Jonesing for a crown: Austin Jones is seeking his first Bowman Gray Stadium Racing championship on Saturday night

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

Austin Jones has had a passion for racing ever since he was a young child.

Jones, who is now 25 years old and lives in Clemmons, could turn that passion into a championship Saturday night at Bowman Gray Stadium, the famed quarter-mile asphalt race track in its 75th season in Winston-Salem.

Jones, the grandson of legendary driver Pee Wee Jones, who won 28 Modified Series races at Bowman Gray and died in 2008, is a driver in the Law Offices of John Barrow Street Stock Series. He is currently in second place, just four points behind leader Christian Joyce, heading into Saturday’s 20-lap final race of the four-month season. To add to the intrigue, Saturday is not only the last race of the season, it’s double-points night in each of the four series, so racers can make up positions pretty easily.

“I’ve tried to look at it as positive as I can,” Jones said. “It’s been a great season no matter what, no matter what the outcome is. It’s been great, especially just being my second season, but, at the same time, I want to win it, for sure.

“I’ve been trying to stay positive and do everything I can to just maximize my opportunities – just make sure the car is fine, nothing’s falling off, you know, all that good stuff. I think about every scenario possible.”

Joyce leads the points race with 606 points, Jones has 602, and Brad Lewis is not far behind in third place with 598. Saturday’s lineup will be based on a pre-race draw for position.

According to Loren Pinilis, the media-relations director for Bowman Gray Stadium Racing, since it’s double-points night for Saturday’s season finale, there are four points per position, so Jones would have to finish one position ahead of Joyce. If that scenario were to happen, that would set up a tie between Joyce and Jones. The tiebreaker at Bowman Gray is most wins, and Joyce has the most wins, which would give the championship to Joyce. Jones must finish two positions ahead of Joyce to win the championship. Lewis is just four points behind Jones, so if they were to tie, Lewis would get the tiebreaker because he has more wins. So, Jones must finish at least one position ahead of Lewis.

“You’ve got to be ready for whatever’s going to happen,” Jones said. “You never know what’s going to happen, but you have to try to prepare for it as best you can over there for sure.”

Case in point is what happened this past Saturday night. Bryan Sykes Jr. sat on the pole for the 20-lap race in the Law Office of John Barrow Street Stock Series race, dominated the race, and won.

However, there was just one problem. He failed his post-race inspection and was disqualified. That meant that Joyce, who was runner-up, was declared the winner. Jones was second, Lewis was third, David Creed was fourth, and Zack Staley was fifth.

Austin Jones has come a long way since he lived in Yadkin County as a child. He moved to Clemmons with his father, Mike, after his parents divorced, went to high school at Forbush in East Bend and raced go-karts until he decided to race Street Stock at Bowman Gray.

“I’ve been around it (racing) my whole life pretty much,” said Austin Jones, who works at Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, where he works as a graphics installer, meaning he wraps all the cars. “I’ve never done it for a living until now, but that’s been my whole life, whether watching, going, helping, you know, watching it on TV, what-not; I’ve tried to be around it my whole life.”

Jones, who finished ninth last season in his rookie year, won his first race of the season on June 24, then won again on July 15. However, he finished 16th on opening night on April 22 and 11th on May 6.

“I wanted to believe I could (improve his standing from last year) because we had speed, and the main thing was the DNFs I had last year,” Jones said. “I had decent speed last year, not as good as it was this year. We’ve done a lot to improve that, but at the same time, I’ve improved in the category of not having DNFs, not having stuff fall off the race car … that’s huge over there, especially on double-points night.”

“I think double-points this year, I’ve had a win and a second. So, that’s where I’ve gained ground.”

This is Joyce’s fifth season in Street Stock, with a runner-up finish in 2021 being his best finish.

“It’s not really stressing me out or got me nervous,” Joyce said. “It’s just I can’t stop thinking about it. Like a lot of what-ifs?”

There is plenty to decide with a championship at stake on Saturday, and there are plenty of rivalries in all four series at Bowman Gray that hasn’t affected Jones and Lewis. The two drivers are parked next to each other in the pit at Bowman Gray.

“Me and Christian park beside each other every week,” Jones said. “We talk. I wouldn’t say we were best friends or anything. We do have a rivalry. We talk at the track, we talk baseball, whatever’s going on. But we try to be cordial, I guess.”

What baseball team do they talk about? They talk about the Atlanta Braves, who are running away with the National League East division title.

“Not to have to someone you don’t ever argue with, disagree with, one of them deals,” Joyce said.

Neither driver wants their friendship to boil over into something on Saturday with what is on the line.

“I don’t think I’ve ruffled any feathers this year,” Joyce said. “(Winning) would mean a lot. It’s a pretty big deal.”

The same could be said for Jones, whether he wins the title or finishes second or third.

“I’m just going to go over there, try to get the best draw I can, and go over there and win the race,” Jones said. “That’s all I can do. If I win the race and (Joyce) finishes second, I’ve done all I can do. So, whatever happens, like I said, it’s been a great year no matter what. But I’m just going to go over there and try to win the race, and whatever happens happens.”