One could only assume that Erik Jones’ graduation walk will be set on the most unique stage for this season: The frontstretch of Texas Motor Speedway during driver introductions for Friday night’s WinStar World Casino and Resort 400.
Instead of a fire suit, Jones will be outfitted in cap and gown and presented a high school diploma from TMS president Eddie Gossage.
Jones’ official graduation from Swartz Creek Global Learning Hub, an online-based curriculum out of Michigan, conflicted with Friday’s race.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Jones said. “I think it will be fun. It’ll be different, that’s for sure, but what better way to graduate than at a racetrack.”
Learning Thursday consisted of practice on TMS’ 1 1/2-mile track. The race will be Jones’ first on a 1 1/2-mile track since turning 18 earlier this year.
Jones hopes to graduate to a second career victory on the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series. The conflict arose when Kyle Busch gave up his No. 51 to Jones this week. Busch has dominated in it this year with four victories, including three in a row..
At 17 years, 5 months and 9 days, Jones became the youngest winner in the history of the series at Phoenix International Raceway in November.
His fastest lap Thursday was 173.76 mph.
“It was definitely a learning experience. I thought I learned a lot throughout the day and especially at the end. I’m still trying to pick up everything.”
The IndyCar Series truck drivers who haul the cars and equipment from site to site competed among themselves Thursday in the Pilot Travel Centers Truck Driver Challenge outside TMS.
It was the third in a series of four across the circuit. Competitors were required to demonstrate a variety of moves, such as backing up and navigating a winding course outlined by pylons set up by Mitch Prevatte and Joe Wernent, themselves one-time race-team truck drivers.
Drivers are judged on speed and number of errors.
The money isn’t bad, either. Jake Klomp of Chip Ganassi Racing pocketed $1,000 for winning the event, Ganassi teammate Todd Deneve earned $250 for second. The top performer of the four-event series will earn an additional $30,000. Deneve won the $30,000 last year.
“Since this [Pilot Flying J Truck Driver Challenge] was added last season, I talk to more of the truckies than I ever have,” Klomp said. “It’s an awesome opportunity to be able to do this. On top of that, we’re grown men, we’re trash-talkers. Then I come out here on top, and that’s pretty cool.”
Kids, of course, anticipate the last days of every school year, but they are that much more fun when IndyCar Series drivers show up.
IndyCar drivers Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, Carlos Muñoz and Sebastien Bourdais surprised the students at Roanoke Elementary on Thursday.
They passed out the reward for the school’s victory in TMS’ “Speeding to Read” competition among 11 local elementary schools. They also took questions from the students.