When Erik Jones captured the 2015 CRA Triple Crown in his own Super Late Model, he viewed it as a fitting swan song to his short track career.
After all, the two-time Snowball Derby champion was on the fast track to the NASCAR Cup Series and didn’t want anything to distract him from that goal. And yet, he returned to select events in 2016 with KBR Development and car owner Mike Bursley.
It seemed as if Jones just couldn’t quite shake the short track bug that had consumed him for much his formative years.
“Yeah, I really thought up until January last year that I wasn’t going to race a Super Late Model anymore,” Jones said. “I wasn’t interested in doing my own deal again and (Kyle Busch Motorsports) was pretty booked for that season.
“Then one of my buddies from Michigan called and said that Mike was looking to start a team and leave Port City. So we had dinner and it was just the right opportunity. I thought there was something cool about it because we just wanted to have fun and build something.
“I was having a lot of fun Late Model racing but it was becoming a burden at times and I didn’t want it to take away from the NASCAR side so we kind of reversed course last year. Racing with Mike took some of the financial burden off me.”
And boy did they ever compete with finishes of first, first and second in three CRA Super Series starts — including an emotional hometown triumph in the Battle at Berlin just days after his father passed away from cancer.
Jones and KBR then won the Circle City 100 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana during the Brickyard 400 weekend and posted a runner-up later that summer in the Kalamazoo Klash. Jones doesn’t have a set schedule in the No. 20 Super Late Model now that he’s full-time in the Cup Series with Furniture Row Racing but hopes to race whenever it’s logistically possible.
“Obviously, it’s a play it by ear kind of thing like it has been the past couple of years,” Jones said. “I haven’t ever been able to sit down and hammer out a schedule. Right now we have this weekend and the Winter Showdown at Kern County (Speedway) in a few weeks.”
This weekend is a reference to Speedfest at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Georgia. This is the first time Jones has participated in the CRA preseason exhibition since back-to-back starts in 2012-2013. With qualifying efforts of P4 and P11, Jones has enjoyed good pace at the 3/8-mile bullring, but was bit by crashes in both races.
“The two times I went over there were fun but it’s stressful,” Jones said. “In 2012, they wrecked a bunch of race cars. There was a fair amount of wrecking in the second race too. It’s early in the season and there’s a bunch of guys that haven’t raced in a while and everyone seems a little jumpy.
“I haven’t been there in a while so I don’t know if it’s any different. Beyond that, it’s a racy track. It can be challenging to pass but I’m looking forward to it.”
Jones will also race in the Winter Showdown in February at Kern County Speedway and is hopeful to make Super Late Model starts at IRP and Bristol Motor Speedway in the inaugural U.S. Short Track Nationals.
Jones seems destined to become a star at the highest level of the sport, but he’s never too far removed from his short track roots.