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Michael Gramlich

2015 Pro & S/P Champion & Driver of the Year

Tracking a champion: Gramlich, 23, makes Mid-Michigan Motorplex history with help from drag racing-oriented family, friends

Michael Gramlich had plenty of trophies at home from his drag racing career, which is going on 15 years and counting. One weekend separated the 23-year old from arguably his biggest accomplishment yet — a track championship at Mid Michigan Motorplex.

His dad Larry and brother Matt were at the track with him, like always. His mother, Terri, brother Marc and sister Lisa were also there for the Labor Day Weekend races, in anticipation of celebrating not just one championship, but two.

Something that had never been done before in the track’s history.

“When he realized he could possibly win both championships, I said, ‘Mike, quit looking at the points,” said Brian Horton, a family friend and the car owner of the Malibu Michael was racing. “When you win it, they’ll call you and tell you, you don’t have to worry about it. Besides, I’m worried enough for all of us. You just go out there and drive, that’s what we need you to do.’”

Michael was 10-20 rounds ahead in two different classes with two different cars — a 2014 American dragster in the Super Pro eighth-mile class and a 1978 Malibu in the quarter-mile Pro class.

Yet, there were two days of points races left. With the extra cars coming for the three-day weekend event, that meant more rounds of racing and more points his competitors could make up.

Michael — along with the rest of the Gramlich family — was stressed out. They were both his championships to lose.

But Michael erased the drama that Saturday night, winning under the lights in Super Pro and winning five rounds in the Pro class, all but clinching the pair of titles.

“Believe me, I was excited when it happened, but I sit back and think and it doesn’t seem real,” Michael said. “I’ve won some big races in big cars and they’ve all been great, but to tackle something that’s a whole season long and not only do it once, but do it twice in the same year definitely has to be the top of the cake for me right now.”

For Michael’s dad Larry, who started racing in 1967 at the age of 16, he said the most impressive part was seeing his son drive two different cars, going back and forth between rounds all season long.

“You’re driving two different animals,” Larry said. “You’re in a dragster and you’re in a door car. I think adjusting to that tree and being able to hit it as good as he did (was difficult).”

Reaction time off the starting tree is one of the most crucial elements of bracket racing, and Michael had to get in two different rhythms. With the dragster, the use of a timed delay box had him reacting to the top yellow bulb with his hand. In the Malibu, he waited for the bottom of the three yellow bulbs — which go off from top to bottom in half-second increments — in order to leave as soon as the light turned green.

The dragster topped 130 mph in most eighth-mile passes, while the Malibu hit roughly the same speed by the quarter-mile mark.

Michael said there was an advantage to driving in both classes, though, even with the lack of time to prepare between rounds as the field thins on a race day.

“It’s hectic, but it definitely keeps you focused,” Michael said. “It’s one after the other. Even though there’re so many differences between the two classes, you’re just able to learn from (the) other, like how the track’s doing. If the car slows down in Super Pro, you know it’s probably going to slow down in Pro, too.”

Starting out young

Michael said he’s wanted to drag race ever since he can remember.

“I remember going to the racetrack back when I was probably 4 or 5 years old,” he said. “We used to have a pickup truck and an open trailer and I’d play on the ramps of the open trailer all day long. I’d sit in the bleachers and watch racing all day. Really, as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to do it.”

At 8 years old, Michael jumped in the new junior dragster series with help from his dad and his older siblings.

He had some early success, including beating the reigning champion — a 12-year old girl — in the final round of his third race.

“You had to race kids who had been racing for four years,” Michael said. “It was pretty much sink or swim. You either caught on quick and could be successful, or found yourself losing a lot. That helped me big time because I’m real competitive, love the sport and always wanted to be good. So racing the older kids, I’d say still to this day, has helped me the most.”

It was Michael’s first win of many. Nevertheless, his dad remembers some of the kinks they had to work out early on.

Larry decided to teach Michael how to drive the finish line, telling him to let off before the finish line if the competitor is far behind, so as not to breakout and be disqualified. Michael misinterpreted the directions in his first try.

“He launched it, got to the first cone and lifted. I’m going, ‘Oh my gosh, he lifted at the 60-foot cone,’ Larry said. “He goes, ‘Dad, I did what you said. I looked over and lifted. Then I got back on it, but they got around me.’ I go, ‘You’ve got to lift down at the mile per hour cone.’ So we got that straightened out.”

Larry also mentioned a time when the family thought the throttle was sticking on the junior dragster. After some tinkering with the car and a bit of head-scratching, they discovered Michael was hitting the gas and brake pedals at the same time when trying to hit the brakes.

But he learned quickly. At 10, Michael won his first junior dragster championship and soon was traveling to multiple different tracks across state lines to drag race. Horton said he’s been family friends with the Gramlich’s for years and started to race with Michael when the kid was barely a teenager.

“Mike’s been going racing with me since he was about 13 when he started traveling around to different events around the country with me,” Horton said. “He’s been real close to me. I had a brother that passed away racing 11 years ago and Mike started going with me a lot and helping me in my racing.”

Michael got a taste of running double duty as a young driver, winning track championships in Milan, Michigan and Norwalk, Ohio in the same year.

On weekends that had points races at both tracks, his family would race at one track early in the day, load up the trailer and then make the 106-mile trek to the other track.

In 2004, he captured the IHRA Division 3 Championship and was the runner up at the Eastern Conference Finals in Bristol, Tennessee in 2006.

Michael Gramlich had made a name for himself in the juniors. The next step was the transition to the bigger cars, with some help from his racing-oriented family.

Continuing the legacy

While most adults don’t understand the ins and outs of drag racing, it’s second nature to the Gramlich’s. Matt said his 4-year old son is already counting down the days until he turns six, when he can hop in a junior dragster of his own.

“For people that don’t understand bracket racing, it’s hard for them to come and watch,” Larry said. “But my grandson, who’s 4, can sit in the grandstands and explain it to them. He already knows what to do on the top bulb and what to do on the bottom bulb and he watches the racing and it’s pretty neat.”

Weekends at the racetrack for the Gramlich’s aren’t just a time for competition, but also a time to be able to spend time together as a family.

“It’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle,” Matt said. “If you don’t go, you’re sitting at home wishing you were there. And when you’re there, you’re with the family, so obviously it’s something you want to do. We joke when it rains, I guess this is what people do when they go camping.”

The two days of points racing is part of the reason why the Gramlich’s like Mid Michigan Motorplex, despite being 158 miles from their hometown near the Michigan-Ohio border in Maybee, Michigan.

Just like at a campground, there are the campfires, the family friends and the quiet, cool nights away from home. While other families relax and enjoy nature during the daytime of their weekend trips, its adrenaline and fast cars that make up the Gramlich’s nature.

“(It’s) definitely something I would never trade,” Michael said. “Most kids spend time with their parents doing something they like in high school sports or grade school sports, but once that’s over, they kind of go their separate ways and have to find new interests. With this, I was born into it and have been doing it since I was 8 and loved every second of it.”

What’s next?

There’s no question Michael and the Gramlich family will return to the track in 2016, even after sweeping the Super Pro and Pro class championships. His goal is to race the six NHRA Division 3 races in the Super Street and Super Comp series’, while still racing in Super Pro and Pro on the other weekends.

While he’s accomplished feats that no other driver has in Mid Michigan Motorplex’s history, his friends and family think his potential is even higher.

“His concentration, his will to do it and his passion for the sport (make him a talented driver),” Matt said. “That’s what he wants to do every weekend, that’s where he wants to be. His buddies might be doing something else, but it’s the drive to want to do it.”

Horton — who has worked with many talented drivers, collecting four division titles and one world championship as an owner — had similar compliments for the 23-year old.

“There’s not very many people I would just let take my stuff,” Horton said. “If he minimizes mistakes, he’s going to win a lot more and I think he’s got a bright future in the sport, whether it be on his own or with me.”

Story by Taylor DesOrmeau




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