Photos: Elana Scherr

Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme, Parnelli Jones’ grandson complete 1,300-mile NORRA 1000

Leave a comment

It was a challenge, particularly in the late going with a wounded vehicle, but NHRA drag racing legend Don “Snake” Prudhomme and budding NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver Jagger Jones finished all 1,300 miles of the 5-day NORRA Mexican 1000 in Baja California, Mexico.

The pair finished 16th in the Stock Turbo UTV class, but likely would have finished higher had the fuel pump on their 2019 Polaris RZR 1000 – built by Jones’ father, race car driver P.J. Jones – not faltered going into the final day of competition.

Still, the pair did what they set out to accomplish by finishing the grueling race.

We nursed it home,” Prudhomme told NBC Sports. “Finishing is an accomplishment. There were cars on the side of the course, crashed and out of the race. We passed all kinds of cars on the last day. We passed (noted racer) Tanner Faust (Robby Gordon also competed in the event). He was rolled over on his side. He was okay or else we would have stopped to help him. He just waved at us going by.

Even big teams with professional racers can crash out in this thing. (The last day and a half of the race) looked like roadkill on the side of the road with so many cars were crashed or upside down.

(It) was a bummer because we had engine problems. It was a two cylinder engine and we were running on one cylinder most of the day. It was sputtering. Jagger did the majority of the driving. I started in the morning but we fought through it together. It was fun when he was driving. He is just so good. I was watching him drive. It pumped me up.

I didn’t know I could get that much more out of our machine until I saw (Jones) behind the wheel. He is really fast. We were cutting in and out on those problems with the cylinder so it was a rough day in that respect. (But) it was a fun day in the fact that we were able to finish the race.”

Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme, left, and Jagger Jones celebrate finishing the Mexican 1000.

When the fuel pump began to falter, Prudhomme thought he and Jones would both face the same fate they each experienced in last year’s 1000, when both failed to reach the finish due to mechanical failure on their respective rides (they did not team up in last year’s race, but raced for separate teams).

We had to make a decision (the night before the final day) when we were working until about two in the morning,” Prudhomme said. “We were actually just going to put it on the trailer because we couldn’t find the problem. We didn’t want to be stuck out in the desert. That is the worst.

We decided that if we both drove it and took it easy we could finish the race. That is what we did. We stopped it seemed like every 20 or 30 miles and put a splash of gas in it. As long as the tank was full the thing would run pretty good. When it started getting low on fuel is when it would start to cut out.”

Jones, grandson of iconic racer Parnelli Jones and son of racer PJ Jones, made quite the impression upon Prudhomme.

Jagger is a mature kid and a professional already. I was just impressed with him as a race car driver,” Prudhomme said. “He might be 16 but he is a professional. I’d look over at him and he has a helmet on just like me.

It doesn’t matter if you are 16 or 80 when you put on that helmet and go race. I didn’t even think of him as a young kid. He was really cool.

The kid is so smooth. He got us home. He got us to the finish line. It was a whole lot of fun riding with him.”

Jones said it was an equally great experience to be paired with the legendary “Snake.”

Racing with him was awesome,” Jones said of Prudhomme. “It was a really good experience. He is super cool.

We were running pretty well but we didn’t get to finish one of the long stages and had to take a time penalty. That kind of killed us. I think we were running like fifth in our class. We were still in the race until then and we also had the engine problem on the last day.”

Jones is in his first season of racing on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series circuit.

Prudhomme, Jones and their team celebrate after reaching the finish line in the NORRA Mexican 1000.

We didn’t know if we were going to make it the last 25 miles,” Jones said. “We were really happy to get to the finish line.”

But finish they did. While Jones will likely come back for next year’s race, Prudhomme, who turned 78 on April 6, said going into this year’s race that it would be his last 1000. But now, after racing with Jones, he may come back and hope the third time is the charm next year.

I am thinking about doing it again,” Prudhomme said. “I loved doing it last year and then I thought doing it this year would be the last time.

I am so excited but the only way I would do it again is if I could race with Jagger again. I would want to really work at it. We’ll have to see.”

Even though he came up short of winning, Prudhomme left Baja and returned to his Southern California home feeling like a winner, nonetheless.

It is a thrill to finish,” Prudhomme said. “What I like so much about this NORRA race is when you cross the finish line they treat you like a winner. Everybody celebrates. The camaraderie here is great. It is like nothing I have seen before. What is so cool is there is no money for the winner. You get a trophy. It takes me back to the early days when I just started racing and you just liked winning a trophy. It is bragging rights here.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
1 Comment

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”