By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
AUSTIN, Texas — In just about any hobby, there's a point where you've simply had enough. You lose that desire to keep doing the same thing, over and over. There comes a point when it is no longer fun.
Yet in our beloved sport of short track racing, there are some racers who keep going like the Energizer Bunny. They maintain that passion that keeps us all going to the tracks. They truly love building, tuning and driving race cars. It's an addiction, and for hard core race fans, it's one to which they can easily relate.
For 51-year-old Tommy Gural, that love of the sport has never been stronger. In a career that began in 1987 and has brought success on both asphalt and dirt, Gural's passion to compete has never wavered. He earned two consecutive Street Stock championships (2018, 2019) at Cotton Bowl Speedway.
Gural opened his 2020 season last Saturday night with a solid top five run, yet was less than thrilled.
“I wasn't really happy with the car,” Gural said. “I just haven't been on top of it lately. I haven't been as prepared as I should have been, but we'll get there. The car wasn't too far off and still held its own, but it's never quite good enough. Searching for more speed is a never-ending challenge.”
Gural's first involvement in racing was on the strip at Little River Dragway in Holland, Texas. He got his start in oval racing at Austin's old Longhorn Speedway. A regular on the TSRS Late Model Series, he earned a series-leading eight wins in a five-year span (2003-2008) and the points title in 2006.
“It took me quite a few years to win my first championship, I think it was in 2001,” Gural explained. “I finished second in points an awful lot before I got that title, maybe six or seven times. It was very satisfying to earn that crown. Back then, we raced 24 to 26 races a season, so it was a lot tougher.”
While most of today's racers go out and buy a chassis and engine for whatever class they plan to enter, Gural does it old-school. That's right, he builds all of his own chassis and engines. Always has, in fact.
“I was an auto mechanic when I first started out,” Gural said with pride. “I ended up in the boat repair business because the economy wasn't really good back then. Everything with my race team is done in-house, I don't source anything out. I build all my own stuff. I've never bought a car, I built every one.”
As far as his home track in Paige, Gural feels local racers and fans are blessed to have it so active.
“I think Mary Ann and H are doing a great job at Cotton Bowl,” Gural said. “I personally don't think anybody else would do it at this point in time anyway. I give all the credit to them for stepping in and keeping it open.”
Gural is one who appreciates having a great place to race, and says the competition he faces is intense.
“Take last Saturday night, for example,” he said. “There were a ton of fast cars, with four of them I hadn't even see before. They ate us alive, they were so fast. In this dirt racing deal, some of these guys really know what they're doing. In both Street Stock and Factory Stock, there are some skilled guys.”
And it isn't just regular weekly or bi-weekly oval racing that hold Gural's interest these days. Along with his Street Stock program at Cotton Bowl, he also plays around on the Enduro circuit.
“I really do enjoy working on the Saturday night car, but I also really love running in Enduro events,” Gural said. “The Lone Star 600 at Devil's Bowl in Mesquite, TX, is very appealing to me. I really like it because there's not really a rule book. I think we've got a car this year that can win it, if we can stay out of trouble.”
That particular event is the ultimate test of endurance, for both man and machine. With lots of cars.
“It can be tough just to get a car to run well for that long,” Gural added. “It's a tough, tough deal. There are so many cars out there, as well, I think last year they had 150 cars in the race. We did alright in that one, but we had some tough luck in the Enduro they held at Cotton Bowl this past February.”
Gural had a fast car in that one, but Lady Luck was not on his side.
“We were three laps ahead of the second-place car on lap 150 when we had our first flat tire of the day,” he explained with extreme despair still in his voice. “And then we had another flat, but we still ended up finishing fifth. I had put different tires on the car, and they were just too soft to last that long.”
As for the future, Gural says he may move into a different class as car counts in Street Stock dwindle.
“One of the directions I've thought about going and probably will at some point is the IMCA Stock Car division,” he explained. “It's basically a Street Stock class run under the IMCA banner. The rules are a little different and the competition is very stiff. There are a lot of guys who know those cars very well.”
As he embarks on the challenges of another season at the famed Cotton Bowl, Gural is lucky to have a few key individuals who work to keep his program on-track.
“I have to thank my wife Teresa for allowing me to do this,” Gural said. “She's actually a racer too and I need to get her back into the mix soon. I've really been supporting my daughter Kendall a lot, she's the Trophy Girl out at Cotton Bowl and I'm very proud of her. Racing is very much a family sport with us.
“I also have to thank Steve Sims for his help, I've raced with him for 30 years and he's one of my closest friends in the sport. I also need to thank Terry Tschoerner and my friend Mike Rodgers. Terry is one of my longest-running sponsors with his body shop.”
Along with a supportive family and handful of key crew members, Gural also has some marketing partners who make his team more competitive on race weekends.
“I have to thank Austin Mobile Marine, Terry's Body Shop, Browning Auto Parts and Steve Sims/Team 58. I couldn't do this without their support. Terry and Steve are absolutely priceless friends to me.”
Once the meat of the season arrives and things get busy, Gural says his goals are crystal clear.
“I never thought this hobby would last this long or that I would still love it this much,” he said. “I just really enjoy seeing the way it has evolved, and where it's headed in the future. This year, I'd love to win another title, but I really want to win the Lone Star 600. I'm just still in love with this sport.”