Denton grad Jones keeps engines running
Back in the mid 1980s, when he was a student at Denton High School, Bobby Jones loved cars and loved working on them.
"My first car was a "60s Chevy Nova II," Jones said. "I was a gear head. I liked taking things apart and putting them together."
He still does as an engine tuner, assigned by Roush-Fenway Racing to take care of the engines supplied to the No. 10 truck fielded by Circle Bar Racing and driven by Brendan Gaughan in the NASCAR Truck Series.
In the Circle Bar shop, Jones does final prep on engines supplied by Roush-Fenway and is responsible for getting the engines through inspection and making final tweaks for qualifying and the race, which this weekend is at Martinsville Speedway. His race-day duties include going over the wall as the fuel overflow can holder.
"I don't look at it as a job," Jones said. "I'd do it for fun if I wasn't getting paid."
He didn't get paid when he got involved in racing as a volunteer on the late model cars that Steve Loftin raced at Caraway Speedway. Until that point, he worked as an auto mechanic, first at Yadkin Valley Chevrolet and then at some private garages after graduating from Denton High in 1986.
"The way I got involved with Steve's cars was one of those things where a friend said that I should check it out," Jones said. "I found that I liked working on race cars more than street cars. Ralph Wingfield was the crew chief and he taught me all that I was smart enough to learn."
Jones learned enough that he got a job as a general mechanic with Hensley Racing in what is now the Nationwide Series. While working for Hensley, his career path turned more toward engines.
"Bobby Hamilton Jr. was our driver and for this one race we also had a car for Bobby Sr.," Jones explained. "The guy responsible for the engines hadn't shown up and it was time to get the car through inspection. So I had to do it and I've been involved with engines ever since."
He didn't mind the switch.
"I could have gone either way," Jones said. "But I've always like working on engines; and I like doing that more than fooling with spring and shocks.
"I think engine work is simple. A lot of people think working on a race engine is complicated, but I think it is simple. I wouldn't say that it is the same as working on an advance version of a street engine but a lot of the same things apply."
He went from Hensley to Team Rensi in the Nationwide Series. During his Nationwide Series days, he served as a tire changer and jackman on pit stops.
From Team Rensi, he went to work as engine builder for Tri-Star Engines which eventually took over Pro Motors. It was with Tri-Star/Pro Motors that he achieved the biggest accomplishment of his career, building the engines that powered Travis Kvapil to the 2003 NASCAR truck series championship.
"Everything went perfectly that season," Jones said. "Travis completed all but one lap and won the championship by a few points. It was the kind of year that you must have to win the championship."
Jones left Pro Motors last winter to take his current job.
"Pro Motors gave me a job when I needed one," Jones said. "It was the hardest thing I had to do to tell them I was leaving because I had gotten a better job."
At Pro Motors, Jones built the engines in addition to other duties. In his current role, he takes engines churned out by Roush-Yates Engines and completes work on them. At the track, he helps take the engine apart after practice, makes spark plugs checks, then decides on the carburetor jetting and other settings for qualifying and the race.
During the week, he feels like a member of Circle Bar "because I'm there all day. I have more contact with those guys than I do with the engine shop at Roush-Fenway. But on the weekends, I'm proud to wear that Roush-Fenway shirt.
"I still have a lot of people to please. I've got to make the crew chief happy, the chief engine tuner happy and the driver happy. And drivers as a general rule always want more, whether it is horsepower or torque or fuel mileage."
From an engine standpoint, Jones can boast that Gaughan has not suffered an engine failure so far this season. Jones would be surprised if the team has engine troubles this season because he feels that Martinsville isn't hard on engines.
"A driver is only on the gas from the middle of the corner until just past the middle of the straights," Jones said. "It's not as hard on the engine as much as places like Texas or Talladega where the driver has the throttle to the floor the entire race."
Jones can boast that Gaughan can't complain about any engine failures so far in a season that has been disappointing. Gaughan stands 14th in points, with two top-five finishes in his first season with Circle Bar.
"We've had some solid runs," Jones said. "We just haven't been able to catch a break. Like we got wrecked at Talladega. It's a helpless feeling when that happens and you are a couple of miles away."
Winning this weekend at Martinsville would be welcome, but Jones doesn't rate it as his favorite track.
"My absolute favorite is Dover," Jones said. "Everybody has to bring their A game. The driver can't just ride around there. He has to get up on the wheel because it's a longer version of Bristol. And I like the challenge of Texas because the trucks run flat out there the whole race.
And I love to win at Nashville Superspeedway because I've had some dominating vehicles there but just couldn't close the deal.
"So there are places that I want to win more than others. But, I want to win them all. I don't like finishing second."