|Racing Class:||Spec E30|
|Day Job:||Corporate strategy at Rolls-Royce|
|Favorite TV show:||“Family Guy”|
|Favorite Movie:||“The Departed”|
|Favorite Book:||“Stan the Hot Dog Man”|
|Dream Racecar:||E30 M3 DTM|
On any given Sunday when NASA’s Mid-Atlantic region is racing, Robert Grace will be standing atop the podium celebrating another Spec E30 win.
Grace has dominated the class. Just look at his record: Two NASA National Championships, an 81.6 percent winning percentage in Spec E30 since 2011 and last year he earned the pole position in 11 races. When Grace collects his trophies, the Spec E30 classmates are there to cheer him on even though he beats them regularly on the track.
“Robert is a gentleman in the paddock and a robot behind the wheel. He is just the guy that knows how to get out front, stay out front,” said Charlie Diradour, a fellow racer and friend of Grace. “If you’re at the tip of the spear of Spec E30 in NASA, as we all know, you’re a racecar driver.”
Grace has been the leader of the Mid-Atlantic’s Spec E30 class since joining the class in 2010 after coming from the HPDE ranks. He picked the Spec E30 over Spec Miata because the BMW better fit his 6-foot, 3-inch frame.
“I wanted to be in a spec class because I wanted to know that it was driver versus driver, and you’re not getting outspent,” said the 28-year-old Grace. “I didn’t really want any excuses. It just made sense. The Spec E30 cars were at a good price point for the performance and there were a lot of them.”
Grace still races the same BMW he bought at age 21 to join the Spec E30 class. His father, Seth, serves as the mechanic, chef and the paddock’s go-to guy. The younger Grace credits his father for his on-track success, saying, “There are plenty of times without his support I’d have a DNF or not even start.”
Grace’s approach to racing is the same today as it was seven years ago — get a lead early and hold it. For Grace that starts in qualifying and being the fastest qualifier. Last year he earned the pole at 11 of 13 races, and leading most of those races from start to finish.
“I just want to do my best every single time I’m on track and it doesn’t matter if I’m out there with a bunch of rookies or a bunch of professionals,” Grace said. “I’m going to approach it the same way and my goal is always the same.”
Chris Cobetto, NASA Mid-Atlantic regional director and Spec E30 racer, said few drivers qualify as consistently as Grace.
“He is a very rare combination of an excellent qualifier and an excellent racer,” Cobetto said. “A lot of times it’s one or the other. Somebody can lay down a fast lap in qualifying, and they may even be able to turn that same fast lap in a race, but a lot of times that personality ends up driving the car off the track at some point. He doesn’t do that.”
Grace uses pole position to get the early lead and put some distance between the Spec E30 field. “I want to discourage the guys,” he said. “I want second and third to be battling, not working together to chase me down.”
Some drivers use video and car data extensively, but that’s not Grace’s approach. He typically reviews video and data when racing at a new track or making changes to the car such as alignment tweaks during test sessions. Grace paints marks on the sway bar and camber plates for the various tracks for quick adjustments.
“Places I go less often, some of the destination tracks, I definitely keep good notes of that,” he said.
Grace, who works in corporate strategy for Rolls-Royce’s aerospace division, is also a driving instructor. While he gets paid to help students’ on-track performance, Grace freely provides advice to any racer who asks.
It’s one of many reasons the Spec E30 group in the Mid-Atlantic remains so tight even with Grace’s dominance the past five seasons. When Grace won National Championships in 2011 and 2016, his fellow Spec E30 racers cheered him on.
After a particularly epic run in Spec E30 a few years ago for Grace, a racer created a meme based on Adolf Hitler’s last days in a Berlin bunker. The creator replaced the subtitles with hilarious lines such as “That stupid orange pumpkin car always wins” and “I’ve tried everything I can think of. Even the nitrous disguised as a fire bottle has done nothing!”
Grace laughed when asked about it. “I thought it was great,” he said. “It was creative.”
The Spec E30 racers in the Mid-Atlantic get together for a barbecue on Saturday during race weekend with Grace’s father, Seth, grilling up the steak, hamburgers and seafood that the racers contribute. The barbecue is a great way to recruit new racers to the class, Diradour said, and helps to keep the competition friendly.
The tightknit group shares parts and will work on one another’s cars to keep them racing. It’s why they support Grace and his winning ways.
“I think because the group is so close and friendly off the track, I would hope that has kind of cut down on any of that,” Grace said. “It’s not like I show up and park by myself, race and go home. I like to think I’m just one of the guys in that group and that’s how they treat me.”
While the racers are closing the gap on Grace, no driver has been able to consistently run with the Herndon, Va., resident. So what will it take to beat Grace in a spec class?
“In order to beat him you’ve got to have perfect equipment, drive a flawless race and get lucky,” Cobetto said. “Because he’s going to do the exact same thing.”
For more information, visit: http://robertgraceracing.com/