It was a challenge, particularly in the late going with a wounded vehicle, but NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver Jagger Jones and NHRA drag racing legend Don “Snake” Prudhomme finished all 1,300 miles of the 5-day NORRA Mexican 1000 in Baja California, Mexico.
The pair finished 16th in the Stock Turbo UTV class last Friday, but likely would have finished higher had the fuel pump on their 2019 Polaris RZR 1000 not faltered going into the final day of competition.
Still, after both fell short in last year’s race — the first Mexican 1000 for both of them — the pair did what they set out to accomplish by finishing this year’s race.
“We had to stop throughout the day it seemed like every 20-25 miles to fill the car up with fuel (due to the) fuel pump issue,” Jones said. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it the last 25 miles. We were really happy to get to the finish line.”
Added Prudhomme: “It is a thrill to finish. What I like so much about this NORRA race is when you cross the finish line they treat you like a winner. Everybody celebrates. The camaraderie here is great. It is like nothing I have seen before. What is so cool is there is no money for the winner. You get a trophy. It takes me back to the early days when I just started racing and you just liked winning a trophy. It is bragging rights here.”
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.”
One of the more interesting things Prudhomme had to say was about race car drivers today. While he was talking about young drivers in NHRA, his comments could be applied to NASCAR drivers as well.
“In my opinion, the young drivers of today, they’ve pretty much worked themselves away from the fans,” Prudhomme said. “You go to the track, you can’t get near one. You go to the track and you have to stand behind the ropes.
“In our days, the fans could pretty much walk into the pit area and get your autograph or say ‘hi.’ Nowadays, it’s very regimented. So, that’s a downside, I think. (16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John) Force is a guy that really gets it, and a guy like (fellow Funny Car driver) Ron Capps gets it. He’ll be out by his ropes. He’s got it down and knows how to work the crowd.
“We used to do that, the crowd was right there with us. So, a lot of things have changed, but you have to keep in mind, too, that motor racing today isn’t what it used to be as far as fan attendance and fans loving the automobile.
“These younger guys are into computers and other things. It’s really hard to get that. When the young fans used to watch us, we were young, too, and they were driving muscle cars on the streets, so it’s a whole different era.
“The other thing, when a car comes to the starting line to run, like a Top Fuel dragster, you don’t even know who’s in the car because it’s covered up and you can’t see the driver’s helmet anymore. You don’t have that personal connection like they used to, like they’d see the ‘Snake’ on our helmet, or ‘Big Daddy’ on Garlits’ helmet, or ‘Shirley’ on Shirley Muldowney’s helmet. You don’t see that, they’re really tucked away when they come out there and start the cars up.
“You don’t know if (Top Fuel driver) Tony Schumacher’s driving it or if (father and team owner) Don Schumacher’s driving it. You just don’t know. So the driver today is pretty much taken away from the fans, they don’t have the connection we had, that’s my opinion.”
Here are a couple of other excerpts from Prudhomme’s Q&A that NASCAR fans will likely enjoy as well, particularly his comments on Ganassi and Bowyer:
WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW: “I’m doing a number of things these days. Ever since I retired from drag racing, I’ve really got to enjoy the things I always wanted to do but was too busy to do it. When you’re in NASCAR, drag racing, whatever, you’re really going for it, man. You don’t really have a lot of time to smell the roses and do many things. Basically, I made a lot of friends through racing over the years, guys from Mario (Andretti) to all the guys back then and even current day guys. I go to several races, especially IndyCar races to watch my good friend Chip Ganassi. I do a lot of things.”
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT IS NOW 22 YEARS SINCE YOU STEPPED OUT OF A RACE CAR FOR THE FINAL TIME: “No, I can’t believe it, now that you mention it. It’s amazing. There’s just a lot of other stuff to do out there. … I’m really a fortunate guy. When I quit racing, (IndyCar and NASCAR team owner Chip) Ganassi took me under his wings and told me to go to the races with him, so I started going to IndyCar races. That’s been my all-time favorite kind of racing, even over drag racing, since I was a kid. Oh, open wheel, absolutely. Mario Andretti is my all-time biggest hero of all time. I also love Formula One. I went down to Florida for the first IndyCar race (St. Petersburg) of the season, I’ll go to Long Beach, the Indy 500. I’m a real pit rat. You’ll always see me on the fence. And those guys know I dig it. It’s the same when I go to (Sprint) Cup races. Clint Bowyer, guys like that, we’ve been pals because they do what they do and I do what I do, but there’s this common bond which is kind of nice to have with guys like Jeff Gordon, we’re just great pals.”
Legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme gave NBC Sports a first-hand account of Tony Stewart’s accident in the Southern California sand dunes Sunday.
Stewart and a number of current and former racers including Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Prudhomme were having a day of fun in the sun and sand when Stewart became separated from the group and went missing for about 90 minutes.
Here’s how Prudhomme described the incident to NBC Sports:
“We were riding these sand rails. We do that quite a bit. We were all together. What really happened is, it isn’t hard to get split off from one another. In other words, if a guy makes a left turn and you’re not watching his flags or there’s dust or something, you can make a right turn and kind of get lost.
“So, we got mixed up and (Stewart) was probably missing for an hour-and-a-half from the pack, at least. He was missing, he was not there. We figured maybe he got hooked up with one of the other guys.
“Then we were stopped and kinda gathered up and started to shoot the s— and asked, ‘Where’s Tony?’ One of the guys (on the dunes) came driving up and said, ‘Hey, one of your buddies is hurt over on the other side of the hill.’
“There was about three of us who went back on our buggies and we came upon him. He was laying there. He got out of it (the sand buggy) and was laying there in the sand on his back.”
Contrary to media reports, Prudhomme said Stewart did not roll his sand buggy. Rather, Stewart apparently caught air in a jump and landed hard.
“What happens in the dunes, there was kind of a big mound and he flew over it and came down hard on the shocks,” Prudhomme said of Stewart. “In other words, it bottomed itself out. What happened then, it drove the seat up into his ass, basically. It was like, BAM! He hit really hard, but we were running pretty fast.
“We pulled up, asked ‘How you doing, dude?’ He was on the ground and said his back’s hurt. We made sure he could move all his legs and everything, so everything was good there.”
Prudhomme said Evernham took charge of the scene. Gordon, car collector Ron Pratte and Prudhomme provided assistance.
“Ray Evernham is a real good guy, a real responsible guy,” Prudhomme said. “He’s been around situations like this before. Basically we got (Tony) into Ron’s cart and Ron drove him real slowly out of there. (Tony) was holding himself up, as if his ass was real sore.
“Ron has a place in the area, so he had his helicopter fly over and land on this pavement because he couldn’t land on the sand. Tony had his arm around my shoulder and had another arm around Ray’s shoulder and Gordon was holding him up by the belt. He was walking real slow and we got him into the helicopter and laid him in the back seat.
“Ray got in the helicopter to go to the hospital. The pilot said he was going to Palm Springs Hospital and got on the radio. Ray was the best guy for the job, so he went with Tony and looked over Tony until midnight.”
Prudhomme defended Stewart’s driving.
“(Stewart) wasn’t driving reckless or crazy or anything else,” Prudhomme said. “He just happened to hit this (sand) ramp and the way it came down, and it was a lot taller or higher up than he probably realized. And it came down and crashed. We went back to get the car he was driving after he got into the helicopter and just fired that baby up and drove it back to the ranch.
“It wasn’t like it flipped over. I’ve heard people say it flipped over. No, it didn’t flip over, it just came down so hard that it messed his back up.”
Stewart was conscious and alert throughout the entire episode, Prudhomme said.
“He was hurting, and we were all concerned about him,” Prudhomme said. “But he wasn’t like knocked out or anything like that. He was totally coherent, totally everything. It’s just his back was screwed up.
“None of us realized how bad it was. The next day Ron and I went over to the hospital to see him and we sat in the room and he was showing us X-rays and s— and talking. Tony’s Tony. He looked at me like he could just get up and walk out of there, but he couldn’t. But he looked great.”
When asked to describe how Stewart looked in the hospital the day after the wreck, Prudhomme borrowed a page from Stewart’s usual comedic playbook.
“He needed a shave and a bath, I know that!” Prudhomme quipped.
“(Stewart) was great. In fact, we were in the hospital and it didn’t look like he was going to have to be operated on. It was just going to be where they were going to put a support on him. He walked around with the doctor early in the morning with a walker.
“So we told him, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’ll have to be operated on.’ But apparently when they got him back to Charlotte, these guys, whoever looked at him, felt he needed an operation.
“I just hope he’s going to be alright. He wasn’t doing anything crazy. Those things can run 110 mph pretty easy on the sand. It’s a nice piece of equipment.”
As it turned out, Stewart had traveled a couple of miles in the wrong way, Prudhomme estimated.
When asked about when Stewart was missing, Prudhomme said the three-time Sprint Cup champ was starting to worry if anyone would find him.
“It scared the s— out of us guys,” Prudhomme said. “We were saying that Tony had been missing, and then we’re told Tony’s hurt. It was a ways away from where we were at. We found the trail he was on, went over there, and I said to (Stewart), ‘Dude, how long have you been laying there?’ He said, ‘About an hour-and-a-half.”
But there was a bit of comfort for Stewart, so to speak, Prudhomme added.
“It was the most comfortable place you could lay in the soft sand with a bad back,” he quipped. “In other words, he wasn’t ready to get up. I think he was starting to doze off a little bit (while waiting to be rescued). He just rested there.