SBRS: Basketball is not for Jon Morley

One look at Jon Morley's long, lean frame and 'basketball player' is the first impression. But rather than attempting to perfect his outside jump-shot, the 6 foot plus 20-year old from Columbus, Ohio seeks to shave tenths of a second from his lap...

One look at Jon Morley's long, lean frame and 'basketball player' is the first impression. But rather than attempting to perfect his outside jump-shot, the 6 foot plus 20-year old from Columbus, Ohio seeks to shave tenths of a second from his lap times. The 2000 Barber Dodge Big Scholarship Co-Recipient is in the midst of his preparations for his rookie campaign in the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series, the Official Entry Level Professional Series of CART, and his commitment is unyielding.

The scene can be an incongruous one, watching him awkwardly fold himself into the tight confines of the Barber Dodge Reynard 98E cockpit only to see him execute his fluid lines through the curves of a racetrack. Morley hopes that his fluid style will propel him on to take the Barber-CART Rookie of the Year title and another scholarship to continue his Pro Series career. That battle will be a tough one as his principal competition will be his fellow Big Scholarship winner Rafael Sperafico. Pre season testing has been shown him to be quick. In two outings in 2001, he has topped the time sheets once, and come in third quickest the second time. Skip Barber Racing News chatted recently with Morley to get his take on how he got here, and what's ahead.

Tell us a bit about the roller coaster of emotions you must have gone through getting the invitation to the Big Scholarship, participating, not winning, then learning you would split it with Rafael Sperafico.

Getting the invitation was fantastic! It really was a dream come true when I got the call from Rick (Rataczjak, Barber Dodge Series Director) telling me that I was going to the Big Scholarship. During the competition I was feeling very good about my performances in all of the sessions and heading into the final day I felt I had a legitimate shot to win it. When Patrick (Long)'s name was called out at the end of the day I was heartbroken. It was big defeat for me because I had worked extremely hard leading up to the shootout, to come so close and fall just short was very tough to swallow. I kept my composure as best I could though, learned from my mistakes, and I believe I am now stronger than I ever have been. When I got my next call from Rick telling me I was going to split the scholarship with Rafael I was strangely subdued. I was very close to moving to England and starting over when I got the call from Rick telling me there was a chance for me to race in the Pro Series. Once I signed the contract however I started to realize the opportunity that I was getting and how great this year was going to be.

You've already made a Barber Dodge Pro Series start. Did that boost your confidence at the Big Scholarship Runoff?

I think it actually had the opposite effect on me. I knew that since I had raced at Mid-Ohio the expectations for me would be higher than they were for the others. I personally feel that experience has little influence on someone's speed in a car, ever since I tested faster than a Pro Series race winner in my first day in the pro car. I think they expected more out of me technically due to my experience and I guess I wasn't able to deliver that.

Take us through the Big Scholarship, how you approached it, and what you focused on to insure your success at the event.

I approached the Big Scholarship the same way I approach everything in racing, flat out! I came in knowing exactly what I needed to do and I was going to do it all. I figure that if you eliminate all possible excuses that are in your control, then you won't be needing any excuses because you'll be winning. The biggest excuse I aimed at eliminating before the shootout was lack of physical fitness. While I wasn't in bad shape I knew there was more there and by the time the shootout rolled around I was in the best shape I'd ever been in. At the event I focused on being fast in the car, keeping the car on the track, and just being myself outside of the car.

In the 2000 Formula Dodge National Championship Presented by RACER, you finished fifth overall with a win and three podiums. Did the year meet your expectations?

The year actually fell quite short of my expectations. After starting off the year with four consecutive race weekends with podium appearances, I began to learn some of the harsh realities of racing, and the second half of the season was just one big disappointment. I got stuck in a rut that I couldn't seem to claw my way out of, with the only apparent solution being the end of the season.

How did that series prepare you for the Barber Dodge Pro Series race that you did, and more importantly for the Big Scholarship Runoff?

The series was an excellent learning series, as I was up against some incredible competition every weekend, and it forced me to race hard no matter what position I was in. The constant competition became the most influential attribute, as I felt no extra pressure in the intense competition of the Pro Series or the Big Scholarship Runoff. I also feel that the series made me mentally tougher. I had to deal with a season that was very difficult at times and I was able to learn from some mistakes I made. In my opinion it was a great training ground for this coming year and I hope to get out to the track to watch some National Championship races this year because there is incredible action all through the field.

What have you been doing over the winter?

This winter has been about one thing and only one thing, racing. I have put college on hold for a couple quarters to fully concentrate all of my efforts into my racing career. I am on a strict workout program now that mixes weight training and cardiovascular training and have also started a no junk food diet. I am reading more books about racing and trying to make myself a better test driver because in a spec series that is what separates the field. The bulk of my day however is spent looking for that elusive sponsor that is going to help me fulfill my dream of being a professional racecar driver.

You're a big fan of Caroll Smith's book, "Drive to Win", how has this book helped you in your racing pursuits?

I'm a HUGE fan of that book! I have learned so many things from that book that I don't think I would have learned elsewhere. That is because Carroll Smith doesn't care what you think, he tells you what he thinks and that's that. He talks about the realities of racing in a way that no one else does, painting a truly bleak picture I might add, but it really helps keep the ego in check. I have also learned from his car set-up chapters about some of the basics of car set-up. One of my favorite chapters is the "don't burn the hand that supports you" chapter. It tells stories of how some people lost their sponsors and gives you the do's and don'ts of attitude and some basic rules of conduct. Lots of it may be stuff you already know, but a little refresher course never hurt anybody.

What do you expect the biggest challenge of your rookie year to be?

The biggest challenge of my rookie year will be racing on eight tracks that I have never been to before. The winter testing has helped me to get more comfortable in the car and has taught me some valuable lessons about car set-up, but it's a different story when you get to a track that you've never been to before. My first time out on a track is a picture perfect example of over-driving, a style that these cars will consistently punish you for. I hope to learn to pace myself better this year and make the most of the time I have on the new tracks. One other challenge for this year that I feel must be mentioned is the challenge of beating all the other rookie contenders. My biggest goal for this year is to win rookie of the year so that I will be able to race for free in the series again next year. The rookie class this year is going to make that as difficult as possible for me though and I look forward to the challenge.

The Big Scholarship is certainly going to help you overcome some financial obstacles this season. What else are you doing on the marketing sponsorship side this year?

As I said earlier the bulk of my day is spent looking for sponsorship money that will help me complete this season. My father and I work very hard putting together sponsorship proposals and contacting companies to try and sell them on the idea. My dad has also done an incredible job building my website from scratch. It is very hard to find a unique platform to catch someone's attention with and even to get them to talk to you. My father's latest idea may have to become a viable option if money doesn't materialize soon. He suggested to me today that I show up at some Columbus businesses in my racing suit with my helmet and try to generate some interest that way. It may interest the Columbus sanitarium more than the businesses but who knows until you've tried it?! Seriously though, I am chasing many leads right now and try to establish new ones to chase every day. I am convinced that with enough hard work on our part we will make it through the season successfully.

You stand well over six feet tall. How come you didn't go for a basketball scholarship?

Haha. I ask myself that every single time I try to work myself into that wonderfully compact Reynard tub we have. Once I get down in there though, fire that Dodge engine, and drop the clutch, I remember exactly why I didn't go for a basketball scholarship. I love racing more than any other sport in the world and I can not see myself doing anything else with my life. I'll tell you what though, you wouldn't want to calculate how many basketballs I could have bought with the money I've spent on racing so far!

-George Tamayo

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About this article
Series Other open wheel
Drivers Rafael Sperafico , Skip Barber , Jon Morley