CHASSIS BUILDER JONES ENTERS PRO STOCK TRUCK RANKS AS DRIVER DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Rick Jones celebrated an NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship in 1998 as the chassis builder of Warren Johnson's winning GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird. This year ...
CHASSIS BUILDER JONES ENTERS PRO STOCK TRUCK RANKS AS DRIVER
DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Rick Jones celebrated an NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship in 1998 as the chassis builder of Warren Johnson's winning GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird. This year Jones hopes to celebrate a Winston Pro Stock Truck championship as a driver.
One of the most talented chassis builders throughout the 1990s, Jones, from Galesburg, Ill., is now back behind the wheel, where his drag racing career started in the early 1980s.
After making his debut in NHRA's Pro Stock Truck category at Houston's O'Reilly Nationals, Jones hopes to take his program to the next level and become a contender at the fifth annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto, April 29-May 2 at Virginia Motorsports Park, near Richmond. The $1.6 million race is the sixth of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"It's very exciting to get back into driving," Jones said. "I think getting behind the wheel gives you a much better idea of your customers' needs. I'm sure it will make me a better chassis builder. That's still the No. 1 priority. Our success there has provided us with the opportunity to race, so we have to keep our main focus in that area. But it's been a lot of fun so far to get back in there and drive."
Jones developed his reputation for building quality race cars in IHRA, building several championship winning machines, including Scotty Cannon's 1996 Pro Modified Corvette. His NHRA Pro Stock client list grew this season following Johnson's dominating performance in '98. Jones now builds cars for top contenders Kurt Johnson, Mike Edwards and Tom Martino, among others.
"I have been content watching my customers win for a long time," said Jones, named the top Pro Stock chassis builder by Car Craft Magazine last year. "I've wanted to get back behind the wheel in the last year. I think this is a good time, especially with the help from GMC and from my customers."
Jones' chassis-building efforts have helped current points leader Kurt and defending champ Warren get an early jump on the competition in the NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship chase. In turn, the Johnsons are helping Jones find a winning combination for his new GMC Sonoma.
"We have a real good relationship with Warren and Kurt," Jones said. "We build their cars and help out a good deal with their research and development program on their chassis and aerodynamics. They've been helping me out a little with the truck, sort of pointing me in the right direction. I think it's exciting for them because it's different. We're getting along real well in the relationship."
Jones, along with David Spitzer, are currently the only drivers competing with the Sonoma. During the new entry's developmental stage, Spitzer has had some success, qualifying at Houston. Jones says with a little tweaking, the Sonoma can be just as fast as its rival pickup cousin, the Chevrolet S-10.
"The Sonoma is quite similar to the S-10, but it still has some characteristics that are very different," Jones said. "It's a new program and we're going to do quite a bit of testing, and hopefully learn a little more about the Sonoma and make it better than the S-10. I've always had a great relationship with GMC and it's been kind of a natural deal for us to join the GMC program."
At Houston, Jones clocked a respectable 7.76 second, 175 mph effort, good enough for 30th out of a record 35 entries. While his truck wasn't one of the 16 for eliminations, Jones didn't fret. He was satisfied with the effort. After planning to make his initial start at Gainesville, Fla., a heavy workload at his chassis shop put his driving debut on hold. It also limited his testing time with the truck.
"It takes a few laps to get back in the groove of driving, but I feel pretty comfortable," Jones said. "Now we just need to qualify and get into eliminations. At Houston we didn't have enough time to test and ended up using the national event to test. It's pretty tough to qualify under those circumstances. I feel pretty confident about our chances of making the race in Virginia."