He is the main reason the gates opened last weekend at North Georgia Speedway. He is responsible for the familiar sound of rumbling engines filling the air at the Murray County dirt track.
Don’t swarm Jason Jones with praise, though.
He’d rather thank everyone else.
The Dalton resident survived his first two races as North Georgia Speedway’s new promoter and brought a return to racing for the 2012 season. Racing took place July 19, with the Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals Series visiting the track, and again this past Saturday for a regular race program that was rained out just before the final heat.
Next is a full schedule of racing — along with the featured races postponed from last weekend — today, with an autograph session from 5 to 6 p.m. and racing at 7. Anyone with a ticket from last weekend’s race can bring the stub to the gates and get in for $6 today.
Was Jones’ first weekend of racing filled with stress?
Not quite. He called it “fun.”
“I didn’t expect this,” Jones said during an interview at the track this past Saturday. “We had over 2,000 people here (on July 19). We had 76 cars here. I didn’t even expect this tonight, especially doing a Thursday night show. I didn’t expect this car count, either.”
What was one of the first items on Jones’ to-do list?
“The first thing I did when the gates opened is thanked everyone,” he said. “I thanked all the fans and drivers.
“And they thanked me right back.”
Jones, 33, grew up in Dalton and is a businessman — he owns Twisted Up Smoke Hut in Ringgold. He has been married to Mary Beth Jones for seven years, and they have five kids: Katie, 15; Beth, 14; Hunter, 11; Brentley, 4; and Kason, 6 months. Mary Beth’s NGS racing legacy includes her father (Kevin Burke), uncle (Brian Burke) and brother (Chip Burke), while Jones’ “father figure” is current NGS racer Jerry Bradley.
“We’ve both been in the racing family since we were little kids,” Jones said. “(Bradley) isn’t really my dad. I met Jerry when I was 16 years old. He’s kind of been a father figure.”
Aside from being visible, Jones has already made some changes.
The first was making the track safer. Jones spent much of the first Saturday peeking out the window of his on-site trailer office.
“I’ve been watching the track,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for four weeks straight and just got it smooth. It was chunking out, like big clogs (of dirt) coming out. I knew when I came into this that I’d have to work hard, seven days a week. I have not left this track in one week.”
The second was offering a $200 bonus to the winner of the class with the highest car count. Last Saturday it was going to be the Crate class, with 17 cars.
The third change was removing Super Late Models as a regular class for the NGS season, which affects Chatsworth resident Aaron Ridley and 2011 NGS regular season champion Derek “Ditch Digger” Ellis.
“It’s just hard to pay what they pay to win,” Ridley said. “I think they did the right thing.”
Both said the decision was understandable and probably made for financial reasons, and each got the chance to race Thursday night during the touring series’ visit.
“We had a real good car count,” Ellis said earlier this week. “It was a series race. It’s a 10-race series and they’ve run six and North Georgia had the highest car count so far. They had like 37 Supers.
“I hope (Jones) makes it. It’s going to be tough. The main thing is keeping everybody happy. Last (Saturday) I did go down there to watch. He had it where if the fans get in early they get in real cheap, so that’s good.”
Questions about the track’s future arose in June when former co-promoters Keiff Ellis and Terry Wilson left for financial reasons, with Wilson saying they had “lost too much money.” The speedway opened the season March 31, lasted through April and temporarily closed for much of May due to maintenance reasons and conflicts with other area tracks. It reopened June 2 for one night of racing before shutting down again on a more permanent basis.
The speedway has a history of closing and reopening, as well as frequent changes of promoters. Ellis and Wilson became co-promoters in June 2011 after the track closed down for one month during the heart of the 2011 race season. Timmy Millwood was the promoter before them, and Monty Morrow held the title from 2007 to 2009. Ron Harris and Ronnie Sutton ran it from 2005 to 2007, and Scott Lee and Kristi Ayre from 2003 to 2005.
Jones, like others, knows the past well. He was a flag man at NGS for six years.
But it’s the more enjoyable moments that made him not want to see it end.
“I grew up here at this track and I didn’t want to see this place go down,” he said. “I had a little bit of money to invest in it.”
Said Ridley, “I hope (Jones) does well with it. ... It’s too close to home. I know it has a bad rap, but no one really ever tried with it.”
With such a long history of not working, one would wonder what makes Jones believe he is the answer.
“It’s going to work,” he said emphatically.
And if it doesn’t work?
“It has to work.”