Gragson has memorable day at Texas Motor Speedway
BY MIKE ZIZZO
Texas Motor Speedway
FORT WORTH, Texas - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 18-year-old rookie Noah Gragson arrived at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday in search of his first career pole position and a high school graduation commencement ceremony.
In a span of an hour, the Las Vegas native checked the box on both to the tune of "Pole and Circumstance."
Gragson, driving the No. 18 Switch Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, got the celebration going by winning the pole for Friday night's winstaronlinegaming.com 400 with a track-record lap of 185.134 miles per hour. He eclipsed the mark of 184.464 mph set by Clint Bowyer in the fall race of 2006.
Following the presentation of the Pole Helmet Award in Victory Lane, Gragson grabbed his cap and gown and headed to the pre-race stage on the speedway frontstretch to walk the stage like fellow high school students to the music of "Pomp and Circumstance" and receive his diploma.
Given his racing schedule, he took online courses to earn a diploma at the K12 International Academy, but desired a high school graduation ceremony that is all too familiar for Texas Motor Speedway to gladly oblige.
"Graduating at Texas Motor Speedway is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Gragson said afterward. "We got the pole for the race, and I'm really excited to go. My whole family is here ready to go, my team's pumped up, I'm pumped up. I'm ready to go win this thing."
He went on to finish seventh in the race, his third consecutive NCWTS top-10 finish and fourth in the last five races.
The high school graduation tradition at Texas Motor Speedway began in 2014 when the speedway held a commencement ceremony for Erik Jones, who graduated from Swartz Creek (Mich.) Community Schools. Last year, Cole Custer bypassed his graduation ceremony at Tesoro High School in Santa Margarita, Calif., to compete in the truck series race at TMS and received a ceremony as well.
With Gragson's parents, Jill and Scott, and sister, Addison, on stage, the family watched speedway president Eddie Gossage -dressing the part in a faculty gown - present him with a diploma.
"It was a very inspiring ceremony that they did for him since he didn't get a chance to walk," Scott Gragson said. "It's just great that the track did that for him. To NASCAR and all the people supporting the truck series, we're just very appreciative."
In addition to moving the tassel to the other side of his cap and tossing it in the air, the new graduate also enjoyed the bonus tradition of a peck on each cheek by two of "The Great American Sweethearts." NASCAR driver Brandon McReynolds bet Gragson he would not kiss one on the lips, and of course his perfect day continued with lipstick on his face and McReynolds' money in his pocket.
"Last year, I saw Cole Custer graduate high school here," Gragson said. "I saw a picture of both the girls leaning in for a kiss on the cheek (of Custer), so I figured I'd kiss each one of them on the lips. So, I scored a little bit on that one."