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Young drivers look to make their mark at Gresham
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Jesse Little drives around the track recently at South Boston Raceway in South Boston, Va. He’ll be driving in Saturday’s Slack Auto Parks 150 NASCAR K&N East Series Race at Gresham Motorsports Park. - photo by For The Times

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Dylan Kwasniewski is part of the future generation of NASCAR. He’s a young and eager driver who’s willing to cut his teeth by going from track to track during the summer on the NASCAR K&N East Pro Series, which is racing at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson tonight.

“It’s really competitive and a great group of drivers,” said Kwasniewski, 17, of Las Vegas. The K&N Pro Series is one step below the Trucks Series on the NASCAR ladder, so many of these drivers are just years away from going on to the Nationwide and Sprint Cup.

In Kwasniewski’s case, since he turned 17 recently, he is just one year away from being able to venture off the regional circuit and pursue the Nationwide Series. Tonight’s Slack Auto Parts 150 is the lone K&N East Series event at Gresham this season. The series rotates to many of the top tracks across the country, including events at Bristol, Richmond, Iowa, New Hampshire and Dover.

And Kwasniewski, a rising high school senior, couldn’t think of a better way to spend his summer than traveling the country and learning the ropes in NASCAR behind the wheel.

“It’s an awesome situation,” said Kwasniewski. “Sometimes I have to just stop and think about what an amazing situation this is for myself.”

Even though Gresham is a new venue for many drivers, it’s close to the heart of Dawsonville’s Chase Elliott. Not only is it his home track, but also where his uncle Dan Elliott is the track general manager.

Chase Elliott, who won the K&N race at Iowa Speedway last month, knows the track as well as any of this weekend’s drivers. He understands that even with repaving, it didn’t lose any of its grip for drivers.

And it’s fast.

“Gresham is a track with a lot of character,” said Elliott.

The 16-year old driver for Hendrick Motorsports thinks fans will turn out and generate a packed house to watch all the future phenoms of the sport run together.

“The competition in the K&N Series is really strong with a lot of great drivers,” Elliott added.

Kwasniewski is one of the hottest of the K&N drivers right now. After winning K&N West races in Stockton, Calif. on May 5, he placed second in his last two races at Breinard, Minn., and again last weekend on his home track of the Bullring at the Las Vegas Motorspeedway.

This weekend is a switch of pace for Kwasniewski racing in the K&N East.

“I’ve not raced at Gresham before, but I’m really looking forward to it,” said Kwasniewski. “I know it is a great facility and will make for a great race.

“I really enjoy racing on the short tracks.”

Racing on the K&N Series is part of the natural progression for making it in NASCAR. Most of these drivers started with go-karts as soon as their feet could reach the pedals, then on to quarter midgets and bandoleros, before taking the wheel in the cars with the real speed.

Jesse Little, 15, is new to the K&N East Pro Series with just two races under his belt, but has a lot of racing history in the family. His father, Chad Little, won a handful of Nationwide Series races in his career and came in second a couple times as a Sprint Cup driver. Now he manages the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

Though the younger Little has raced at many of the larger tracks, like Richmond, Iowa, Dover and Rockingham, he considers Gresham one of his favorites.

Racing on the K&N Series, Little says, is the perfect stepping stone to turning his hopes of a Sprint Cup career into a reality once he becomes an adult.

“Racing in the K&N is a great opportunity to help my career,” Little said.

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