We all watched him in the first race and weren’t really amazed until he won and got out in Victory Lane. Garrett Jones in the #88 was only 12 years old. The race was the Southeast Limited Late Model Challenger Series at the Dillon Motor Speedway on June 30th. They weren’t racing go-karts, they were racing Late Model race cars and he wasn’t racing against other 12 years olds, these were grown men, some veteran drivers.
Those of us working in the tower were impressed and that’s not easy to do with a group of guys that sit up there every Saturday night and run these races. We all knew that Garrett was also scheduled to race in the Pro Series event that was taking place shortly. In this race he would be running 100 laps instead of 50 and the field was filled with even more seasoned veterans. He would also have to start from the back since he qualified for the Challenger race instead of the Pro race.
The temps were over 100 most of the day so that meant 130+ inside the race cars. Garrett Jones had already raced a 5o lap race and won now he was starting from the back in a 100 lap race. Just as most of us in the tower thought he would Garrett raced a good race and finished 4th. All this from a 12 year old kid. A kid who is at best 4 years away from actually being able to legally drive a passenger car.
Could you even imagine driving a full blown, purpose built race car against adults when you were 12? Garrett isn’t the only young driver we have seen this year. Gray Gaulding who is 14 years old currently races with the PASS South series, is 10th in points and won a race in May. Gray drives for Coulter Motorsports and is sponsored by Krispy Kreme. These kids are racing is what is effect the minor leagues, series that are just below NASCAR.
So how young is too young? Consider the pressure on a kid to perform at these levels. When they are racing Bandoleros or Allison Legacy Series it’s mostly against kids their own age in fairly short races. In Late Models, they are racing 500hp race cars against adults in 100 to 150 lap events. Many of the kids racing at the higher level have NASCAR teams and major sponsorship behind them. Things like that are a huge responsibility for a driver.
I think at the very least you should be old enough to have a drivers license before you are allowed to have a Late Model racing license. At 12 or 14 how can we expect them to know how to respect their fellow racer. These kids will be in a much better position physically and emotionally to handle all that comes with being a successful race car driver if we make them wait a few more years. Plus seat time in the lower classes only serves to make them better more respectful race car drivers. NASCAR already has it’s share of hot headed drivers without intentionally bringing in a new even younger group.