Arrival of New Crew Chief Helping Former PLM Champion Jones Make Rookie Splash in SLM Rideadmin
Just do a quick click through Garrett Jones’ social media platforms.
Check out his recent photographs. It’s easy to tell the pint-sized wunderkind, who made a splash as a 13-year-old track champion at Five Flags Speedway two years ago, has hit a growth spurt.
When he took the famed half-mile asphalt oval by storm in 2013, winning the Allen Turner Pro Late Model Series track championship, Jones had a voice that wouldn’t stop cracking and a talent that wouldn’t stop blossoming.
Now, a teenager with a few years under his belt, the 15-year-old’s octave levels have matured along with his height and, of course, a promising short-track career. Jones now finds himself behind the wheel of a Super Late Model.
He would love nothing more than to get a breakthrough first SLM win Friday at Five Flags when the Deep South Crane Rentals Blizzard Series, in conjunction with the Southern Super Series, makes its season debut with the Mountain Dew Kickstart 100.
“I really feel like we can do well at Pensacola, just because we’ve run so many laps around there,” Jones said. “I’m excited to see how it turns out this weekend.”
In addition to Jones and a bevy of other SLMs, the Pro Trucks will also get their 2015 slate underway Friday night with heat races and a 25-lap feature.
Sportsmen and Bombers, who opened their seasons last Friday, round out the night’s lineup.
Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday with racing tapped for 8 p.m. Admissions is as follows: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, students and military; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; free for kids 5 and under.
Jones hasn’t experienced many growing pains since making the leap to SLMs.
A pair of fifth-place finishes in the first two Southern Super Series races has him comfortably seated third in the points standings coming into Friday. Casey Smith leads with 2013 series champion Daniel Hemric second after his win two weeks ago at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville.
“It’s been a crazy learning experience,” Jones said. “There’s much to learn when you’re following Daniel Hemric, Bubba Pollard and all the guys that run good.”
Jones’ first SLM trip around America’s Favorite Home Track began inauspiciously. He finished 26th at the prestigious Snowball Derby, an event that was won by 17-year-old John Hunter Nemechek.
Jones credits his hot start with the arrival of crew chief Kelly Bires, a former ASA Late Model champion and short-track stalwart in the 1990s.
The 30-year-old Wisconsin native, who has raced at NASCAR’s highest levels, Bires spent time leading Ross Kenseth’s team before pairing up with Jones.
Once aboard, Bires’ main emphasis was organizing the Jones’ organization.
“The biggest thing has been coming to the track prepared,” Jones said. “It was something we lacked last year, even in our Pro car. It has been a lotta hard work, but we’re having a lotta fun.”
He described a scene from the shop: Once a race is over, the team returns to the Jones’ family shop in Mooresville, N.C., and immediately begins the cleaning process and conducting any setup changes for the next race.
If Jones’ familiar blue No. 88 sustained any damage, that obviously takes priority over detailing and other adjustments.
“Those are the kind of things we lacked a lot last year,” Jones said. “We waited to the last second on a lotta the important stuff. Kelly Bires has been a great help. He’s not a procrastinator and he works his butt off to get me ready.”
And Jones, a sophomore at Liberty Prep in Mooresviile, hasn’t disappointed his new teacher.
At the challenging South Alabama Speedway last month in Opp, Jones scored his first SLM top-five — in a 250 lapper, no less.
“I learned a lot that day about saving tires,” he said. “I was nervous going to Opp. It was a mini-Snowball Derby if you looked at the field. Doing well there was a confidence boost.”
Nashville was more surprising, as Jones charged from 12th with 25 laps to go and earned another fifth.
All that hustling came with a trailing arm coming loose. Not to mention it was Jones’ first time navigating the Fairgrounds.
He bestowed plenty of praise on Bires, whose previous experiences in Nashville helped guide Jones home ahead of such late model staples as Pollard, Augie Grill and Hunter Robbins.
“Everywhere we’ve been, we both have some type of history at the tracks,” Jones said of teaming with Bires. “It’s paid off. I’m out at the shop, as much as I can be. Kelly teaches me everyday something new about this sport. I love learning and doing it.”
With Bires at his side and in his ear, Garrett Jones’ growth spurt in racing might be maturing quicker than his own adolescence.