DJ Safety Rookie of the Year Candidate: Marcus Jones

March 24, 2011

“I have an addiction. And that addiction is called racing!” It doesn’t take long in talking to The ARCA Truck Series presented by the Phoenix Management Group’s newest DJ Safety Rookie of the Year contender Marcus Jones to find that out!

“I started racing at 16 in the Hobby Stock division in Washington, Indiana. I had no money and was working for my dad at our concrete business. After a while, the opportunity presented itself to where I could become more a part of the business. Since I had so little into my racing, I went to work full-time for my dad and soon, we created Jones and Sons, Inc. in 1970 in Vincennes, Indiana. Anything to do with concrete, ready mix, cinder blocks, supplies, that’s what we do. In 2004 we put up the Terre Haute plant. But, that fire still burned inside.”

The racing fire that is. That addiction burned so bad that after a while, he went to his uncle, champion drag racer Sam Jones, about helping fund his circle track aspirations. Unfortunately he was lovingly told, “you’re on your own,” but with the simple message that if Marcus wanted bad enough, he could find the funding himself, but little and it becoming harder to find, Jones was almost forced out of racing all together. Also, the business and his family were looming larger in his life.

After a few years, Jones eye began wandering back to competition. New racing fans would know the name Rollie Helmling as the current Motorsports Development Director for the State of Indiana, appointed by new governor Mitch Daniels, or as the former President of USAC, but Marcus met a sprint car and midget owner in Helmling in 1990, who at the time was employing one John Andretti, nephew of racing legend Mario Andretti. But Andretti, who Jones said he thoroughly enjoyed working with and still keeps in close contact today, was ready to move on to the Indy cars and with his departure, a young driver by the name of Jeff Gordon stepped behind the wheel. Surrounded by future talent in the region like the Kinser family, Tony Stewart and the late Kenny Irwin, among others, it wasn’t just Gordon’s arrival (whom Jones also lauded as a “nice kid, very talented, knew a lot about what was going on around him and on the track”) and the budding careers that Marcus remembers most, but his education at the feet of the legendary owner. “I learned a lot from him. Engines, chassis, how to run a team, and I also learned that I wanted to drive.”

But Jones had a decision to make – get out of racing, or potentially lose his family. So Marcus quit the four wheel business “cold turkey”, as he explained it, and returned to his home and company, but as he laughed when talking about his domestic efforts, “I wish I knew now what I didn’t know then!” Not watching it or barely even following results, that fire almost consumed him – he was still a fan as his lack of competition almost burned him alive.

In the movie “Shawshank Redemption”, the lead character says to his friend, “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’”, and that seems to be what happened in a discussion between Marcus and his daughter in 2005. “She asked me if I was going back to racing. So, I signed up for the Gordon/Andretti Driving School at Kentucky Speedway. At the end of the day, the instructor was pleased with how well he thought I did. We got along well.” Jones, now married to Penny, who, as he says, “understands my passion”, then spent a year and a half buying racing packages and, as he explained, bought more and more where he would learn drafting, leading, following, passing, and took it “straight to the top”, which led him to the P.R.E. School in Kansas where he continued broadening his learning curve, being put in race situations, more drafting, and finally a “6 car 10 lap shootout”. When it was over, the father of five recalled, “the owner said he was impressed how I handled it all and asked if I would like to be an instructor because he thought I was good with people, how fast I got up to speed, how level headed I was and liked how I handled the race situations they put us in.” So for one year, Jones went throughout Kansas, to Texas, Talladega, St. Louis, and also started running karts again to, as he said, become more “smooth”. There were many runner-up finishes, but unfortunately no victories.

P.R.E soon folded, and Jones called the ARCA Series presented by Menard’s Vice President of Competition Joe Wells about a possible entry into the sanction. Wells suggested Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Driving School in North Carolina. But Jones began to share his teaching jobs and school work and the people he worked with and where he drove and finally Wells was able to issue him his Master License for competition. However, it didn’t quite work out that way.

“I worked with Norm Benning on his crew for a while. I greatly respect Norm and what he has done. He’s a very nice man and a tough driver, but with the equipment we had looked at that he was offering, I didn’t think it would be good for my career or my reputation I was trying to build as a driver to race in it, so it just never worked out to compete for Norm.”

But out of the blue, Jones was surfing the net and happened upon and saw an ARCA Truck for sale “cheap”, so he bought it and he, Dan Eakins and Doug Miller put it all together with a goal of running three fourths of the 2010 events and to keep the truck in one piece. So they took the white and red #55 to Lorain County in Ohio for his first event last June. Despite two right side flats, they finished 12th. Next up was Motordrome in Pennsylvania, where the newly christened “Marcus Motorsports” team claimed their first top ten in eighth. With that success, Jones was ready for his favorite track, Salem Speedway, and after running as high as fourth, he encountered problems and spun, but recovered to finish 6th.

“This team is made up of three equal parts: Best One Tire, who have stores in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio; Jones and Sons, Inc., and our team, Marcus Motorsports, whom I’m so blessed to have found. They’re all volunteers, but without them, I wouldn’t want to do this – I couldn’t be here,” stated the 56-year-old. He even addressed the issue of his age. “I admire guys like Mark Martin, who’s what, 54? (52). The team and I had a meeting and we said, we don’t wanna be doing this if we aren’t having fun. Sure, we’re taking it seriously, but we don’t wanna be doing something we hate. I love what I’m doing and I want to show that my age doesn’t matter! I know some people may look at me differently because of my age, or my backing, but I think that I can help the ARCA Truck Series. I have a very strong commitment to the ARCA Truck Series, which has excellent young drivers and I believe a great stepping stone to other places like the NASCAR Truck Series, for example. And, I feel our team can help be a building block for the next up and coming young drivers.”

He continued, “Mark Martin raced around here (Indiana) when it was dirt and it was for next to nothing. There was very little to no money. I wonder how many of these drivers today would do that – race for next to little or no money?”

Jones can boast at least one victory, even before the 2011 ARCA Truck Series starts: he is the first to purchase the S347J Ford Crate Engine through the new program the series and the legendary car manufacturer set up. “I made a choice, just like everyone else has a choice. I chose to go this way because I think the Ford will be great for the series. We’re all starting at the same level – we’re all even with this program I feel at this time and I’m excited to be working with Ford and I feel it’s going to save the series. We’re almost finished with a truck we purchased from Gary Esterline, I picked up the Ford engine Wednesday (March 23rd), I hired Tonya McAllister and MPM Marketing and I’m happy to be making the plunge! I’m really excited!”

Okay, so what are this season’s goals for the father of children Salina, Rachele, Justin, Shawna and Morgan?

“The team agreed that the DJ Safety Rookie of the Year was within our reach because maybe we’re not ready for the championship.”

Following his family’s advice to return, now there is another goal Jones has attained – a full-time gig in racing to feed that addiction, to which, for most people, there seems to be no cure — other than participation that is! And Marcus Jones has proven that no matter the age, competition behind the wheel knows no age limits for any speed addict!

Kevin Schwarze

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