Jones will line up fifth at Texas, minutes after receiving diploma
FORT WORTH, Texas — It turns out that the commencement ceremonies aren’t the only high school tradition Erik Jones missed. The 18-year-old NASCAR Next driver was also a no-show for his senior prom.
"I actually don’t even know when it was, honestly," Jones said Friday from Texas Motor Speedway. "I skipped that out and kept on the racing side of things."
The Michigan teenager’s graduation rite of passage blended poignantly with his love of all things racing Friday evening before the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ WinStar World Casino and Resort 400, as Jones was awarded his diploma in cap-and-gown proceedings officiated by track president Eddie Gossage in pre-race ceremonies. Jones actually received two diplomas — one commemorating his graduation from Swartz Creek (Mich.) Community Schools, and the other signifying his matriculation to NASCAR tracks of 1.25 miles and larger.
"It kind of started off as a joke really that we graduate here," said Jones, who drives the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. "It all worked out and Texas Motor Speedway was gracious enough to get all this together and actually do a graduation for real. … Being able to graduate at a race track, I don’t believe I’d have it any other way."
When the scheduling conflict with his high school graduation arose, Jones and track promoters got creative by cramming as much pomp and circumstance as one could before driver introductions. To hear his father tell it, his son didn’t miss a thing.
"You’d have to know Erik," Dave Jones said. "Ever since about first grade, all he ever wanted to do was race. Everything in school, whatever the assignment was — he’d be writing a story, it’d be about racing. Drawing pictures in kindergarten, it’d be a race car. So to get to this point and have the two — to graduate and get a diploma at a race track — it’s beyond his wildest dreams. He would’ve quit school to go racing in first grade if it was an option."
But Jones hasn’t had to wait that long for his chance. He became the youngest winner in any of the three NASCAR national series at the age of 17 years, 5 months and 8 days by steering a KBM truck to victory last November at Phoenix International Raceway.
Since turning 18 on May 30th of this year, his age restriction to NASCAR’s smaller tracks has been lifted. With the newfound freedom, Jones has 10 races scheduled after Friday night’s event, ranging from superspeedways to the half-mile dirt of Eldora Speedway.
Making a name for himself hasn’t been much problem thus far, and graduating on the pre-race stage should fuel that fire. But Jones has also been tapped as a top talent in the NASCAR Next development program as one of an elite bunch ascending the stock-car racing ladder.
"I think it’s been helpful to get me a little bit more exposure so far," Jones said. "Definitely to be a part of that group is exciting for me, and is something I’ve wanted to be a part of for a long time. To be asked to join that group is pretty cool."