SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. — If the movie cameras had been rolling to catch the final lap this past Saturday night at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway for running of the 37th annual Bobby Isaac Memorial, many would’ve been reminded of the stock car racing classic movie “Days of Thunder.”
David Garbo Jr. of Stonington, Conn., captured the victory, but behind him a three-wide battle for position racing off the fourth turn to the checkered flag between Blake Jones, Jeremy Sorel and Brodie Kostecki produced hard-nosed rubbin’ and racin’ action with crumpled sheet-metal and sparks flying off the cars, along with some ill tempers following the race back in the pits. Jones secured the runner-up position by just inches over Sorel, who nosed out Kostecki for the fourth spot, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports chauffeur Josh Berry came home fifth.
“I know the fans had to love that, because it’s a fact they saw one wild finish,” said a grinning Jones on Monday evening from his family’s Teddy Jones Racing shop in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. “You know, I don’t particularly like to race that way – bumping and rubbing and beating and banging. But it’s just got to be expected on the final lap, especially racing off the fourth turn headed to the checkered flag.
“It’s Saturday night short-track racing. You’re racing for the win. On the last lap, it’s all taking and no giving. You’re driving the wheels off the car trying to bring home the best finish you can. On the final lap, some say it’s ‘wreckers or checkers’ because you’ll either come back to the pits on the hook, or you’re parked in victory lane. You’ve just got to give it your best effort, and that’s what I do every time I tighten the (seat) belts and strap my helmet on.”
Over the past couple of seasons Jones, from Sevierville, has raced primarily at NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Kingsport Speedway, where he has earned pole awards and recorded several top-five finishes at “The Concrete Jungle.” But the 16-year-old Sevier County High School junior has yet to earn that ever-elusive first visit to victory lane in NASCAR sanctioned racing.
However, between Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va., and at Newport Motor Speedway, Jones has a combined 11 Late Model feature wins. As a rookie during the 2010 racing season, a then 13-year-old Jones impressively captured the LPR championship, becoming the youngest driver to ever win a Late Model track title at “The Pine.”
Jones teamed up for the first time with Jamie Yelton’s Fat Head Racing team last fall to run the season-ending United Auto Racing Association-Southern Touring Asphalt Racing Series Classic 3 Championship presented by the Richard Childress Racing Museum at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway. Jones finished an impressive fourth at the legendary one-mile track, which for many years hosted the elite NASCAR Sprint Cup Series twice a year.
Jones made his second start for Fat Head Racing last November in the Thanksgiving All-Star Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, N.C., subbing for Garbo, who was bedridden with the flu. Jones had never laid eyes on the track until arriving in the Sand Hills of eastern North Carolina. With a total of 41 entries, Jones knew the caliber of competition was at an elite level. Nonetheless, Jones drove the FHR ride to a second-place finish after having to use a provisional starting berth due to engine issues and beginning the race from the last starting position.
Jones qualified fifth for the Bobby Isaac Memorial in a 32-car starting field, and served noticed from the waving of the green he would be a strong contender for the victory. With Jones running in second, the red flag waved on lap 53. When the field began to roll again Jones had head to pit road for the crew to change a flat left-front tire. Restarting at tail of the field, Jones began methodically picking off positions in steadily working his way back to the top-10.
At the lap 100 mark, Jones had advanced his way up through the field and was running in sixth. At lap 110, he had moved up one more position to fifth in the running order. On lap 125, Jones grabbed the fourth spot and just three circuits later, he moved into third. A late race caution in the 150 lap event set up a green-white-checkered shootout for the victory.
On the double-file restart, Jones lined up inside of row two in the third position – directly behind his Fat Head Racing teammate and race leader Garbo.
“We didn’t get the win, and as a racer when you arrive at the track you’re there for one thing and one thing only – you’re trying to bring home the victory,” said Jones. “You really don’t want to make excuses. But I truly believe if we didn’t have the flat tire while sitting on the track during the red flag, we were going to win the race. When the race was red flagged, I was just riding in second place, just biding my time and waiting to make the move to take the lead. I couldn’t believe our luck when the field started rolling again and found out the tire was flat.
“After having to restart at rear of the field and then having to drive the car so hard working our way back to the front, you just abuse the rubber too much and don’t have what (tire) you need at the finish. I can’t thank Jamie Yelton enough for the opportunity to drive his awesome race car and my crew chief Billy Smith, and also to Jay Hedgecock at Hedgecock Racing Enterprises for his support of Fat Head Racing. They all believe in me, and I know we’re going to get us a win.”
Up next for Jones and Fat Head Racing will be a return visit on Saturday, Sept. 7 to Hickory Motor Speedway to compete in twin 50-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series features, and then one week later on Saturday, Sept. 14, Jones and FHR will visit the Volunteer State to run the UARA-STARS event at Kingsport Speedway. Also, expect to see Jones and Fat Head Racing compete in other high-profile Late Model Stock events around the Southeast this fall.
To learn more about Blake Jones, visit his website at www.BlakeJonesRacing.com … or contact Teddy Jones Racing at (865) 388-2795. You can follow Blake Jones on social media via Twitter @80BlakeJones and on Facebook at Blake Jones Racing.
Blake Jones Racing photo courtesy of Chris Owens: Blake Jones (left) and David Garbo Jr. (right) being interviewed at Hickory Motor Speedway following the Bobby Isaac Memorial.