Alan Cavanna

Young drivers prepare for NASCAR stardom

July 18, 2013, Alan Cavanna,

Go-karting with up-and-comers shows style of next generation

Skinny jeans. Flat-billed hats. Bright-colored shoes.
It's the look of a new generation in NASCAR.
All were on display Wednesday at the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, N.C. The group of drivers assembled there represented the latest line-up of NASCAR Next -- the initiative set up to identify and promote young talent in the sport.
Fashion aside, all can pass for racing veterans off the track. Ranging in ages from 15 to 24, all are polished. Each driver is quick to thank his or her sponsor during interviews. And none are overlooking the opportunity in front of them.
“The exposure is everything," NASCAR Next member Kenzie Ruston said. "You’re out there in front of all these people with the NASCAR name above you."
Ruston, 21, is the group's lone female member. She's currently 8th in points in the K&N Pro Series East. The Oklahoma native is like many in the group, choosing a life of racing at a young age and moving to North Carolina to make it happen.
At 15 years old, Gray Gaulding is the youngest member of the NASCAR Next lineup. His braces show his age, but his maturity reveals his dedication to moving up NASCAR's ranks. Gaulding said he'll make 190 sponsor appearances in 2013. His choice to be home-schooled helps make it possible.
“I’m not a normal 15-year-old," said Gaulding, who won a pole for the K&N East race in Richmond earlier this year. "I’m very busy. I love doing what I do, which is going out, doing appearances and racing. But at the end of the day, I’m still a typical 15-year-old with hobbies and other interests. It’s an awesome lifestyle.”
That lifestyle is what brought most of the 13 members of the current NASCAR Next class together Wednesday. This promotional appearance had them racing go-karts with the media and signing autographs for fans. During the event's downtime, the group was close-knit and at times, loud and boisterous. The only thing that could keep the drivers' full attention was a demonstration of Google Glass -- the search engine's new wearable camera. It's supposed to be the "next big thing" in social media.
The drivers hope to be the same in NASCAR.
“They’re opening up a lot of opportunities for us," Sergio Pena, a member of the 2012 NASCAR Next class, said. "(It's) getting us a lot of exposure, and hopefully getting our careers somewhere."