August 3, 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Jack Roush knew Max Jones was a talented driver. But wanting to put Jones' skills to the ultimate test, Roush invited Jones to his self-described "Gong Show" driving competition in 1989. ...
August 3, 1999
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Jack Roush knew Max Jones was a talented driver. But wanting to put Jones' skills to the ultimate test, Roush invited Jones to his self-described "Gong Show" driving competition in 1989. Following the competition, Jones was chosen to drive for Roush in the Trans-Am series. Apparently Jones made a second good impression on the legendary team owner, because following his time behind the steering wheel, Jones went on to manage the Roush Trans-Am racing efforts. Today he is the general manager for the Roush NCTS teams consisting of drivers Greg Biffle and Mike Bliss. In addition to his management responsibilities, Jones is the race-day spotter for Greg Biffle.
MAX JONES - General Manager - Roush/NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Teams HOW DID YOU MEET JACK ROUSH AND GET CHOSEN FOR ROUSH'S 'GONG SHOW'? "Well my situation was pretty close to what happened with Mike Bliss at the end of last year. I was driving for Chevrolet in 1989 and got released at the end of the race season. I'd seen Jack around and had a ton of respect for him and what he'd done. I'd been competing against him for many years and he was always kicking my butt! After the Trans-Am banquet in 1989, he came up to me, shook my hand and congratulated me on the season. He told me that if he ever had an opening, he'd like to look at me to fill the seat. Then in late 1989, Roush had what they called the "Gong Show" where they took about 12 drivers to Sebring and tested for two days. Everybody drove the cars and spent time with the Roush and Ford engineers. After the competition at Sebring, Robbie Gordon and I got picked to come and drive for Roush. Robbie ran IMSA for Roush and I ran in Trans-Am. As I look back on that time, Jack really gave me a great opportunity. He realized that I was out of work after the 1989 season. When we met at the banquet, that was really the first time that we'd spoken to each other. Our relationship started out well and went from there. It's been a great one for me."
WHO WERE SOME OF THE DRIVERS WHO DIDN'T MAKE THE CUT? "All the guys that were invited had won some sort of championship in one form or another. We competed against some pretty good drivers. Jack Baldwin, Robbie Buhl and Stu Hayner to name a few. Dorsey Schroeder, who'd driven for Jack, set the stage for us on the track. He'd chase us around and we'd chase him around. We drove a couple of Trans-Am cars, IMSA cars and some turbocharged cars."
WHAT HAS BEEN SOME OF THE CHALLENGES SWITCHING FROM DRIVING TO TEAM MANAGEMENT? "It doesn't matter if you're driving a race car, running a business or managing a race team, the biggest challenges are making the right decisions at the right times and managing people. I think that working for Roush, both as a driver and a manager, has afforded me some different perspectives when certain issues come up whether in the shop or at the track. I've definitely learned a lot over the years and am still learning every day. My experience as a driver has certainly helped me to better manage our drivers. I just wish I knew back then what I know today. I think the guys in the shop realize that I've worked on race cars, have run my own teams and have just about done it all at one time or another. So I can relate to them very well and they realize that I'm not just another guy up in the front office looking at the check book."
GREG BIFFLE BURST ON THE NCTS SCENE LAST YEAR AND IS HAVING ANOTHER GREAT SEASON IN 1999. COMMENT ON GREG'S DEVELOPMENT AS A DRIVER. "There's been a lot said and a lot written about Greg's development over the last year and a half. When he got here last year, he had a steep learning curve to deal with. He got behind the 8-ball when he wrecked a couple of trucks early on. Every weekend he tried so hard to redeem himself and things just kept snowballing from there until Jack sat him down and told him that things couldn't continue like that. We had to fix it. Greg slowed down and didn't have to prove himself after that. We came really close to winning some races last year. I think the difference this year is that Greg spent a lot of time thinking about his situation and the opportunity he had this year. Greg has matured a lot and all the guys on the Grainger team have helped him too. Randy Goss (crew chief) has really helped him. I think that Greg needed the guidance that Randy has given him. The team has really jelled and we're communicating very well. The five wins this season proves that. There was no question about Greg's level of talent since the first day he stepped into the truck. It's all come together well. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is so competitive that it takes a certain level of maturity and respect to not only win races but to be consistent and get points every race."
AS GREG'S SPOTTER OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, HOW HAS HE IMPROVED ON THE RACE TRACK? "I don't think I can pinpoint one specific area. Obviously Greg is driving smarter this year and things have been going better as a result. Greg and the team get better every race. I think it's just his level of maturity getting better. There was so much excitement over the last quarter of last season and how competitive we were. We tested a lot last winter. So not only just putting laps on the truck and figuring out some of the parts and pieces, but even more so the communication between Greg and Randy, both at the track and away from pressure situations has been the difference. That's paying off on the track now."
MIKE BLISS JOINED THE ROUSH TEAM THIS SEASON AFTER A LONG STINT WITH TEAM ASE. HOW IS MIKE DOING? "Mike is doing just fine. With the Exide team, we once again have proven commodities. Mike has been very successful over his career. Matt Chambers (crew chief) has won races with Joe Ruttman. We've got equipment that Greg is winning with and Joe won with last year. So we're still going through a period of making all the pieces come together. We're getting really close of late."
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE REST OF 1999 SEASON? "We're shooting to get the #99 team into the top five in points for sure. That's going to be tough to do. We'll have to work really hard and have top finishes every week. Greg is in the midst of a championship battle so we've got to keep our heads up and try to do the best we can every time we go out on the race track. Every guy on the team has to stay focused and do the best job they can do. If we don't make any mistakes, we can win this thing. It's so easy to let one thing slip through the cracks and not cover everything. But we'll dig down deeper and give it our best shot over the last eight races."
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN RACING? "I started in Showroom Stock club racing in Southern California. I then worked my way up into what was at that time the SCCA Pro Series and SCCA Endurance. I also ran the old Playboy Series with Chevrolet. Then I started my own team with Nissan and around that same time the IMSA Playboy Series and the IMSA Firehawk Series started, so I competed there. I won the Firehawk championship in 1986. In 1987, the SCCA started the Coors Racetruck series. I ran a four-cylinder Nissan truck against trucks from all the manufacturers. We ran against Ford Rangers, Chevrolet S-10s, Jeeps and Toyota's. We had a great year in 1987 winning the truck championship. Out of the 10 races, we won four of them. That was a super busy year for me. I drove everything I could find a ride in. I think I drove in 37 races that year. I also competed in the IMSA GTU cars and also drove some off-road stuff. In 1988 through 1989, I got an opportunity to drive for Chevrolet on their IMSA Beretta team with Tommy Kendall. Tommy and I met back in 1985 where we did the Firehawk Series together and won the championship. We then went our own ways for a couple of years and got back together in 1988. In 1990, I came to Michigan to drive for Ford and Jack Roush in the Trans-Am series and also ran Daytona and Sebring. We continued in Trans-Am in 1991 and ran Daytona again and won at Sebring. The win at Sebring in 1991 was my last race behind the wheel. At that point, Jack (Roush) asked me if I would help "coach" and run the program; so I did that."