---- — Just a week ago in this column, I was going over a list of drivers to keep an eye on to compete for the 2013 version of the Indiana Sprint Week for the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series.
One driver I mentioned was five-time USAC National Sprint Car Series champion Levi Jones. In that column I noted that if Jones opted to chase all the events scheduled for ISW aboard Jeff Walker’s No. 39, he would be one of many capable of earning the coveted title.
Last Friday, Jones announced his plans to retire, effective immediately.
Prior to the season at Walker’s Noblesville race shop during the unveiling of the Don Walker Special No. 39 that Jones piloted most of the season, one could sense that Jones’ priorities had shifted considerably from what they were just a few short seasons ago.
He noted that chilly, late-winter afternoon that he was wanting to scale back his racing, opting to drive Walker’s car as well as Jack Rogers’ No. 57. He was still solid aboard Tony Stewart’s USAC Silver Crown mount, but that season consists of just 10 races.
Jones was racing’s equivalent of a basketball gym rat.
Walker talked about how a young Jones was always hanging around, eager to learn and even more eager to earn a living as a race car driver. That was long before he captured his first national championship while driving the Scott Benic-owned No. 2B.
Following that first title in 2005, Jones joined forces with Stewart and TSR and proceeded to capture sprint championships in 2007, ‘09, ‘10 and ‘11. He also won a pair of Silver Crown titles for TSR in ‘10 and ‘11.
So, it really shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to hear that Jones was calling it quits. Having toiled and worked his way to the top of USAC’s ranks for 15 years to become one of the most successful in the sanctioning bodies history, running nearly 100 races or more each year, he probably had done enough.
He noted before the season that he had won championships, a lot of races and met some great people and that he really didn’t feel like he had anything left to prove.
Feeling that way, coupled with the grind of trekking to bullrings around the country week after week with a family and small child at home, probably made the decision easier to make. Also, in the wake of the recent race-related deaths of peers Jason Leffler and Josh Burton, if his heart wasn’t in it, why risk his health?
With all of his success, there were many fans who seemingly would show up to the track just to boo him, but everyone who witnessed his prowess would be lying if they said they weren’t impressed with his ability.
The thing I liked most about Jones was that even with his laundry list of accomplishments, he never took himself too seriously or the success for granted. He was just as hospitable to the fans and the media after his seven titles as he was when he was just a fresh-faced teenager hoping for success.
In a press release, Jones noted that he was looking forward to spending time with his family and in his family’s business. His family owns a handful of Rural King stores in Illinois and he used to joke that when he wasn’t racing, there were days he would be cleaning the bathrooms at one of the family-owned stores.
Here’s a tip of the hat to a sure-fire future Hall of Famer who opted to step away with class while he was still on top and on his own terms. Best of luck to him in the future and hopefully he might well return to the sport one day again, maybe as a team owner.
Kokomo to try tonight
With any luck, the Kokomo Speedway will host its annual Fourth of July Spectacular tonight with sprints, Street Stocks, Thunder Cars and the U.M.P. Modifieds, who will be running a pair of feature events.
The forecast for tonight at the time of this writing looked favorable for the track to get the show in after rain has hampered a majority of the season so far.
Pit gates open at 3 p.m. with the main grandstand opening at 4 o’clock. Hot laps should push off around 6 with racing to follow. In addition to the racing, there will be the annual huge fireworks display as well. More information on tonight’s race can be found at www.kokomospeedway.net.
Brett Bowman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the sports department.