RICKIE JONES LOOKING TO KEEP DREAM SEASON ALIVE AT PRESTIGIOUS MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS CLERMONT, Ind. - Rickie Jones can't remember a time when he wasn't at the race track. The son of noted race car builder Rick Jones, Rickie always tagged...
RICKIE JONES LOOKING TO KEEP DREAM SEASON ALIVE AT PRESTIGIOUS MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS
CLERMONT, Ind. - Rickie Jones can't remember a time when he wasn't at the race track. The son of noted race car builder Rick Jones, Rickie always tagged along with his dad as he would visit drag strips across the country to make sure the Pro Stock and Pro Mod cars that he built were meeting the racers' expectations.
Eventually Rickie started working in his dad's shop and then he was bit by the racing bug himself. He started with his own Junior Dragster and now as he's on the verge of making the Countdown to 1, NHRA's playoffs, in a 200-mph Pro Stock car. Every now and then, the younger Jones has to take a step back and make sure this is all real.
"This is a dream come true," the 22-year-old Jones said. "At the beginning of the season we set our goals and they were to try and qualify for every race and make it into the top 10."
His mission is nearly accomplished.
In his second season of competition in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, Jones is ninth in the Pro Stock points order and he has qualified for every race so far. He is 27 points ahead of legendary Warren Johnson in the standings and 36 in front of 11th-place Johnny Gray, who posted a runner-up finish two weeks ago in Reading, Pa.
"I am really excited, but a little nervous at the same time going to Indy," Jones said. "I want to hold on to the position we're in. We've been in the top 10 the whole year and I don't want to lose it now."
Jones will make his final stand for a berth in the NHRA playoffs in his Quarter-Max/RJ Race Cars Dodge Stratus at the 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, Sept. 2-7 at historic O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. The tradition-rich race will be showcased during more than 10 hours of coverage on ESPN2 HD and it is the final regular season race in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series before the top 10 fields in each pro category are set for NHRA's six-race championship playoff, the Countdown to 1.
Jones has been praised by his peers for his tenacity at the starting line with a stellar reaction time average of .024. He says that statistic is no accident.
"We don't have a top-half car," said Jones, who has averaged an 11th place qualifying position, yet earned semifinal round appearances at Gainesville, Denver and Sonoma this season. "You know when you go up there to race that you are going to have to try and put a holeshot on your opponent and try to beat them that way. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do that and I spend a lot of time working on my reaction times with a simulator."
The one thing the simulator doesn't emulate is the talent in the other lane. NHRA Pro Stock racing is one of the most competitive forms of racing in all of motorsports. With talented drivers like series points leader Jeg Coughlin, three-time world champ Greg Anderson and six-time champ Johnson in the field - all three multiple-time U.S. Nationals winners - Jones knows that he has his work cut out for him. He says as a rookie he would get big eyes when he pulled into the staging lanes and knew he was going to race against Johnson, widely known as the "Professor of Pro Stock." Now he says the only thing that makes him wide-eyed is seeing his win-light come on.
"I think I am over the holy cow feeling," Jones said. "I wasn't afraid my first year, but maybe just a little in awe that I was actually racing door to door with some of my heroes of the sport. Now I don't have as much of the wow factor when I go to the starting line. I am just focused on cutting a great light and trying to beat these guys."
And he'll need to beat at least two of his heroes at Indy if he's going to make it into the playoffs. But he has a good feeling. Last year at Indy Jones had the best moment of his rookie season at the Big Go. He qualified 11th out of 28 cars and won his first round meeting over veteran Ron Krisher.
Yep, you guessed it - he won that round on a holeshot.
"Last year just to qualify was special because there are so many cars trying to make that race and you know everyone brings the best they've got there," Jones said. "After we qualified on Sunday, I spent about three hours signing autographs and thanking the fans for their support. It was crazy. After we won that first round there was so much excitement in the air. It was really awesome. I love Indy and I am really looking forward to getting back there."
SCHEDULE: The first of five pro qualifying sessions is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4. Qualifying continues at noon and 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5 and concludes at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6. Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle eliminations are at 1:15 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 7.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil by calling (800) 884-NHRA, or via the Web at www.ticketmaster.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise more than 10 hours of coverage of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil beginning on Sunday, Sept. 6 with NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute magazine show at 11 a.m., and followed by a two hour and 30 minute qualifying show at 11:30 a.m. (ET). A two-hour qualifying show will air later that day on ESPN2 HD at 5 p.m. (ET). On Monday, Sept. 7, ESPN2 HD will televise a one-hour NHRA Race Day from the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals preview show at noon (ET), followed by a five-hour eliminations show starting at 1 p.m. (ET).