RICHMOND, Va. - Before he started school, Gray Gaulding has been trying to go faster than anyone else.
The Colonial Heights teen has been racing at one level or another since he was 3. It's the goal of every driver of every age and at every level to someday drive among the best in the world, and Gaulding is getting his opportunity.
BK Racing officially announced that Gaulding will drive their number 23 Toyota Camry in all but one of the Monster Energy Cup Series races in 2017. He will miss the season opening Daytona 500 due to a previous agreement the team had in place with Josh Gase, but starting with the second race at Atlanta, Gaulding will be the (very young) man for the job.
"A lot of people might say I'm not ready. I'm too young. I feel like I'm physically and mentally ready" Gaulding said at a ceremony at Richmond International Raceway. "I'm definitely going to feel some bumps in the road, but that's part of being young. That's part of being a rookie."
Atlanta will not be his first race in the Cup series. Last year, he ran at Martinsville and Phoenix and finished 39th and 37th respectively. He also ran twice in the Xfinity Series with more success, finishing 13th at both Bristol and RIR. He has two top 10 finishes in 13 career truck series races, and became the youngest driver to win a pole and a race in the K&N series, all of which convinced the BK Racing owners that he was their guy.
"I think he's earned the right to run at this level" said team owner Ron Devine. "He's been successful at all the other levels and that's what you look for. You look for guys that can run up front at any level."
Gaulding is also the latest in a long and distunguished line of Virginia natives to make it to NASCAR's top level. From Wendell Scott, Ray Hendrick, the Burtons and Sadlers, to Denny Hamlin, Gaulding understands the history of NASCAR in the Old Dominion and his opportunity to further the story.
"It's just so cool to say that I drive for a team who's roots are from Virginia, that shares the same morals and values as me" Gaulding said. "It's just a dream come true."
"Every deal has a feel to it. And this one just felt right" Devine said. "To me, he has the potential to be the next superstar in this sport. They all plateau at some point. I really think the kid can go somewhere."