With only eight races this season at Eastbound Park, there’s not a lot of time on the track to quench the thirst of young and hungry drivers in Newfoundland, Canada.
So when 16-year-old Owen Groves isn’t able to get behind the wheel of his sportsman late model, he gets behind the wheel of the car sitting in his house.
Groves is an avid iRacing fan, the racing simulator that allows drivers to drive on virtual NASCAR and IndyCar tracks against others around the world. NASCAR Cup Series driver William Byron got his start on the game, as did several other young up and comers in the sport. Now Groves is trying to follow in their footsteps.
Even though he’s the second youngest competitor in the field, Groves currently leads the Division I points at Eastbound Park, a 0.375-mile semi-banked asphalt oval in Avondale, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. With sponsor Quinlan Brand Bay de Verde, he started the season with a win in the first feature, and has three top five finishes in four races, with 84 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points.
And the success he’s seeing this year isn’t anything new. After starting his career in a bandolero car at just 10 years old, Groves won two straight championships in 2017 and 2018, and was runner-up once.
Last season, his final championship year in a bandolero, Groves won in his first feature late model race at Eastbound, and the wins have kept coming.
“It’s really surprising to me,” he said. “I never thought I’d be able to do it so early in my sportsman late model career.”
Groves lives a little over an hour from Eastbound, the only NASCAR sanctioned track in Newfoundland, and one of just two race tracks near his home. He said it can be tough to get noticed as a driver where he’s from, another reason he spends so much time on iRacing.
“That’s why I wanted to get into it (iRacing) and just see if I can do something with it to get noticed and stuff,” he said. “Usually it always plays in my mind.”
Groves is on the simulator “all winter” he said. During the summer and race season he backs off some, but he said just about every night he hops on for at least a little while. The game has helped him with car control and knowing what to do on the track around other cars.
It’s also helped transform racing from a hobby to something he could see himself taking further.
“I first started just doing it for fun. I got a lot better because I played iRacing and I’m on that a lot,” he said. “It really helped me a lot and now I’m trying to race as a career. But where I’m from there’s not so many opportunities so it’s kind of hard to race.
“We’ve only got eight races. It’s kind of tough but I keep myself up to date with iRacing.”
The experience also helped when Groves made the switch from bandoleros to a late model. The handling of the two cars was similar, but it took him some time to get adjusted to the added power.
Thankfully, he’s got a teammate who helps him a lot – his uncle, Jason Groves, who in his 2016 rookie season won NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Rookie of the Year, and a state and track championship.
Jason is able to help his young nephew with the finer points of racing on an actual track.
“If I tell him about the handling of the car and how it’s feeling he’ll just tell me, ‘Well you should try this and stuff,’” Owen Groves said. “And he’ll just point me in the right direction and it does help a lot.
“He races alongside of me now. It works out pretty good.”
The two now race each other for wins and points, and are often each other’s toughest competition.
“We both race each other hard but clean at the same time,” Owen Groves said. “And we both have the same stuff so it’s pretty hard to get by each other.”
The younger Groves has gained a bit of a following in his hometown thanks to his success on the track. He’s seen the support rise with every win.
“There’s a lot of young racers too but really, in my bando years it wasn’t so much because it wasn’t that many cars and I was used to not a lot of competition so much,” he said. “But going into this car I won my first debut race, and had back to back wins, and that really gained a lot of support for me.”
Now he wants to continue to pick up wins, but his bigger goal is to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and also win a rookie of the year title.
“I’m trying to do the same and try to just finish consistently and be smart. That’s all,” he said. “It’s going to be hard because there’s a lot of tough competition here.”
Groves watches the NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series race every week, and has drivers he looks up to. He also really looks up to his uncle, as well as a few others at Eastbound.
But now, those drivers he looks up to, he’s one of their toughest competitors.
“Yea there’s a few in there,” he said. “And now I get to race with them, so that’s pretty cool.”
NASCAR racing will return to Eastbound on July 27, the halfway point for the 2019 championship season.