Erik Jones combines personal passions in new foundation to give back to community

Erik Jones Foundation
Danny Hansen/CIA Stock Photo
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BROOKLYN, Michigan – Facing a captive young audience occupying two rows of picnic tables lined with black tablecloths, Erik Jones smiled and spoke with a rare trace of giddiness in his voice.

“Are you guys ready?” Jones asked on a microphone while seated before a group of several dozen gathered last Sunday morning in the Graves Family Campground about a half-mile from Michigan International Speedway. “Are you on the first page?”

The silence from several children under 10 (patiently waiting with rapt attention and their books open) indicated yes, so the Richard Petty Motorsports driver got to work.

“A is for ‘Apple blossom,” Jones said, pausing to add, “The apple blossom is actually the state flower of Michigan” — the first of many improvised factoids he sprinkled into a 10-minute reading of “M Is for Mitten” (an alphabet-themed ode to his native state).

The event was the culmination of a whirlwind week home for the Byron, Michigan, native, who threw out the first pitch of a Detroit Tigers game, stayed at his boyhood abode and attended the Woodward Dream Cruise in downtown Detroit.

But the two most important happenings revolved around the new Erik Jones Foundation, which was unveiled last week in downtown Flint. The #READWithErik event capped a successful debut weekend for the charitable foundation, which collected more than 100 book donations in two locations at MIS and also raised more than $2,000 online.

Erik Jones Foundation
Erik Jones smiles during a reading of “M Is For Mitten” before last Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway (Danny Hansen/CIA Stock Photo).

Sunday morning was one of many book readings Jones has held the past two years, but this marked only the second in person at a racetrack. Since the first in March 2019 at Auto Club Speedway, Jones, 25, exclusively had done the readings on Facebook Live last year after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted plans for at-track events, which he said are “just a better way to connect with the kids.

“I hope that one of those kids takes up reading more and just is inspired by, ‘Hey, that was cool. I think it’s cool that Erik likes to read, and now I want to read more books,’ ” Jones told NBC Sports. “So that’s what I hope they get from it.

“I never had that one moment where somebody was like, ‘Oh, that guy reads a lot. I think that’s really cool. I want to read more.’ I just naturally was reading myself. So if I can be that guy that inspires someone to read more, I think that’s pretty cool.”


Erik Jones Foundation
(Danny Hansen/CIA Stock Photo)

Jones has been a voracious reader since childhood when his late father began reading to him nightly. They started with children’s books but eventually moved onto adult fare that focused on biographies. The lives of General Motors founder Billy Durant, the Wright Brothers and Jeff Gordon resonated from those bedtime sessions.

“Books that were too advanced to read myself, but him reading them to me, they made a lot more sense,” Jones said. “It was something I just enjoyed in bonding with my dad.”

It’s one of multiple ways the foundation has been driven by the memory of Dave Jones, who died June 7, 2016 three months after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer.

Erik Jones has made early cancer detection care another focus of his foundation.

“I’ve always been doing stuff with reading since I started getting into NASCAR,” he said. “Losing my dad to cancer started getting me involved with that world.”

The third tier of the Erik Jones Foundation is aimed at supporting animals, which is no surprise for Jones, whose German Shepherd, Oscar, is a frequent star of the driver’s social media accounts. “I’ve been an animal lover my whole life, and we’ve worked with shelters the last five years,” he said.

One of the primary concepts of the foundation is to formalize the work Jones already had been doing to promote reading, cancer awareness and dog adoption.

“Really the foundation was built from things I’ve been doing the last five years on my own, donating to different foundations, supporting different foundations,” he said. “That’s how all those things came together. They’re three different parts of my life of things I really cared about. When I meet new people, these are things I talk about a lot, essentially. And that’s where it all came from.

“I want to be able to have a better platform to do it. There’s just things that I really care about enough that I want to be able to give back to, wherever I am in racing. I’m still at a point that I’m fortunate enough to live my dream in racing, and that’s been awesome. And I’m at a point where I feel I can give back to the community.”


The Erik Jones Foundation’s first official financial donation was to the Genesee District Library, a system of 19 locations based in Flint that has an online challenge for reading 1,000 books to children before they start kindergarten.

That came two days before more news involving Jones, who re-signed with Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2022 Cup Series season.

The timing of his foundation’s formation is notable because of his career trajectory. Many NASCAR stars have started foundations after reaching first-tier teams (and increasing their seven-figure earnings potential).

After three seasons at NASCAR’s premier level with Joe Gibbs Racing (and a rookie season with Furniture Row Racing), Jones is putting a greater effort behind his philanthropy after moving from a powerhouse four-car championship contender to a single-car team with only one playoff appearance in seven years.

Erik Jones Foundation
Erik Jones spent time with a few dozen family members and friends during a prerace tailgate at Michigan (Danny Hansen/CIA Stock Photo).

Jones said the career moves don’t impact his charitable vision, though.

“My dream was to race for a living and race in NASCAR, and I’ve gotten to do that since 2017 in Cup Series,” he said. “It really doesn’t change my outlook at all. Especially I’m still young. I’m 25 still. Some people forget that sometimes. I feel like I’ve still got a lot of years in the sport and want to be here for a long time ahead. And getting the foundation started at a young age and earlier in my career, I think it’ll just be better to be able to build it and grow it. And have more opportunities to do things with it.”

Ranked 24th in the points standings with a best of seventh at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Jones is mired in his worst Cup season but with recalibrated expectations.

“We’ve wanted to run better at times, at times we’ve done what we can,” he said. “It’s just week to week you try to improve little by little. Getting a top 10 at Indy was great and more attrition finish than anything. But still we take pride in running in the top 10. I feel we’ve been on par with what was expected. I don’t know that we’ve exceeded expectations. At times we have but not consistently.”

Erik Jones Foundation
Erik Jones signed three special quarter-panels after his book reading Sunday (Danny Hansen/CIA Stock Photo).

No matter to a hometown crowd that celebrated him at every opportunity last week. After the book reading, Jones was greeted by a superfan who wanted the driver’s autograph on three quarter-panels from his winning cars in The Clash and the Southern 500 and the Camry he drove in his Cup debut at Kansas Speedway.

That immediately was followed by a prerace Erik Jones Foundation tailgate that drew more than 60 family members and friends.

“It just always feels special to come here,” he said. “It definitely cool to come back home and feel the support from not only friends and family, but also the fans in general, that come out here. They definitely love their fellow Michiganders so it’s always cool.”

Where are they now? Scott Riggs races with son, Layne

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Scott Riggs, who raced for 15 years in NASCAR’s top three national series, now is guiding the racing career of his 20-year-old son, Layne.

And things are going well.

Layne won this year’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model championship, scoring 16 wins in 43 starts and edging former series champion Peyton Sellers by four points for the title.

Riggs thus became the youngest champion in Weekly Series history.

“It all started when Layne was 10 years old, mostly just something to entertain him and to have some fun,” Scott told NBC Sports. “But it’s turned into a full-fledged job. My life and plate have been full.”

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes

The Riggs family’s race shop is located in Bahama, North Carolina, Riggs’ home base during his NASCAR career. Scott describes himself as the “truck driver, spotter, crew chief and in-shop mechanic.”

“I am very tired,” he said.

The team, which depends on volunteers, didn’t plan to race in so many events this season, but when Layne started the year with a string of victories, it made sense to chase the national championship and give him a chance to be the youngest winner ever.

“To chase it that hard and be that close and then to win it, it was very exhausting,” Scott said. “It was a very big relief to finish the year.”

Success on short tracks resulted in Layne racing in three Camping World Truck Series events this year with Halmar Racing. He had a best finish of seventh at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in his series debut.

MORE: Snowball Derby attracts top NASCAR drivers

Scott Riggs ended his NASCAR driving career in 2014 in the Truck Series. He won five Truck races and four Xfinity races and ran 208 Cup races without a win. He made his Truck debut in 1999, moved to Xfinity in 2002 (winning Rookie of the Year) and then to Cup in 2004.

Riggs, now 51, raced in the Cup Series from 2004-13 with stops at MB2 Motorsports and with teams owned by Gene Haas, Tommy Baldwin and Ray Evernham, among others. He had four top-five finishes.

“I think I was very fortunate and the timing was right for me to move up through the ranks and get so many good opportunities,” Riggs said. “I raced late models for a long time, and then all of a sudden I got the opportunity to get in a truck. Won some races and poles and won races and poles in Xfinity.”

MORE: Jody Ridley’s upset for the ages

He ran out of chances in Cup as team models shifted, including some downsizing and mergers.

“I felt like I couldn’t get an opportunity that I had worked for and earned,” Riggs said. “It was hard for me. I was bitter for a year or so. But I look back, and a realization came over me that I was fortunate to have that time with my kids when they were at the right ages. I got to watch them do their things and just be the dad I wanted to be — not being gone four out of every seven days racing.

“I don’t think I’d have the relationship I have today with my kids if I had had a longer time in the sport.”

 

 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

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The best quotes from drivers and others involved in NASCAR competition often come in the heat of the moment — after a crash or a close finish or a controversial decision by officials.

NASCAR’s history is filled with memorable quotes from drivers who won races to drivers who watched wins slip away to officials caught in a moment of history.

Here’s a look at 10 that stand out:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. “I didn’t mean to turn him around. I meant to rattle his cage, though.” — Dale Earnhardt, describing how he didn’t mean to wreck Terry Labonte after he wrecked Labonte on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race.

2. “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. There’s no way to get around that.” — Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010, offering his opinion on why Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team won so many races after Johnson outran him to win at Auto Club Speedway.

MORE: An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley wins at Dover

3. “It’s a stump-puller.” — Sterling Marlin, emphasizing the strength of his engine after he won the Daytona 500 Feb. 19, 1995.

4. “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.” — Joey Logano, talking about Kevin Harvick after they were involved in a late-race crash at Pocono Raceway June 6, 2010. Harvick’s wife, DeLana, often wore a firesuit similar to those worn by team members during races.

5. “Do you have a brother?” — Ward Burton, responding to a reporter who asked if it was tougher to finish second because the race winner was his brother, Jeff, March 7, 1999 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

6. “I couldn’t hear him. He’s got that little yap-yap mouth. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.” — Ricky Rudd, commenting on what Kevin Harvick said to him after they wrecked at Richmond Raceway, Sept. 6, 2003.

7. “We can’t race with tears in our eyes.” — team owner Robert Yates, explaining why his team would not participate in the next week’s race after its driver, Davey Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash, July 1993.

8. “He’d have to toast everyone with milk.” — Dale Earnhardt, commenting on the celebratory drink choice Jeff Gordon might make if he ever won the Cup championship. After he won the 1995 Cup title, Gordon followed through, toasting his championship with a glass of milk at the awards banquet.

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9. “You know they say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice.” — Tony Stewart, winning the pre-race trash-talk contest with Carl Edwards prior to the 2011 race for the championship. Stewart had won the title in 2002 and 2005 and notched another over Edwards in 2011.

10. “This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I’ve ever personally had to make, but after the accident in Turn 4 of the Daytona 500 we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.” — NASCAR President Mike Helton, confirming Earnhardt’s death at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 18, 2001.

Honorable mentions: David Pearson, after being told that Richard Petty had said Pearson was the best driver he ever raced against: “I agree with him.” … CBS broadcaster Ken Squier, calling the famous finish of the 1979 Daytona 500: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers, overflowing. They are angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.” … NASCAR founder Bill France, providing a unique ending to a pre-race prayer after temporarily forgetting to use Amen: “Sincerely, Bill France.”

Snowball Derby entry list includes NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck drivers

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Four Cup drivers are among those entered for Sunday’s 55th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The Cup drivers entered are former series champion Brad Keselowski, playoff competitor William Byron, two-time Southern 500 winner Erik Jones and incoming Cup rookie Noah Gragson, who advanced to the Xfinity title race this year.

Also entered: Josh Berry, who competed in the Xfinity championship race this year, and Ty Majeski, who competed in the Truck championship race this year.

Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby. Gragson won the race in 2018. Jones won the event in 2012 and ’13.

Others entered include:

Chandler Smith, who won the 2021 Snowball Derby and will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2023, is listed on the entry list but stated on social media he will not be competing.

The Snowball Derby is among the more prestigious Super Late Model races on the calendar and coming after the NASCAR season makes it easier for more Cup, Xfinity and Truck competitors to take part in the event.

Qualifying takes place Saturday. The Snowball Derby is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Racing America will stream Sunday’s race for $49.99. A three-day viewing pass can be purchased for $74.99.

 

 

An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley’s 1981 victory at Dover

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NASCAR’s history is sprinkled with upsets, from unlikely winners riding the Talladega draft to short tracks that yielded unexpected wins when favored leaders crashed on the final lap.

Survey the list of surprise winners over the decades, and Jody Ridley’s name likely will stand out.

On May 17, 1981, two days shy of his 39th birthday, Ridley won a 500-mile race at Dover Motor Speedway in Delaware. It was the only victory of Ridley’s Cup career and the only win scored by Virginia team owner Junie Donlavey, who participated in the Cup Series for 45 years, with 863 starts.

Donlavey’s team was perpetually underfunded, and his drivers often raced with tired, overused engines and tires that had too many laps. He survived with a mostly volunteer crew and enough sponsorship to carry him from race to race. Rival drivers and team owners considered Donlavey one of the most popular residents of NASCAR garage areas across those many years, but he rarely had the chance to reach for victory lane.

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On that spring day at Dover, one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks, everything fell the right way. Many of the tour’s leading drivers parked with engine or overheating problems, and the day’s best car – the Wood Brothers entry driven by Neil Bonnett — was sidelined with an engine issue late in the race after leading 404 laps.

Ridley, running a steady race, benefited from an unusual day at Dover. The race had only two cautions, and the final 471 laps of 500 were run under green-flag conditions. A general lack of cautions prevented top teams from changing tires frequently, putting Ridley, who was used to running tires longer than normal, on better footing.

When Cale Yarborough left the race with engine trouble 20 laps from the finish, Ridley inherited the lead — he had been two laps down to Yarborough — and led the rest of the way. He won by 22 seconds over Bobby Allison, who was the only other driver on the lead lap. Dale Earnhardt finished third, a lap down. Illustrating the problems experienced by many in the field — not an unusual result in those days — was the fact that the fourth-place driver, D.K. Ulrich, was nine laps off the lead pace.

Ridley drove into Victory Lane for the first time, much to the delight of Donlavey’s crew.

“Junie took it all in stride,” Ridley, now 80, told NBC Sports. “He wasn’t as excited as the team guys were. Junie was the type of guy who didn’t want to cash in on other people’s bad luck. He kind of felt sorry for the guys who blew up. That’s just the way he was.

“For me, it was the highlight of my career. Once I got into Cup racing, I knew we probably wouldn’t do much winning because we didn’t have the equipment. It was icing on the cake to win that one.”

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Jody’s son Anthony, then 22 years old, was listening to the race via radio in Chatsworth, Georgia, where the family lived.

“I was upstairs at my girlfriend’s house, and I think I bounced all over the upstairs and then floated down to the first floor,” Anthony said. “It was all pretty cool. Dad called home. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t get real excited about anything, but he was happy.”

The win paid $22,560. Ridley’s cut from the check (40 percent, generally standard in those days) was $9,024, a nice payday but not Ridley’s biggest in Cup. He would win more for finishing in the top 10 in the Daytona 500.

“We were having a good day,” Ridley said, “but I never thought about winning it. We just didn’t have the cars. But we stayed in the hunt, and the other teams couldn’t get too many new tires, and Junie had put a different gear in the car. Normally he would put in a taller gear and drop the RPMs down (to protect the engine), and you couldn’t keep up. For some reason that day, he didn’t. And it paid off.”

Before joining the Cup tour full time in 1980 at age 37, Ridley had established himself as one of the top short-track drivers in the country. Across the South, at top Eastern Seaboard tracks and into the Midwest, a visit by Ridley usually meant a tough night for the locals.

MORE: Five laps that impacted Cup season

Ridley’s older brother, Biddle, and Anthony kept the Ridley short-track cars running.

“We did all that together for 36 years,” said Anthony, who started changing tires during pit stops at the age of 14. “It was how we made a living, but trying to feed three families out of a race car is tough.”

Ridley still lives in Chatsworth, where his 1981 victory was a sports highlight for years.

“He can’t hear well, but he’s still tough as a pine knot,” Anthony said.