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.”
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.
“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.”