Sometimes it takes a lifetime to realize a dream. And sometimes those dreams are never realized at all.
This past Sunday at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway racer Blake Jones realized one of his lifelong dreams. Even while growing up as a small child in Sevierville, Tennessee Jones wanted to be a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver and when the command to start engines was given after a persistent New England rain shower delayed the start of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, the 21-year-old racer had accomplished that goal as he fired the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota to life.
But there were times in which the driver who won the ARCA Racing Series event at the Talladega Super Speedway in 2015 came close to ending his racing career, and his dreams, prematurely.
“It’s kind of a sense of accomplishment,” Jones said in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “That’s the day we’ve worked for since I was five-years-old racing go-karts. It’s been a long time goal to become a Cup driver and to finally make it to that level is something special. It’s almost like a sigh of relief after the past few years that I’ve had where it looked like things weren’t going to work out then God opens doors that you didn’t think were there and you’re back in a race car then a few weeks later starting a Cup race. It’s just all so surreal and it’s awesome to be able to do it.”
After firing the engine of his Toyota, Jones then found himself racing around the one-mile oval with championship winning drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., and the Busch brothers.
“It’s kind of weird because guys that you’ve looked up to your whole life and you’ve idolized have turned into your competitors,” the driver stated. “That’s cool in a way but there are a lot of those guys I still look up to and still have a lot to learn from. It’s a long ladder to climb but we’re to the highest level now and that’s something special. I want to learn all I can from these guys and become competitive over the next few weeks.”
BK Racing itself has experienced difficulties that have left the organization with an uncertain future. But in a sense, it was those issues that brought the driver and team together.
“They’ve been going through some financial troubles there and we had a little bit of sponsorship money so it just kind of worked out and things feel into place,” Jones explained.
The No. 23 was sponsored by Tennessee Shine Co. and KBM Commercial Properties on Sunday.
The primary goal for Jones and his team was to record as many laps as possibly while at NHMS and to do so without incident. That goal was achieved.
“Starting a Cup race is just a different world out there compared to what we’re used to, even in the Xfinity Series,” Jones recounted. “You’re out there with the best drivers in the world but we just wanted to run all the laps and learn all we can to get familiar with the cars. It was the first time I had ever sat in a Cup car this weekend. It was pretty special to be able to run all the laps and bring it back clean with no scratches on it and be able to build on our performance in New Hampshire for future races.”
Jones has driven numerous types of racing machines throughout his career, including Late Models, ARCA, and Xfinity cars. But Cup cars offer a unique challenge for even the most experienced racers as the increased weight and horsepower of those machines can prove difficult to handle. And furthermore, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races are among the longest contests in the sport of auto racing, which calls for any drivers new to that form of racing to prepare themselves physically and psychologically.
“It takes some getting used to because the Cup cars drive totally different than anything I’ve ever been in,” the former Lonesome Pine Raceway track champion pointed out. “There’s a lot more horsepower and a lot more weight. They’re a lot of fun to drive, but it’s just something we’ll have to get used to. The biggest change is going to be the race distances. This one wasn’t much longer than some Xfinity races I’ve been in. It’s actually one of the shorter Cup races and it wasn’t too physical, but it was mentally exhausting. We’ve got Bristol and Martinsville coming up. 500 laps will beat you to death so being in the best physical shape you can be in is really important at this level.”
The entire Jones family made their way to New Hampshire to cheer on their favorite driver. And to make the day even more special, Jones made his first career Cup Series start on his father’s birthday.
“We’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve ran good in about everything we’ve raced and been able to work our way up the ladder,” the 2008 Winter Heat champion at Charlotte Motor Speedway declared. “We ran into some financial problems here and there where the money just wasn’t there to race and that kind of set us back over the last couple of years. But that makes it mean that much more to get here. Nobody said it would be easy from the day we started, but I don’t think anybody knew how hard it would actually be. But we’ve been able to work our way to here and there aren’t any words to describe the feeling when we took the green flag. The only thing that I think could top that feeling would be rolling off the starting grid for the Daytona 500. That’s my next goal to start that race so hopefully we can do that next February.”
While Jones will not race in the upcoming NASCAR events at Pocono Raceway and Watkins Glen International, he does hope to finish out the season on the circuit following those two races.
“From here it looks like I’ll be out for the next two weeks at Pocono and Watkins Glen,” he explained. “Then I should be taking back over in Michigan and I hope to finish out the Cup season with BK so that will be pretty cool. We will be able to get a lot of races under our belt and build on that. Hopefully we can have something to come together for a full season next year.”
But what does Jones hope to accomplish in NASCAR further down the road?
“If we can get a stable ride here in the Cup series, the goal is to be the next Jimmie Johnson. Winning races is special but we want to win championships. That’s been the plan the whole way and I think if we can get in the equipment with some time and some experience we can do that. We’ve won races in everything we’ve ever raced. There’s a lot of competition in the Cup series and so much has to go right to win a race let alone a championship. I hope I can add my name to that small list of drivers who have been able to accomplish that.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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