Jagger Jones is going to spend Spring Break not in Daytona Beach or Fort Lauderdale – but he’ll be seeing a lot of sand nonetheless.
About 1,300 miles worth.
The 16-year-old rookie NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver will be taking part in his second consecutive National Off-Road Racing Association 1000 off-road race (also known as the Mexican 1000) from April 28 – May 2 in Baja California, Mexico.
Sitting alongside Jones and splitting driving duties will be legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme, who will also be competing in his second Mexican 1000.
“It’s not an easy race, for sure,” Jones told NBC Sports. “It’s long, it’s five days, it’s hot, the end of April and the start of May. Don really liked being in last year’s race, but I could tell he was unsure if he was up to do it again. Then my dad and I threw out the deal where we split the race and Don was on-board with that. We both just jumped on that idea.”
While other teenagers may be intimidated to be paired with one of the most legendary names in motorsports, Jones isn’t. He’s used to being around iconic racers, most notably his grandfather, Parnelli Jones. And his father, P.J., is not only a noted racer himself, he also built the Polaris off-road buggy that his son and Prudhomme will drive in the 1000.
“It’s really cool to be able to do a race with the one and only Snake, who has been such a legend in the drag racing community,” Jones said. “I’m only 16 years old, so I think it’s pretty awesome.
“I’ve always been around the off-road scene and watched my dad do a lot of races off-road. I grew up around Robby Gordon and off-road places like Parker (Arizona), where we always go there every year and go camping. I’ve always wanted to do off-road racing. My brother and I both enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of different than the pavement stuff. It’s really fun when you’re sideways and stuff.”
Prudhomme is looking forward to racing with Jagger.
“Doing it with Jagger, he’s a young, real aggressive driver and he’s really fast,” Prudhomme said. “I couldn’t think of a better kid to be my co-driver.”
Jones is able to take part in the Mexican 1000 because the K&N Series West is on a six-week hiatus, his next race not being until May 11 in Tucson.
He’s done well in his first two K&N races, finishing runner-up in his series debut at Las Vegas (was knocked out of the lead on the final lap) and fourth at Irwindale Speedway.
Jones sits tied for third in the K&N West standings, three points behind series frontrunner Hailie Deegan.
“I think we’ve had a great start to the season,” Jones said. “It was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but … so far for a rookie season, I don’t think it’s too bad of a start.”
Jones competed in last year’s Mexican 1000 with younger brother Jace. The pair were in the lead when the transmission on their off-road buggy failed, ending their hopes of a win (their father won in another class in the same race). Prudhomme finished 95th in a field of more than 150 drivers in the same event.
Much like Prudhomme feels he has unfinished business in Baja, Jones feels the same way. Now paired with the “Snake,” Jagger is ready to go for the win.
“We definitely have a shot at winning,” Jones said. “It’s like an endurance race. First, you have to finish to win. That’s probably going to be our biggest goal.
“We want to do good, but if we can just finish, I think we’ll wind up in a good place. If we finish, anything else is a bonus. To win would be awesome. My dad won last year, so if we could follow that up this year, it’d be super cool.”
Jones, the grandson of famed racer Parnelli Jones, was seeking the win in his first career start. Jones led entering the final lap but was pinched by the lapped car of Kenny Bumbera entering Turn 1. That allowed Deegan to close and get underneath Jones’ car and make the winning pass off Turn 2. Jones charged into Turn 3 and hit Deegan’s car in the back but she held on to win.
“I thought … (Jones) is so far away, I was thinking something good is going to have to happen for me to win this race,” Deegan told NASCAR Home Tracks after the race. “He slowly started coming back, slowly starting coming back, but I’m like it’s not enough, we’re not going to catch him by the end.
“The lappers started coming up, and I was like, ‘OK, they’re helping us, they’re helping us.’ They started pulling him back, pulling him back, pulling him back. I was like, man, watch this come down to the last lap again. I’m not coming home in second. We did that last year. I ain’t going to do that again.
“I had to do something to make the move. So I shoved my nose in there, squiggled my way through that corner and just parked around the bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4 and got it done.”
Jones finished second in the 100-lap race. Joey Tanner placed third.
“Oh I think her move was fine,” Jones said. “I mean she didn’t really do anything too bad. It’s just the lapped car cut me off in front. It just pushed me up the track. Once that all happened she had a whole lane to herself. It was kind of given to her, which is unfortunate on the last lap. It just sucks sometimes.”
The next K&N Pro Series West race will be March 30 at Irwindale (California) Speedway.
What could be the start of a promising NASCAR career begins tonight at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jagger Jones, the 16-year-old grandson of legendary racer Parnelli Jones, and son of former NASCAR and IndyCar racer P.J. Jones, will make his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut in the Star Nursery 100 (NBCSN will air the race at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday).
The third-generation racer, a junior at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona, has spent his life at racetracks. While he only saw his grandfather race on film, from a toddler on, Jagger Jones watched his father race, then climbed behind the wheel of a go-kart himself at the age of 6.
“I just really fell in love with the sport, and that was it from there,” Jones told NBC Sports. “I grew up at the racetrack, going to the races with my dad and grandpa.
“For me, it’s all I’ve known to do. When I was little, I played with toy cars. When I had dreams, they were about becoming a professional race car driver. I was always influenced by the racing scene, and that’s all I knew, honestly.”
While his grandfather and father spent time in the NASCAR Cup ranks, they’re primarily known for their success in IndyCar and off-road racing. In 1962, Parnelli Jones became the first driver to qualify at more than 150 mph for the Indianapolis 500 and then went on to win The Greatest Spectacle In Racing one year later. He also owned the team when Al Unser Sr. won the 500 in 1970 and 1971, as well as the team that won the 1970-1972 USAC National Championships.
P.J. Jones won IMSA’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 1993 and spent several years in the 1990s racing for one of his father’s best friends: Dan Gurney and his All American Racers. P.J. Jones also achieved noteworthy success in off-road racing and most recently competed in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen in 2017.
But Jagger Jones is determined to bring the family name back to prominence in NASCAR.
“A lot of people wonder why I chose the NASCAR route and why I didn’t follow my grandpa’s route,” he said. “I know a lot about his past and he raced kind of everything and so did my dad. They both raced a lot of IndyCar, NASCAR and off-road.
“For me, I really admire all that, but I wanted to focus on just one thing, especially at this stage of my career, and I decided to go the NASCAR route. … Always being around him and at the racetrack, for sure, my grandfather has influenced me a lot. He’s been a huge supporter of my racing and he’s always helped out, especially the last few years when I moved up from go-karts to late models.
“My dad has always been a huge help in my career, as well. He’s always supported my racing, of course, and no matter what, he’s always trying to help me with sponsors, with on-track stuff and always trying to put me with the best teams, the best situation. Once I told him I wanted to become a professional race car driver, he’s always supported me and did what he could to further my racing.”
It was seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson that brought Jones to Dale Jr.’s attention.
“I’ve known (Johnson) since I was pretty little, and he’s helped me in my racing career,” Jones said. “We talk every once in a while, which is pretty cool.”
When Jones takes the green flag in tonight’s race, his grandfather’s and father’s legacies will be riding with him.
“It’s all about the desire to win, putting the work in, going out there, knowing you’re the best, that you can do this and you have the desire to win,” Jones said. “We’re not just out here for fun. Sure, you better be having fun, hopefully when you’re racing, but it’s the desire to win that’s going to really take you somewhere in your career … and doing whatever it takes.”
Jones has been looking forward to his K&N debut for the last two years. While a lot of eyes will be on him due to his surname and family pedigree, he’s prepared.
“I just want to go out there and learn,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing I’m going to do and focus on, try to learn in every session, listen to other people and really take advice.”
Jones will drive for the No. 6 Sunshine Ford team that won last year’s K&N Pro Series West championship. He’ll also have Bill Sedgwick, a six-time K&N West champion – twice as a driver (1991-92) and four times as a crew chief (2004-05, 2009 and 2013) – as his crew chief.
“I think 16 is a good age to be moving up into the K&N Series,” Jones said. “Hailie and Todd were about this age when they got their first start with the K&N West.
“People say there’s pressure and I have to perform, that it’s really a big step in my racing career. But for me, if I just do the right things, focus on learning and learning, I think I’ll be fine. I’m not too worried.”
The future will come in time
For Jones, this year’s K&N campaign is a first step toward what he hopes one day will be a move to NASCAR Cup racing. His philosophy is simple: He’ll take things one step at a time. If he enjoys success, promotion to higher series will come naturally.
“There’s a lot of drivers that have come from different backgrounds, different ages and different times, so I don’t think it’s necessary that at 22 you have to be here, at 25, you have to be this or at 18, you have to be here,” he said. “We have a basic plan where we’re doing K&N this year, maybe some ARCA races next year and maybe when I’m old enough, to go to Trucks when I’m 18.
“But really, we just have to play the way the opportunities present themselves, how I’m doing, my experience level, all of that. There’s not a set plan to follow, but definitely a basic outline of how I’m going to get to be racing Sundays full time – within the next seven years I’d say, at the most.”
While Jones’ 85-year-old grandfather won’t be in Las Vegas to watch his grandson, he will be on hand for several upcoming K&N races at tracks closer to his Southern California home. But Jagger’s father, P.J., and mom, Jolaina, will be in Las Vegas, along with Jagger’s 14-year-old brother, Jace, who is taking his older brother’s seat in Late Model racing this season.
“I’m really excited,” Jagger Jones said. “The days have been feeling longer once you get closer to a race just because you’re so anxious. But once you do some laps in practice, I think everything settles, and you have a better idea of where you’re at.
“I’ve only tested a K&N car two times, and that was both on pavement. Now, we go into a dirt race, which I’ve never raced on a dirt oval before. There’s a lot of unknown for me. I’ve been watching a lot of videos and talking with people that ran last year, just trying to get as much experience as I can get and be as prepared as I am.”
Making his own way and own name behind the wheel is on Jones’ radar. He chuckles when asked if his parents named him after Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
“My dad probably thought of that, but I wasn’t named after him,” Jones said. “It just kind of came about, and they thought it was a cool name, and they went with Jagger Jones. When you have a last name like Jones, you have to have an interesting first name.”