By Seth Eggert Associate Editor
Every now and then the origin story of a friendship can read like that of a movie plot.
For Rick Ware Racing (RWR) teammates Kaz Grala and Justin Haley, their budding ‘bromance’ is reminiscent of an unlikely movie, the 2008 comedy, Step Brothers. Much like the movie that starred Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, whose characters, Brennan Huff and Dale Doback, hated one another and suddenly had to live together, Grala and Haley were on track rivals that suddenly had to work together once they became teammates at GMS Racing.
A ‘Sibling Rivalry’
In the movie, Ferrell and Reilly’s characters come to blows after an argument after Ferrell’s character touches a drum set. The two adult children are then grounded by their parents with no television and a mission to acquire jobs.
Almost mirroring the art of the movie, Grala was parked by NASCAR officials for a lap in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA Menards Series East) for aggressive driving. The Bostonian had spun Haley out on track.
That rivalry then carried over into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (now Craftsman Truck Series). The duo raced each other so aggressively in their first six races together as teammates that they often cost one another positions on track. Assuming the role of the ‘parents’ were Grala and Haley’s crew chiefs, who sat both drivers down. Their ‘punishment’ was that they had to hang together off-track.
“We actually started out disliking each other quite a bit back in the K&N Series,” Grala recalled. “I got parked for a lap for aggressive driving, for turning him, which I think was a terrible call. I think it was completely his fault. But we did not like each other at all, and we ended up being teammates at GMS. For the first six races we raced each other so hard that we cost ourselves positions to other drivers. My crew chief sat me down and said you got to figure this out, go out to dinner with him. You guys can’t keep wrecking each other’s races like this.”
“Did We Just Become Best Friends?“
In the movie, both Ferrell and Reilly’s characters transitioned from feuding siblings to best friends after discovering common interests. Ferrell’s character asks, “did we just become best friends,” as the duo go on to have other hijinks throughout the remainder of the movie, with both positive and negative outcomes.
True to form, the two teammates went out to dinner that night and hung out after being lectured by their crew chiefs. The duo became fast friends, discovering common interests and quirks that they share to this day. They remained teammates throughout the remainder of 2017.
“We (Haley and I) went out to dinner, and I hung out with him for hours that night, and we’ve been best friends ever since, so we haven’t had any problems racing each other since then,” Grala jokes. “We have had a lot of fun together, so this would be cool getting to be teammates at the Cup level.”
Haley, likewise views their time at GMS Racing as the turning point. Ever since the two drivers were teammates there they’ve been best friends. The duo have spent New Years Eve together, with along with their respective significant others. Grala also tagged along with Haley to the Chili Bowl Nationals.
“In the Truck Series, we were teammates for one season at GMS together and then ever since then, we’ve been best friends,” Haley said. “Kaz (and I) have been super close. We go on vacations together all the time. He came to Chili Bowl with me. We were in Charleston, S.C. together for New Year’s. Kaz (and I) have been together for a long time, been good teammates together and always wanted him to succeed as well. So pretty cool for him to get an opportunity to move up with us and hopefully we can work well together and move on.”
Being best friends, Haley had an idea that Grala was working on a deal, which would lead them to be teammates. Despite their friendship, the NASCAR Cup Series winner never intervened to land Grala the spot as his teammate. Haley was focused on building his own team in the 51 car, letting Robby Benton and Rick Ware work on the 15 car.
“I knew (Grala) was working on some stuff, and obviously being best friends, I knew that he was talking to (Benton and Ware) and it was cool for him to get the opportunity,” Haley explained. “But, no, no real focus. I kind of focused on the 51 team focused on getting the crew chief. I wanted to get the people I wanted on the 51 car kind of let Rick and Robbie work. They were dealing with whatever made the most sense for them, on the 15 car with sponsorship and everything like that.”
The Main Event
In the climax of Step Brothers, both Ferrell and Reilly’s characters save a major fundraising event, ‘The Catalina Wine Mixer.’ While it was a fictional fundraiser, the comedy pairings characters assume the role of the main event, performing music.
The main event that the two Ford Performance teammates will be participating in is the Daytona 500. Grala will attempt to qualify in a third Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang while Haley is already locked into the show in his No. 51 Ford. While they won’t be direct teammates in the season-opening points race, they will be for 25 races throughout the NASCAR Cup Series season in 2024.
That comfort level between the two best friends allows both Grala and Haley to better work together. From GMS Racing to Kaulig Racing and now RWR, the two fast friends already expect that they’ll be bouncing ideas off of one another throughout the year.
“I think it’ll be great. Justin and I have been friends for (many) years, and we’ve been teammates before in trucks, at GMS Racing and briefly at Kaulig Racing,” Grala explained. “We’ve always worked really well together (as teammates). I think we’ll have good communication and be able to help each other, especially since we’re both new (to) Rick Ware Racing, going into the same situation. I think we’ll be able to bounce ideas off each other.”
“It’s nice going in (and being) comfortable with a teammate that you know instead of somebody that’s totally brand new to you that you don’t know how you’re going to work together,” Grala continued. “At least that’s one box checked, right? We don’t need to worry about that. I guess that’s a positive thing.”
Much like Grala, Haley views having a good relationship with his teammate as one of the keys to on-track success. That echoes the success that Ferrell and Reilly’s characters had in the movie once they began to work together.
That eye for success between two close friends could be just what Rick Ware and his team have needed to elevate their NASCAR program.
“(A good relationship with teammates) is huge,” Haley stated. “Obviously, you always (are) in somewhat of a competition with your teammates. I came off with having a good relationship with A.J. Allmendinger. I feel like I’ve always had a good relationship with teammates.
“(I was) probably too good of a teammate at times, but I feel like it’d be good to have a familiar face and with Kaz over there and I trust him. I know to expect from him and trust that he’ll give good information. He’s had a good relationship with Robbie as well. He’s ran some of his sports cars before and he’s been friends with Rick as well. So yeah, it’s pretty cool for Rick to have two pretty solid drivers in his cars for the majority of the season and hopefully elevate his program.”
The first time that the two ‘step brothers’ will compete as teammates for RWR is scheduled to be the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum on Sunday, February 4 at 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.