There is a unique feeling for every driver walking into Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but a family legacy adds to the jolting tingle with every step Jagger Jones takes on the hallowed grounds.
That’s because the 20-year-old INDY NXT by Firestone driver is the grandson of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones.
“IMS is a really special place for not just me, but everyone,” Jagger Jones said. “I pretty much get goosebumps walking in there even if it's on a Wednesday and there's no cars going around. “When you get to race there, it's something that's very special for everyone, and especially for me with how much family history and legacy the Jones name carries around that place.
“It's just cool to be able to walk those places, see the Yard of Bricks and imagine the time when the front straightaway was like that; over 100 years ago that place has existed and how much it furthered auto racing and obviously, furthered my family in racing.
“I'm super lucky to be born into that and be born into the legacy that my grandpa created with his personal racing, as well as the teams that he owned and the success he had as a team owner at the Speedway.”
Third-generation racer Jones is paying homage to the past, running the No. 98 with the classic Ol’ Calhoun roadster livery his grandfather made famous at IMS 60 years ago. Jagger, who drives for Cape Motorsports, has been sporting the look from the start of this year’s rookie campaign in INDY NXT by Firestone.
When Jagger takes to the track for this weekend’s round on the IMS road course, there will be no shortage of flashbacks and memories for fans and those in the paddock.
“It looks great, and it's cool to be able to honor that,” Jones said of his car. “Obviously, not running on the oval, which is unfortunate. I'd love to get some experience there before I hopefully will be in the Indy 500 in the next year or two. But still it's cool to be able to run those colors there.”
The 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at The Brickyard serves as one of Jones’ favorite tracks on the schedule and for good reason after claiming a trio of poles and scoring two podiums last year while running a tripleheader weekend in USF2000. The outing marked the official return of the family name to the Racing Capital of the World, which had previously been absent since PJ Jones, Jagger’s father, attempted to qualify for the 2007 Indianapolis 500. PJ has a best finish of 19th (2006) in two “500” starts.
Additionally, Jagger’s appearance last year added to history as the Jones’ became the seventh family to have three generations compete at IMS, joining a shortlist that includes the families of Andretti, Brabham, Fittipaldi, Foyt, Unser and Vukovich.
This year’s jump to INDY NXT has been anything but smooth early on for Jagger or Cape Motorsports, which returned by fielding its first entry in the category since 2010. Jones is 17th in the standings with a best finish of 12th last month at Barber Motorsports Park.
“It was definitely a little bit of a learning experience, just building confidence, getting comfortable with the car, the speeds and the extra downforce,” Jones said. “It's a whole different deal. We go to these tracks, like Barber Motorsports Park, St. Petersburg, on Monday we were testing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and they're not particularly long tracks that we've been to yet. Pretty short lap times just over a minute, but yet we're going 10-12 seconds quicker at all these tracks in the INDY NXT car versus what I did last year.
“Obviously, St. Pete, we had a crash pretty early in the race, which sucked because I missed out on some learning experience there. But to get most of the race at Barber, had a mechanical, but at least was able to do 90 percent of the race and get that feeling of it and get those laps under my belt; it was really huge for me.”
There are several reasons Jones believes this weekend is when the season gets back on track. Not only because of last year’s success at the IMS road course, but also because the Arizona native pounded some laps around the circuit during an INDY NXT test last month, which could prove vital as the upcoming 35-lap race will only feature one practice session.
The learning process also improved during testing Monday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“I ended the day fifth,” Jagger said. “Obviously, it's just a test and a different track, but that's been the best day for me and the team so far this year out of all the testing and the race weekends. So, I think that's definitely going to be a huge confidence boost for us heading into this weekend.
“The one area we've been really needing to improve is our qualifying, so the goal would be qualifying in the top five and get our first top-five finish this weekend. I feel like where we're at with the team and myself right now, we definitely have the opportunity to be better. But these first couple races for us, like the main goal is learning and we've been doing that. Now, it's time to put a good finish together.”