Chicago: Rick Jones preview

CHICAGO, Ill. (May 30, 2000) - The Pro Stock Trucks return to action this weekend at Route 66 Raceway after a four-week hiatus from competition. Galesburg, Ill., native, and Pro Stock chassis builder Rick Jones is hoping to continue his ...

CHICAGO, Ill. (May 30, 2000) - The Pro Stock Trucks return to action this weekend at Route 66 Raceway after a four-week hiatus from competition. Galesburg, Ill., native, and Pro Stock chassis builder Rick Jones is hoping to continue his impressive season-long performance in front of the hometown fans. So far this year the Country Motors Trailer Sales Sonoma driver has been successful in keeping his Pro Stock GMC fourth in the points standings heading into the second half of the Winston championship campaign.

What have you been working on since the last race in Atlanta? "We've been working on the truck and just trying some new stuff. We don't let it sit too much. We come back after a race and tear it all apart. We're trying some new stuff for Chicago with the chassis set up, with clutch parts and gearing, and of course, Reher-Morrison is updating our motor right now, so I should have that back any day."

That's got to make you feel pretty good. "They're making leaps and bounds with their engine department, and like everything they produce, our truck motors are excellent. So we're real happy - they're working hard and so are we. We're just trying to find every bit of performance we can for our Pro Stock Sonoma between now and Joliet."

You think that the new motors they are providing might give you that extra push into victory lane? "I'm sure they'll continue to make more and more power. You know we have at least two or three guys out there that are really, really tough right now. We're just trying to play catch up with them. If it wasn't for Panella and Daniels, just about anybody could win one of these races. We're just trying to catch up to get into their league right now and see if we can keep up with them."

Have you had an opportunity to test since Atlanta? "No, we were hoping to test this weekend (Memorial Day), or the first of next week and again everything's been torn apart. We don't let the truck sit any. We come back, and rip it into pieces because I've always got new ideas I want to try so we're putting it through the motions right now."

How are you preparing for the month of June with the two hometrack races at Chicago and Madison? Is it something you're looking forward to? "You know I always look forward to racing on my home racetrack. I get all my employees from RJ Racecars at the track, my family and friends will be there, and generally it's just real important to me to do well. We qualified at Joliet last year and went two rounds there. So if we can just qualify again and go rounds - that's what we're trying to do. And of course then we have Columbus, with that being a major race for GM, and being a GMC sponsored truck we obviously want to do well there. Then it's back to Madison (St. Louis), another hometown track for us. It's going to be a busy deal. That's why we're making sure we got all our ducks in a row right now -- to see if we can pick up some performance and have everything ready for the next couple of months."

Out of the three racetracks coming up which one are you more familiar with? "It really depends on what the weather does. Chicago and St. Louis are both really good racetracks, the problem there is that they both can be plagued with hot weather. Its going to really be a handful on the starting line when it gets really hot. There's not a racetrack in the country that can keep the starting line from getting bald spots, and that changes your tune up so it just depends on how the weather is going to be. But yes, in St. Louis I have a lot of experience there in testing. We're supposed to test there next Tuesday, so I might have a lot of experience there, but I really don't look at it like that. I kind of look at it like every racetrack we go to. When we go up there with 35 other trucks, we all get to run at the same time, and the same racetrack, but it's just kind of a take your best guess on what you think the racetrack is going to give you in that particular session."

Do you like the way the season has progressed for you so far? "It's been pretty good. Our problem is even though we get terrific support from GMC Sonoma and Country Motors Trailer Sales, we're actually an under funded team compared to some of the other programs. We're a one-engine race team and that's really kind of tough to do these days. We've got one engine, and don't have one underneath the bench, so we have to plan our testing to coincide with how long we think the engine will last. We've got three races in a row here so we have to be kind of careful. There's not a lot of time to update the engine or fix anything if we hurt something. I'm real proud for my team though, Charles Barnett, Paul Yates and everybody at RJ Racecars who make it all possible. We've been able to accomplish a lot of things this year using about a fourth of the parts that some of these big teams have. We're fourth in the points now and have done pretty well this season. We're just trying to maintain that momentum for the remainder of the year. There has never been a GMC Sonoma win a race, and I've always wanted to be the first one to do it but it's going to be tough. I can tell you, you've got two guys that have won every race this year and to beat those guys takes a lot."

Maybe it's just a matter of getting everything to fall in to place for you. "At every race there are two completely different contests during the weekend. One is qualifying and the other is elimination's on Sunday. On the first three qualifying attempts we always run before the Fuel classes. Then usually on Saturday afternoon we run after them and definitely on Sunday we run after them. The racetrack is completely different when you race like that. So you have to have two different tune ups, I do anyway for qualifying and raceday. So many people you will see do well at qualifying and then struggle on Sunday. Then you've got some really good racers that win a lot of races because they know what to do on Sunday. We're trying to get a handle on that. Our goal is to learn how to get down the racetrack when it's a little greaser, when there's more clutch dust, and oil dry and stuff like that. On the racing surface you have to have a tune up for that and we're gaining on it. We made some changes on Sunday in Atlanta that's helped us but we're just trying to learn how to race. We really don't have that much experience. I do as a tuner, but with my own racing program I don't have the experience that some of these guys do so we're just making small gains in that department."

So you can't take qualifying for granted. "That's right, but I never take anything for granted. If I can qualify I'm usually pretty happy, because if I can just get in this field then we have a chance. But qualifying is where it's just so tough. Coming into the summer months where it can get really hot your opportunities to make the field diminish. In Richmond for example, we had decent weather all weekend and you could have qualified in three or four sessions. In the summer time, if it gets really hot, that will narrow your opportunity down to just one or two sessions where you can get in. You really need to have your ducks in a row when it comes up to that one session, you got to have some luck as far as being in the correct lane, the fast lane, and have your tune up so you can run and get in. I mean that's tough to do in the summer."

What are you most proud of this year? "I think last season we had nine different engines for our truck the whole year. To come out this season with Reher Morrison's help, to have some big power, to be able to qualify our Country Motors Trailer Sales Sonoma at every race so far and have an average of going to the second round for the whole year at each race. I'm just real proud of that. That's a lot to do. I don't know if people understand how tough it is in Pro Stock Racing in trucks or cars."

The Pro Stock classes are exciting to watch. "The trucks are real competitive and the cars are too. To not get in the field by a thousandths of a second can just be devastating. It's just so competitive. I cannot emphasize how much that is, and right now there are 35 other trucks I guarantee that are working to get better all the time. So we're just trying to hold our own and qualify. At Atlanta I had to dig down deep, find some performance, and get aggressive driving to go some rounds and to keep my position in the top five which is our ultimate goal this year."

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Series NHRA