the groove has changed from what it was for Legends Cars, but the surface is still to his liking.
"I think the racing is going to be better and there will be more side-by-side racing," he said. "You can race on the bottom now. With the old surface, if you went to the bottom in a Legends car, you were toast.
"Langley Speedway is pretty special to me because I won the nationals there and because of how well I run there. I can't wait to get to Langley and I hope my win-streak continues."
Langley can't wait to host one of the more memorable visitors to its 4/10-of-a-mile surface in recent years.
"In today's world of racing, he qualifies on every level," Langley promoter Chuck Hall said. "His driving ability, persona and the way he presents himself are all first class.
"He represents this sport very well."
K&N at Langley
WHAT: 175-lap (70 mile) K&N Pro Series East stock-car race.
WHERE: Langley Speedway, N. Armistead Ave and Dale Lemonds Lane in Hampton.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (green flag for K&N race about 8:30 p.m.).
TV: SPEED Channel (delayed broadcast at 3 p.m. June 27).
AUDIO: Live at nascarhometracks.com.
NOTEWORTHY: Four Langley divisional races are also scheduled: Winged Champ Kart 20, Pro Six 30, Grand Stock 40 and Modified 50.