Roughly 20 million college students hold full-time jobs in addition to their class load. Only one of those students — N.C. State rising senior Harrison Rhodes — is a full-time NASCAR driver.
Rhodes just entered his senior year and is nearing an end to his first season behind the wheel of the No. 0 JD Motorsports machine. To say he’s got a lot on his plate is to imply he only has one plate, which hardly feels accurate.
“I’m a busy guy,” Rhodes said with a laugh. “I’m usually taking a few online classes and some in class along with our shop being down in Gaffney, S.C., which is four hours away from Raleigh. Then I try to visit family [in High Point] and I’ve got a girlfriend here at N.C. State.
“Let’s just put it this way — I don’t have a ton of free time.”
But that’s OK — this is the life Rhodes chose and he couldn’t be happier with his decision. Despite the scheduling constraints, Rhodes’ in-class and on-track efforts resulted in a robust — and, really, kind of ridiculous — 3.89 GPA and his first full-time season behind the wheel for J.D.
“It’s so nice to be in a seat every single week,” Rhodes said. “Before, I was hopping in and out of teams just to prove myself. To be identified as the No. 0 car and have a consistent seat with the same team, that’s really helped me. That’s definitely the step I needed to know this is the career for me.
“There’s still ups and downs … but hopefully we’ll turn it around this weekend. We need it, for sure.”
The life and grind of racing is nothing new for the High Point, North Carolina native. Rhodes has been driving in some capacity since he was 10 years old. He started in quarter midgets after a trip with a close friend and their dads.
That close friend? Tyler Labonte, son of 2000 Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte.
Rhodes quickly moved up to Legends cars then to Late Models and made the jump to the Xfinity level with Rick Ware Racing in 2013. This season, Rhodes is finally full time.
Maybe the most difficult part about Rhodes’ dueling commitments is his status within the university. Unlike most college athletes, Rhodes doesn’t have the liberty of enjoying athletic status through N.C. State. (Although unlike most college athletes he isn’t punished through with the penniless shackles of NCAA amateurism, either.)
He’s hoping he can work out a deal with the school to change that before finishing in Raleigh. It’s hardly a deal breaker for the young man, much less much of a problem.
“I’m working on setting up a meeting to gain athletic status,” Rhodes said. “That way I have the option of saying, ‘Here’s my schedule, please make it work.’ … But I like being busy, so it’s not a huge thing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now.”
It can’t be said enough: what Rhodes is doing puts him in a class of his own.
Rhodes is the only current full-time driver at the top three NASCAR levels who is also a full-time college student. And when he gets his diploma, Rhodes will join Ryan Newman as the only driver to have a college degree.
School isn’t just about getting an education for Rhodes. There’s a real-life, workplace application to his schoolwork in ways you wouldn’t expect.
“My work at N.C. State has helped me tremendously,” Rhodes said. ” Between getting races funded, going to events, speaking to large crowds and autograph sessions, I use a lot of what I learn in class. About 90 percent of what I do is spent on the marketing side—only 10 percent is actually spent driving.
“I can also have some input in sponsors meetings that other young drivers typically don’t have. Being able to actually contribute is all thanks to my education and hard work off the track.”
— Harrison Rhodes (@HarrisonRhodes) May 9, 2015
His journey hasn’t been without its bumps in the road, both literal and figurative. Rhodes leans heavily on his Christian faith — he prays to be a great representation both on and off the track before each race — to stay diligent in pursuit of his dreams.
“There’s been times where I didn’t really know if it was going to work out,” Rhodes said. “Then this season I got the call that I’d have a full-time ride and He kind of sends reminders to tell me I am meant to do this.
“I know the opportunities that I’ve gotten aren’t just by chance.”
He’s put himself in a pretty special position at a pretty young age. Imagine what he’ll be able to after school, when he can focus on just one full-time career.