Mike Jones’ rookie Late Model Stock season at South Boston Speedway was a trial by fire – literally.
And despite that fire that drew international attention and robbed him of a couple of starts midway through the year, he was still able to declare “mission accomplished” at the end of the season.
“I think we probably did accomplish all of our goals,” Jones said of the 2018 campaign, his first in Late Models. “Our main goal was to win the (NASCAR) Virginia state rookie of the year and we did that. And to be competitive … run in the top three, top five, even though we didn’t get the finishes to go our way. But the speed was there. So, I think we accomplished all of our goals.”
Jones’ season was almost cut short when his car burst into flames after a crash in a 100-lapper midway through the season. His father Dean immediately vaulted the infield wall and helped his son out of the flaming car.
“It was the hardest hit I’ve ever experienced,” Jones said after the wreck.
Two days later he was an internet star. The crash had been viewed millions of times on social media platforms and websites. For a week he was interviewed by media outlets from across the United States and around the world.
“It was pretty insane talking to all those people,” Jones said of the media crush. “But at the time I thought we were done for the season because of the damage. But a local fellow stepped up and helped us.
“The first race back we led over 90 laps or whatever it was. That was actually the last race he ever came to. He passed away toward the end of the year. Meeting him was probably the biggest positive out of all of that.”
The gentleman wanted to remain anonymous, a request Jones still honors.
There was a learning curve in 2018 for Jones. “I learned to not be as aggressive. In Limited races, 50 laps or twin 25s, you are basically qualifying on every lap, so I had to slow my pace down.”
And Jones figures he had a pair of the best instructors that can be found anywhere at South Boston last season.
“I was able to be behind Philip (Morris) and Peyton (Sellers) a lot, and I was watching and learning from what they did,” Jones said referring to the pair of national champions. “Those guys have 10s of thousands of laps around this place. I tried to learn as much off them as I could because they are the best. Anytime you can run third or fourth to multi-time national champions, that’s a good night.”
Jones’ major take-away from 2018 was tire management.
“The biggest thing from last year was probably how to manage my tires better. I never had to do that before. Every race trying to not go so fast was the biggest thing I learned. Hopefully that will transfer to this year.”
The 2019 South Boston season will kick off on Saturday, March 16 with the Danville Toyota NASCAR Twin Late Model 100s, an afternoon of racing featuring twin 100-lap Late Model races, a 50-lap Limited Sportsman race, a 30-lap Pure Stock race and a 15-lap Hornets race.
Tickets are $10 for adults with children 12-and-under admitted free with a paying adult.
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