When Noah Gragson was growing up, he likely played in the dirt with toy trucks. This week Gragson will get to play in the dirt with a big truck, his No. 18 Switch Tundra to be exact. Wednesday night the 19-year-old will experience his first race on dirt at the legendary Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Although Gragson has never raced on dirt before in any series, he has a couple drivers to lean on who have had their share of success finding the cushion.
Gragson's Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) teammate, Christopher Bell, spent his young career racing open-wheel sprint cars and midgets on dirt before moving to pavement in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2015. Bell won the Eldora Dirt Derby that year, and most recently won at Eldora last Friday in a sprint car in the Knight Before the Kings Royal.
Gragson will also have an accomplished dirt modified driver, Kyle Strickler, with him at Eldora to help coach him through the ever-changing track conditions and racing lines. A two-time IMCA Super Nationals champion, Strickler the "High Side Tickler" recently led all 50 laps to claim a $50,000 payday at Farley Speedway in Iowa.
Gragson has made two trips to Friendship Speedway, a 4/10-mile dirt track in Elkin. N.C., with Strickler to learn the nuances of dirt racing and get the feel for it in one of Strickler's modifieds. While it was definitely a valuable learning experience, driving his Switch Tundra will be very different. The trucks are considerably heavier than open-wheel cars, so the two hours of practice scheduled for Tuesday evening will be very important.
With six consecutive top-10 finishes under his belt Gragson has moved up to ninth in the driver point standings, only seven points out of eighth place which is the final spot to make the playoffs. Despite his lack of experience on dirt tracks, a solid finish will be important to keep the rookie in contention for one of the four remaining spots to make the playoffs in September.