Noah Gragson enjoyed a memorable year of racing in 2017. From his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory to his first major Super Late Model victory at the Winchester 400, Gragson had a year to remember. Now, as the 2018 season gets underway, he’s looking to create many more memories. On February 3, Gragson hopes to create 30,000 new memories during the $30,000-to-win SRL Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park (CA).
In 2017, Gragson stepped up to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He recorded his first career victory at Martinsville Speedway (VA) and finished 10th in the championship standings. However, he began his season in his Super Late Model, with a second-place finish at Tucson Speedway’s (AZ) Chilly Willy 150. He followed it up with a 10th-place effort at the 3rd Annual Winter Showdown. Gragson closed out his Super Late Model season for KBM with a victory in the Winchester 400 at Winchester Speedway (IN) and a 12th-place finish in the 50th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
As memorable as his 2017 season was, Gragson also has some fond memories of his three Winter Showdown starts. His 2015 result in the inaugural Winter Showdown shows a 12th-place finish, but it was the journey that made the result special.
Gragson was involved in a practice accident caused by a part failure and backed his team’s Super Late Model into the retaining wall, destroying the rear of his AlertID machine. But that was only the beginning of the story.
“The accident happened only four hours before qualifying, so my team took the car out onto the track’s parking lot and replaced the rear clip and all the damaged suspension parts,” Gragson told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “My guys really stepped it up and got the car ready just before our qualifying heat. We started last and worked our way up to eighth to qualify into the Showdown.
“It was so cool that all of these teams came up to me and told me how they were rooting for us to get in. It was really special to hear that from our competitors. We ended up finishing 12th in Showdown and finishing the event. It really said a lot about my team.”
The 2016 Winter Showdown found Gragson battling his teammate, Gracin Raz, for second late in the event. In the memorable lap-after-lap battle, contact between the two competitors found Gragson relegated to the rear. Over the last 40 laps, Gragson scrambled back to fifth to secure his best Showdown finish.
Last season’s Showdown produced Gragson’s first start against his new boss, Kyle Busch, in a Super Late Model. Busch finished third with Gragson 10th. But for 2018, Gragson would love nothing more than to take home the $30,000 winner’s check and beat his boss to the checkered flag.
“It would be pretty dang cool honestly,” Gragson declared. “I’d definitely talk a little smack to him. I could really give him a hard time if I beat him and that would be really cool.”
Heading to the Showdown, Gragson has additional confidence coming off his victory in the Winchester 400 at Winchester Speedway (IN) a few months ago.
“It gives me all the confidence in the world knowing I can get it done,” Gragson began. “It is pretty special being able to say I have won a big race like that. I guess it’s a great conversation starter for the future.”
The Las Vegas, NV driver is excited to return to his old stopping grounds and race against some familiar faces, and in front of friends and family.
“I have so many friends out there like Christian McGhee, Kayla Eshleman and Ryan Vargas that I’ve raced with,” Gragson explained. “There are guys like Derek Thorn and David Mayhew, who I didn’t grow up racing against, but have gotten to race against the last several years. It’s really cool to go back and see all those people and hang out with them a little bit.”
Gragson has had experience at Kern County Raceway at both the Winter Showdown and in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. He has noticed that through the years the track has begun to change, and feels with the new tire combination the race will contain an added element of strategy.
“I think the track is becoming a lot racier,” Gragson speculated. “With the tires they are bringing this year, it should be a lot more of a strategy race. It really wasn’t that way last year because the race track is still new and the asphalt wasn’t worn out enough. Now with the new tire compound, it is actually wearing out the left side tire almost to the cord after 100 laps. That should help increase strategy, as well as extending the race to 300 laps, which will make a difference too.
“I’m really excited about the race this year with the track wearing out more, the new tire compound, being a day race and the extra 50 laps. It is going to be a different kind of race. It should be a really good race with a lot of strategy coming into play. I’m just really thankful I have the opportunity to be out there at Kern County Raceway and participate in this race.”
Gragson will also be participating in the Chilly Willy 150 one week prior to the Winter Showdown in his family-owned car. He will then bring his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 18 Toyota Camry with sponsorship from Switch and Safelight Autoglass to the Winter Showdown.
Gragson’s 2018 NCWTS Crew Chief, Ryan “Rudy” Fugle, will handle the Crew Chief duties on race weekend. Fugle has won four owners championships in his four years in the NCWTS as a crew chief. He also has 21 victories in 91 NCWTS starts. Fugle’s presence will be sure to add to the competitiveness of the Super Late Model Team as well.
When it comes to participating in the Winter Showdown, Gragson’s reasons are probably very similar to the other competitors whom will take part in the 4th Annual Event.
“We are all just chasing thirty grand and that is really the biggest thing. It’s the biggest paying race in Super Late Model racing right now. That’s what we are all trying to win. With the stiff competition, if you can win at that place and against those drivers, it means you have done something. It would be really special for me.”
Race fans will be able to watch Gragson compete in the Winter Showdown via a live broadcast on the Speed51 Network. This year's broadcast is presented by PFC Brakes and available for FREE to Speed51 Network monthly or yearly subscribers. Click here to subscribe today.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com