At the age of 20, Erik Jones lost his father to cancer. At the age of 53, Dave Jones lost his life. More tragically, he lost the opportunity to watch his son race full time in the Cup series. He was not present to watch the sophomore driver win his first Cup race in his 57th start Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway – two years and one month to the day of his father’s passing.
Dave was diagnosed with lung cancer early in 2016 and an aggressive form of the disease took him three months later on June 7.
A piece of Dave lives on with his son’s career – a career that would not have happened without sacrifices to give Erik the best equipment possible during his formative days as a late model racer.
One of these sacrifices was a blue 1965 Corvette.
After winning the Coke Zero Sugar 400, Jones recalled the day his dad first sold the car.
“I was, I don’t know, maybe 12 or 13. We were just trying to get into late model racing around that time, whenever it was, and my dad was in the car business, specifically Corvettes at the time or selling reproduction parts and doing restoration, and he had bought a Corvette of his own when I was maybe five or six years old.
“One day he came home, and he had sold the car, and I was like, ‘man, why did you do that,’ and he’s like, ‘well, we’ve got to fund the racing somehow.’”
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The relationship between Dave and Erik is an integral part of what makes Erik so special to his car owner Joe Gibbs and Toyota.
“I asked (Dave) one time if he raced,” Gibbs said following the race. “He said, ‘no, Erik just said, I want to do this.’”
That was enough for Dave to commit to his son’s dream.
“He was so supportive, and (his death) was just a horrible thing,” Gibbs continued. “It was just terrible. So that’s a part of Erik, I think, winning tonight. I think obviously it’s an emotional thing for him because his dad would have absolutely loved it.”
The early sacrifice paid dividends almost immediately. While Dave did not get chance to see Erik’s first Cup win, there was plenty that he did get a chance to witness.
A couple of years after the sale of the Corvette, Jones grabbed Kyle Busch‘s attention by beating him in the 2012 Snowball Derby, along with Chase Elliott and David Ragan. The next year, Busch hired Jones to race in his No. 51 late model. Jones won back-to-back Snowball Derbies as well as several other high-profile late model races that year.
Dave was there to see his son race for Busch in the Truck series. The pair won in their first season together in 2013. Jones went on to win six more Truck races and the 2015 championship. Dave saw Erik win four of his nine Xfinity races for Gibbs.
Six months after his father’s death, Jones tracked down the Corvette and repurchased it.
“That wasn’t the only thing that was sold along the way, and things that were – chances that were taken financially to get me to this point,” Jones continued. “But I was able to buy that car back actually about a year and a half ago, and that was pretty cool, same car, so that was pretty neat to get that back. I always wanted to give it back to him, but it sure feels good to have it in my hands now. … I definitely wish he could have been here to see this one.”