Midway through June, Creston, Iowa’s Dustin Grout put his sports compact car up for sale, and had buyers lined up within three hours.
Grout’s fiancee had given birth to the couple’s child premature at 26 weeks, and he knew he would have to spend a lot of time in the hospital with her and his new son.
“I was going to call it quits right there, give everything up,”Grout said. “And then the doctors, family and friends, sponsors, and her pretty much put a stop to that and said, ‘No, you’re’ going to finish it.’”
Grout would spend his weekdays in the hospital with his family and weekends on the racetrack. On Fridays he would race at I-80 Speedway, a 0.4-mile semi-banked dirt oval in Greenwood, Nebraska, and on Saturdays he’d return home to Adams County Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval in Corning, Iowa.
Despite everything going on in his life, and the more than three hours he traveled between the two tracks, Grout still managed to pick up seven wins and 18 top-5 finishes in 25 starts, enough to win the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division V national championship.
Grout scored 418 national points, besting second place finisher, and track-mate, Tyler Hoover by 24 points.
Finding time to get to the racetrack was tough enough, but Grout barely even had time to work on his car between races.
“There were times I didn’t even look over the car, I just loaded it up on the trailer and run it how it was last week,” he said. “We had to go up there (to the hospital) during the week so I’m missing a lot of work, not bringing in money, so there was a couple nights when I raced with junk tires and still won somehow. I don’t know how.”
Grout’s race friends at Adams County, his home track, held a fundraiser for him and his family, and he also won a special night race with a good enough pay out to buy tires for the rest of the season.
The support Grout felt from across the racing community helped propel him to the national wins.
“I didn’t know what everybody would think because I had a baby in the hospital and everything and I’m still going out and racing. So I didn’t want to get frowned upon like, ‘You should be with your kid’ and stuff, but everyone was telling me to keep going. So it was big support,” he said. “I didn’t really know how to feel about it at first. I’d rather be there with him, but we made it work.”
This year was tough for the 28-year-old Grout even before the race began. His best friend, who was supposed to be the best man in his wedding, was killed in a motorcycle accident in December. That friend was the one who encouraged Grout to get into racing in the first place.
Grout admits he’s “still pretty new to racing.” He was given a sportsman compact three years ago for free, and raced it five times.
“It was a junk car. We just had fun with it,” he said.
Grout built a brand new car the next year, and got it out on the track a handful of times.
It was this year when Grout decided to buckle down and race full time. He had a picture of his best friend on both sides of the car all season.
“He honestly had the most faith out of anybody in me,” Grout said. “He kept telling me, ‘You’ll go to nationals. I know you will.’ I always doubt myself but he always said ‘I guarantee you’re going to go. You drive pretty good.’ ”
With everything going on in Grout’s personal life, going to the speedway was a great release.
“It was pretty much a time to get away from everything,” he said. “You’re out there with a bunch of people and they’re all nice. I help everyone out so I have a lot of respect from people. It’s just a place to get away and just have some breathing air and have a good time.”
Grout started the season wanting both the national title and two track titles, and he followed the points in all three pretty closely. While he wasn’t successful in either track championship race, finishing second in both, he won the trophy that truly mattered.
Just a few days after Grout received the good news of his national championship, he got some more. His son, Everhett, was able to come home from the hospital for the first time, joining his older siblings, Paxton, Paedyn, and Evelynn, and mom, Lizzie.
Now Grout and Lizzie have something else to plan for – the national championship banquet in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Me and my fiancee are looking forward to that big time,” he said.
Before the season, Grout told his fiancee “let me spend a little money on the car, let me go through it and do this and next year I’ll just kind of take it easy and we’ll go camping and stuff like that,” he said.
So for now, the plan for 2020 is to just race a handful of sportsman compact races “if we get bored,” and take it easy now that he’s achieved what he set out to do.
He isn’t saying never on another shot at another title, though.
“It might change. I could go out and start racing and she says, ‘let’s just go for it one more time,’” he said. “Who knows. It’s kind of up in the air.”