Parnelli Jones’ grandson set to make own racing mark in K&N debut
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.”
Jagger Jones already has a number of wins in various series, including a triumph last season while competing in three races for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Late Model team at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Speedway.
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.
In a sense, Jones will be following in the footsteps of Hailie Deegan and Todd Gilliland. Deegan won her first K&N race last season and is one of the contenders for the series’ championship this season, while Gilliland – driving full time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports – won the K&N West crown in 2016.
“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.”