PENSACOLA, Fla. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — FatHead Racing photo —
The hits just keep coming for 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year Noah Gragson.
After a disheartening finale in that series, where he crashed on the final lap at Phoenix International Speedway last month fighting for the championship with Chris Eggleston, Gragson was hoping to come to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. and end his season on a high note with a strong run in the 48th annual Snowball Derby.
The weekend started off well enough, after he timed in 31st provisionally on Friday night and ended up inside the top 30 “locked-in” cutoff after both Christopher Bell and defending race winner John Hunter Nemechek were disqualified in post-qualifying technical inspection.
However, the race was a different story.
Mired back in traffic, Gragson struggled early and fell off the lead lap prior to the halfway point of the event. From there, he continued to make laps and ultimately sat four laps in arrears to the frontrunners when chaos broke loose coming to complete lap 274.
Gragson and veteran Donnie Wilson tangled in turn four coming onto the frontstretch, seeing Gragson slam driver’s side first into the inside wall and 14-year-old Derek Kraus come into the accident scene with nowhere to go, driving into the back of Wilson’s stalled machine. But while those two visibly received the worst end of the exchange, it was the 17-year-old Las Vegas teenager that got the worst end of the stick.
Gragson climbed gingerly from his car and immediately began talking to safety workers, being whisked off to be treated onsite by medical staff. Once that process was over, he appeared in front of the 51 TV camera with a heavy wrap on his left hand and a grimaced look on his face as he spoke to the press.
“I don’t know what happened coming out of turn four; everyone just checked up and started scattering,” Gragson explained. “I tried to go low to miss it and got hit from the back. The car slammed the wall pretty hard, and when it did my hand got caught in the steering wheel and it jerked pretty badly. I think it broke my hand, but we’re not really sure just yet.”
“[Team owner] Jamie Yelton and the FatHead Racing guys worked really hard all weekend long. I’m disappointed, but I’m thankful to be here and proud of all the work that went into this. It’s been a great opportunity to be in the race, and hopefully we can come back next year and try again.”
The Sin City native knew he didn’t have a lot of speed, and said he was just trying to gain experience and stay out of the battle for the win as the race wound down into its final stages. He did appreciate, however, the magnitude of simply making the crown jewel event.
“I was riding around in the back because we didn’t have the best car for most of the race; we were struggling pretty bad. I did learn that you don’t ever know [what’s going to happen] until its over, basically. This is definitely something that I can look back on in 30 years though, and say that I was in the Snowball Derby once. Hopefully I can come back next year and finish even stronger.”
Gragson was credited left the track following the race and went to a local hospital for evaluation and x-rays for his injured left hand.
After being seen by doctors, he confirmed to Race Chaser Online via text message that the injury was either a bad sprain or a broken bone, and that he would know more once he returned home to Las Vegas.
“Whatever this turns out being, I’m not letting it get me down,” he expressed. “I’m going to be trying hard to race my Legends car in two weeks; there’s worse things to have to deal with than a banged-up hand (laughs).”
For more information on the Snowball Derby, visit www.5flagsspeedway.com.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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