Gray Gaulding talks Patrick Mahomes’s NASCAR ‘debut’

Gray Gaulding, Patrick Mahomes SS-Green Light Racing car, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Gray Gaulding, Patrick Mahomes SS-Green Light Racing car, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Gray Gaulding spoke about his relationship with Panini and how that enabled him to run a car featuring NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

Gray Gaulding is set to compete in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Cup Series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, much like he did this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, and he is set to run the Cup Series race with primary sponsorship from Panini America once again as well.

Gaulding’s relationship with Panini dates back to April of 2019 when he competed full-time for SS-Green Light Racing in the Xfinity Series, and it has evolved into a partnership that has seen the company sponsor him part-time in the Cup Series with Rick Ware Racing this year.

One opportunity that this relationship created for the 22-year-old Colonial Heights, Virginia native was the chance to meet Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and run a special paint scheme with the NFL MVP (and now Super Bowl champion) on his car at Bristol Motor Speedway last August.

Gaulding ended up driving the Mahomes Panini car to a sixth place finish, the second best finish of his career at the time.

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Speaking to Beyond the Flag about his relationship with Panini and how that has evolved since it began last April, Gaulding outlined what it meant for him to be able to drive a car featuring such a high-profile athlete.

“We talked a little bit with him and his team the week prior. We were trying to really pump up all the media, everything, because we’re talking — this is Patrick Mahomes. He was fresh off his MVP, the guy was absolutely tearing up the NFL. For me, that was a lot of pressure, don’t get me wrong. But it worked out for me. We were going to one of my favorite tracks, we had a really good car, and to just brand with him and get to know him and really see how professional he was, I got a whole new aspect of how impressive and what an amazing athlete [he is].

“But also, he is just as amazing outside the field, which is really great because the guy is only 24 years old. So I can relate, me being 22, him being, now he is 25, the guy is a very, very young guy.

“So when I was able to hear the poise and the way he handled everything and then when he was on the car and him tweeting about me — I mean, I remember my buddies, I have a bunch of buddies from my hometown, they’re like ‘Dude you’re on Patrick Mahomes’s Instagram, Twitter!’ They thought that was like the coolest thing ever.

“Obviously social media being as big as it is today, that’s a big deal for a young guy like myself that’s trying to get my brand out there. When Panini came up with this, I was all for it from the get-go, but like I said, that came with a lot of pressure.

“But that’s where I had to step up, which we did. We had a great night, we ran inside the top 10 pretty much all night, finished sixth, just had a really, really good showing. I was very pleased.

“More thankful for Panini willing to say ‘Hey, we want to run Patrick Mahomes on the car’ and everything they did behind the scenes with the media, like I said, having him put me on his Instagram and Twitter.

“Those things for a young race car driver like myself are what really put it over the edge. And then, on top of that, to put the icing on the cake, to get a sixth place finish and really have a good night was really cool.”

But is Gaulding actually a fan of the Chiefs?

“I am, I definitely am now. I always rooted for — I didn’t mind the Chiefs — but I’m a big Cowboys fan. So I gotta hear that a lot from a lot of people,” he said. “I’m a big Cowboys fan, but man when Patrick Mahomes, I remember I watched the first game that he ever started, and I always had my eye on him because I’m a big sports guy, I watch all sports.”

Mahomes was the Chiefs’ first round pick out of Texas Tech in the 2017 NFL Draft. He did not start a game until the final week of the regular season when Kansas City benched full-time starter Alex Smith due to their lock on the AFC West division title.

Mahomes became the full-time starter the following season after Smith was traded to the Washington Redskins, and he won the MVP award after an incredible season that came up just shy of a Super Bowl appearance, effectively because of a coin flip.

The following season, his Chiefs not only reached the Super Bowl but won it over the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 31-20.

“And I kind of keep my eye on certain players and I’m like, I remember watching him the first time, I’m like ‘Man, this guy is special.’ And sure enough, he wins MVP, wins the Super Bowl last year,” Gaulding continued.

“Yes, I root for the Chiefs. Just because now obviously we have the relationship, he was on the car, so it would be wrong for me to say that I don’t root for him. I think they’re going to kick some butt again this year and I’ll definitely be cheering them on.”

Through the first two weeks of the 2020 NFL season, the Chiefs sit 2-0 on an 11-game winning streak that dates back to last November. They are tied with the Las Vegas Raiders for the lead of the AFC West, and they have won six consecutive games despite trailing and allowing at least 20 points in each of those six games.

They are scheduled to battle the 2-0 Baltimore Ravens this Monday, September 28 in a game that many believe will turn out to be an AFC Championship Game preview.

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As for Gaulding, this weekend’s races are scheduled to take place tomorrow and Sunday. Both are set to be broadcast live from Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC Sports Network, with the Xfinity Series race, the Alsco 300, set to air live beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET this evening and the Cup Series race, the South Point 400, set to air live beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET tomorrow evening.