Many high school seniors will be walking across a stage this week to receive their diploma in recognition of years of hard work. For Erik Jones, his stage will be in front of a national television audience on the frontstretch of Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth before Friday night's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event.
After finishing his freshman year at Byron High Scholl in Byron, Mich., Jones and his family decided the best route to being a successful student and continuing to pursue a career as a race car driver was to complete his studies online through the Swartz Creek Global Learning Hub in nearby Swartz Creek, Mich. Three years later, he has completed his studies and earned the right to walk the stage with the rest of the Swartz Creek students Friday night. The only problem is after turning 18 last week, he is now eligible to run NASCAR's mile-and-a-half and larger tracks and the talented youngster will be behind the wheel of the No. 51 Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Tundra for Friday night's 167-lap event.
Upon hearing that Jones was going to miss his graduation, the staff at Texas Motor Speedway decided to bring the ceremony to him. The racing prodigy will walk across the stage in his cap and gown when his name is called during driver introductions and he will be presented his diploma by track president Eddie Gossage. Once across the stage, the fun and games will end and Jones will be faced with one of his biggest challenges. The Michigan native will be competing in his first event on a mile-and-a-half track in one of NASCAR's top three divisions.
Just as he has done each step along the way of his career, the racing prodigy expects to accept the challenge and be successful. That's because Jones isn't just any 18-year-old driver making his first NASCAR start on a superspeedway, he is one of NASCAR's most promising young stars. In his first partial campaign in the Truck Series last season, he finished inside the top 10 in each of his five starts, capped off by a dominant performance at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale where he became the youngest winner in series history at 17 years, five months and nine days. In addition to his Truck Series triumph, he has an ARCA Racing Series victory at Berlin (Mich.) Raceway on his resume and in the Late Model ranks has already proven capable of winning some of the biggest events, having collected two Snowball Derby wins and a Winchester 400 title.
Jones will have a graduation day that is two-fold, graduating from high school and to the superspeedways of NASCAR all on one Texas-sized stage. The No. 51 team has posted three consecutive victories, four total this season and have won six of the last seven races dating back to Jones win at Phoenix last year, so they know a thing or two about celebrations. When the race is over on Friday night, they hope to be hosting a graduation party for their driver in victory lane.