If not for a Corvette, Erik Jones may not be celebrating in victory lane last Saturday night at the Daytona International Speedway. See, a lot of people may have only witnessed a 22 year old second year driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series making a final lap pass at one of NASCAR’s premiere tracks to win his first ever Cup Series race. But, the story gets deeper than that. If not for that old Corvette, Jones isn’t in victory lane. In fact, if not for that car, Jones probably isn’t in racing at all in general.
See, Jones’ dad was in the automobile business. When he was little, his father bought a Corvette. It was his toy. I mean, most adults will know what I’m talking about when they’re in their adulthood years and they want to buy big kid toys. For Jones’ dad, a Vette was his.
But, when the younger Jones decided that he wanted to race, Jones’ father made a life changing decision. Time to sell his toy and help his son reach his dream of being a race car driver. If that car doesn’t get sold, Jones isn’t driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s that simple.
“Yeah, so 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,” Jones said after his Daytona win on Saturday night.
“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.”
“So there was a lot of sacrifices taken from my family to get to a point to have an opportunity. 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.”
Once Jones did get started into racing, his career blossomed and skyrocketed. He went from Late Models to CRA to racing in ARCA by 2012. He was only 15 years old when he first came to the scene in ARCA. Then, when he beat Kyle Busch in December of that year at the Snowball Derby, his career really took off. Busch, went to Joe Gibbs and Toyota and told them they have to get this kid. By March of the next year, Jones was in Kyle Busch’s Truck.
The rest is history.
See, it all comes back to that decision his dad made by selling that Corvette. He sells the car to put Jones in a late model and a few years later Jones is in NASCAR.
Then, in the middle of all of his up and coming success, Jones lost his father to lung cancer. That hurt the young driver. See, his dad paved the way to this success and was always there. Then, when it was time to step up to NASCAR’s premiere series, he had to do so without his best friend.
“My dad was pretty heavily involved in my racing, in the back side of it and where my money was going,” Jones said at Las Vegas last year. “I never had to worry about money I was making or bills I was paying or anything else. I just called my dad and said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got this problem or I’ve got that problem, what do you think?’ And he would have an opinion or a solution. He always had the answer, I felt like.
“All of a sudden you lose that so quickly. In three or four months, I went from having that to it was gone. I felt like I was on my own. In trying to figure all that out myself, at 20 years old I don’t have a ton of experience in the world. … To try to figure out how to do all these things was challenging, but at the end of it all, especially today, I feel like I’m more solid and know what’s going on more than ever.”
Now, back to that old Corvette. After his dad passes, Jones wanted to find the original car that his dad had sold to make his racing career happen. Over 18 months ago, he found it and was able to buy it back.
“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,” Jones said of having the car back in his possession. “I always wanted to give it back to him, but it sure feels good to have it in my hands now. But yeah, that was a neat story. I definitely wish he could have been here to see this one.”
The Corvette has come in full circle. From his dad buying it to selling it off just to help his boy achieve a dream and now that boy, despite losing his dad, is in victory lane and the Corvette back at home in his garage.