At the beginning of 2015, Noah Gragson and Gracin Raz wouldn’t have known each other if they happened to pass each other on a sidewalk. Gragson, who lives near Las Vegas, Nevada, was having a successful Legends career while Gracin Raz, who resides in Portland, Oregon, was making a name for himself in Late Model racing.
The newly formed Jefferson Pitts Racing team was looking for new drivers for their NASCAR K&N Pro Series West team. The team consisted of members of the former Gene Price Motorsports team that helped Greg Pursley to the 2014 championship as Price announced that he was leaving the sport.
16-year-old Gragson and 18-year-old Raz were chosen as the two full-time drivers for 2015. Since then, the two have been a dynamic duo both on and off the track.
“I learned that I would be teaming up with Gracin in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in early January of 2015,” Gragson told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I never heard of him before our meeting, so I had no idea who he was, much less what he even looked like.”
Gragson was the first to reach out to his new teammate.
“I looked Gracin up on Twitter and I direct messaged him,” recalled Gragson. “We talked about racing a little bit and also about ourselves. We then met in early February in Tucson and have become really close friends ever since then.”
Raz remembers meeting Gragson at the Chilly Willy 100 at Tucson Speedway in Arizona.
“He seemed like a quiet guy at first. We weren’t parked next to each other and he got to the track in the middle of practice, so I didn’t get to talk to him until later,” Raz explained. “But when I first talked to him, I could tell instantly he was serious about racing and had a strong passion for it.”
Gragson had a great first impression of Raz that day.
“I knew right away that we could work well with each other being teammates,” exclaimed Gragson. “We hung out all weekend. It was like we knew each other for years.”
Without hesitation the two started to help each other as they prepared for their season together as K&N West teammates.
“We are always bouncing ideas off of each other about how to drive the tracks we are at,” Raz explained. “We have pretty similar driving styles, so I feel like we can apply the same advice we receive from each other without a problem.”
For Gragson, stock car racing is a new experience for him after his success in Legends, where he was the 2014 Legends Young Lion Road Course National Champion. The advice he has received from Raz thus far has benefited him greatly.
“With me being so new to stock cars, I really look up to Gracin for advice,” Gragson admitted. “We watch practice sessions and compare what we are doing with how the car is reacting. It definitely helps having a teammate with a similar driving style as me.”
The teamwork is paying off after the first three K&N West events. Both drivers have recorded two top-five’s and three top-10 finishes. But, it was Gragson who went to victory lane first at the last event at Tucson Speedway.
Not only did Gragson get the win, his teammate and friend Gracin Raz was second and the third Jefferson Pitts Racing car driven by Dustin Ash was third.
Gragson qualified 18th and was challenging for the lead at the halfway break.
“With about 25 laps to go, my crew chief Jerry Pitts said on the radio that it was time to go, no more saving,” Gragson recalled. “I ran down the leaders and made it three-wide for first. The caution came out with two to go resulting in a green, white, checkered restart.
“I gave it the restart of my life and we came out on top. Overall it was a great weekend. It wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work from all the guys at Jefferson Pitts Racing. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.”
Raz was equally excited with the finish as well.
“It was great for the team to get that 1,2,3 finish without the cars suffering damage,” Raz said. “I know it boosted everyone’s confidence in the JPR camp. Noah and I have limited stock car experience, so I think he surprised not only me, but a lot of people where he showed how natural he is behind the wheel.”
Jefferson Pitts Racing has won the first two of three events this year as Dalton Sargeant won the opener at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.
The one big benefit that both drivers have is the experience on the Jefferson Pitts Racing team.
“It has helped a lot,” exclaimed Raz. “Noah and I walked into a championship winning team. Both Jeff Jefferson and Jerry Pitts have won championships as crew chiefs and Jeff has even won some as a driver. So having that experience, not only in the crew chiefs, but the crew guys as well, is an amazing environment for young drivers.”
Off the track, Raz has said that Gragson has opened up his personality. Raz told Speed51.com that Gragson is more outgoing and he is more introverted. But when asked if Gragson has loosened him up a little, Raz admitted that he has quite a bit.
The two are now focusing on their first trip to Iowa Speedway for this weekend’s combined event with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East on Saturday, May 16.
“I’m very excited about going to Iowa,” admitted Gragson. “I’ve never been to a track bigger than a half-mile, so it will be a big learning curve.”
Raz agreed with Gragson’s thoughts on the learning curve they face as they head to Iowa.
“It will be a huge learning curve,” Raz said. “I know I will be taught how to get around that track by the best.”
Anyone who walks around the K&N garage at Iowa this weekend will, more than likely, see the two drivers staying pretty close to each other watching how other teams are driving around Iowa Speedway and sharing notes.
During the downtime, don’t be surprised to see the two of them having fun like teenagers normally do. They may take over the NASCAR Home Tracks Snapchat account or decide to photobomb James Bickford or Nicole Behar.
Whatever they decide to do, Gragson feels that the friendship they have already established will play a big role as the season moves forward.
“The friendship between Gracin and I is very important,” Gragson explained. “It definitely helps having someone you can relate to as we both help each other on and off the track. I believe having good team chemistry is the most important thing. Without good team chemistry, no one will succeed on the team.”
What started as simple teammates living 980 miles apart, has turned into a friendship that may last long after their racing careers.
“It’s because we are on the same level, we just have been able to spend a lot of time together,” Raz said. “Noah is a really cool guy to be around, and I’m happy Noah is not only my teammate but a good friend of mine.”
-By Kevin Ramsell, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @KevinRamsell
-Photo credit: Speed51.com