Memories of his father drive Erik Jones to racing excellence
Article Published by: motorsport.com
Erik Jones cherishes the memories of riding in his dad’s restored Corvettes listening to classic rock. When the father and son weren’t racing, they were working on cars in their Michigan garage, with the radio blaring in the background. That’s how Jones’ love affair with Rock ‘n’ Roll began.
“Being at home with him in the garage mostly on the weekends and driving around with him, that was all he listened to,” Jones said. “It became a road trip quiz for us as we started really traveling with racing. A lot of times it was just him and I driving down the road. We’d be listening to music and he would ask, ‘Do you know who this is?’ Or ‘Do you know who that is?’ And I’d say, ‘No.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, it’s so and so.’ Or ‘Do you know what this song is?’
“Eventually, I started to figure it out. And now, it’s kind of a lot of useless knowledge, but it’s still fun. I enjoy it. I really became a big fan for him. And I’m still a big fan, so it’s fun.”
Losing his father
Those Rock ‘n’ Roll rides are now memories. Jones lost his father, Dave Jones, to lung cancer on June 7, 2016. Prior to his passing, team owner Joe Gibbs assured Dave his son would be all right. Toyota had a plan that would shepherd the youngster through the Xfinity Series to the Monster Energy Cup tour for a year with Furniture Row Racing and then back to JGR in 2018.
Jones had quickly ascended through the NASCAR ranks. At 17, he won his first Camping World Truck Series race. Two years later, Jones won the 2015 truck title while dabbling in the Xfinity tour. In just his ninth NXS start, Jones found Victory Lane. In 2016, despite dealing with his father’s illness, Jones scored four wins and nine poles and transferred to the final four in the Playoffs before losing the title to teammate Daniel Suarez.
It’s never easy to loose a parent. To Jones, his father represented his hero, his mentor and best friend.
“As time goes by, I think you learn how to deal with it better,” Jones said. “Obviously, you never forget about it. I always wish he was here to see some of the stuff I get to do and be a part of it. There’s still times when you think I’d just love to call him and say, ‘Hey, you won’t believe what happened to me today.’
“But as time has gone on, I’ve started to figure out how to get by without him. He did a lot for me. There’s a lot of gaps that I had to fill behind the scenes that he would take care of always. It was a big adjustment, but every day that goes by, it gets a little bit easier.”
From Michigan to NASCAR’s premier division
Jones, 21, grew up in Byron, Michigan, a town of fewer than 600 residents an hour northwest of Detroit. The family’s close proximity to the Motor City and his father’s talent for reconditioning vintage Corvettes enabled Jones to learn about car culture first-hand. Before his father’s illness, Jones set out to recover the 1965 Corvette the family sold to bankroll his career a decade ago. It’s one of a pair of the iconic sports cars that he holds dear.
“One is the ’65 that he bought when I was really young,” Jones said. “We always rode around in it. I have a ton of memories of that car. The other one is a ’69 that he and I started to restore together about a year before he got sick. We started working on it, got a long ways with it, but he got sick and kind of pushed it off to the side. So I just recently got that one back out, and I’m in the process of finishing it back up.
“Those two cars were always really special to me. Really the ’69 almost more that the other because we, together, put a lot of work into it. It was really a neat memory for us. It was kind of the first time we got to work on something besides racing. It was really a neat deal.”
But the music also reminds Jones of the times they shared. Recently, he took his friends to see fellow Michigander Bob Seger play. No doubt the 20-somethings lowered the average age of the concert-goers considerably.
“I think we all did,” Jones said. “Me and a few of my buddies that aren’t much older than me went. We’re all really big Bob Seger fans. He put on a great show. He really did. Unfortunately, he got really sick after that. It was one of the last shows he did last year.
“But it was really cool to see him. A lot of people had said how great he was in concert, and he puts on just as great of a show as he always did, I believe.”
Soon, it will be Jones’ turn to put on a show. In less than three weeks, he’ll turn the page to the 2018 season behind the wheel of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota—just as the Coach promised Dave Jones two years ago.
Rookie Cup season
Although Jones won rookie honors in Cup last year, he thought his results could have been better. But he and crew chief Chris Gayle have pored over race video and identified certain areas of Jones’ performance, such as green flag pit stops, where the team can make significant gains.
Jones believes the best way to pay tribute to his father’s memory is by continuing to excel on the race track.
“It’s what we built,” Jones said. “Him and I worked hard to make it to this level in racing. I couldn’t have done it without him. He guided me in the right direction, led me down the right paths and taught me the right things along the way. Things I didn’t really appreciate at that time until recently. I wouldn’t, for sure, be here without him.
“I think the best way I always think to honor him is to embrace the things he taught me and try to be a great race car driver as well.”
About Michael Smeriglio Racing Corp.
The Michael Smeriglio Racing Corp., MSIII Racing, has won the Nascar Whelen Modified Tour Championship three years running. Along with his driver, Doug Coby and crew chief, Phil Moran they are creating a dynasty in short track racing on the east coast.