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

Photos: Elana Scherr
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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.”

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”