This weekend’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway has extra meaning for sophomore sensation Brandon Jones. The driver of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro grew up in the surrounding Atlanta area and cut his teeth racing at local short tracks around Georgia.
Both Gresham Motorsports Park and Lanier National Speedway (now Lanier RacePlex) played a key role in developing Jones’ passion and talent for racing.
Brandon Jones Catches the Racing Fever
Jones had his first real experience with NASCAR when he attended a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with his father, where he had the opportunity to meet drivers Kevin Harvick and Cale Gale. Through their conversations that weekend, Gale mentioned to Jones that he had friends in Alabama who had Legend Cars if he ever wanted to come and try out racing. Jones, who had always loved cars while growing up, jumped at the opportunity.
“I went and tried out a Legend Car after that race and fell in love with racing,” said Jones. “Gale took us to Lanier, where he and his dad were also working with Spencer Davis, and I began working with them.
“Every Wednesday after school we’d go to the racetrack and they’d work on race things with me,” he said. “They would go out in a pickup truck and he’d have his radio on and we’d follow him and he’d explain things to us. Then he’d get out in a race truck and do something similar. We did that until they thought we were ready. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but toward the end of one of the seasons at Lanier they told us, ‘Alright, we can put you in the race since there are only two trucks out there.’ It was fun.”
From Making Laps to Winning Championships
Jones took the next step in his racing career in 2011 when he competed in his first full season at both Gresham Motorsports Park and Lanier National Speedway. The year was a breakout one for the Atlanta native, as he collected track championships at both facilities after dominating the Super Truck division with five wins, six pole awards, five second-place runs and 16 top-five finishes in just 17 starts.
“The track championships were definitely a big accomplishment for me,” said Jones. “Honestly, though, one of my earliest accomplishments was beating this one truck. At Lanier they made us run automatic transmissions, so you had just a first gear and then bumped it to second gear and that was it. Well at Gresham, you could run a four-speed transmission, and that always felt a little better. It just gave you a little more power.
“We ended up convincing the people at Lanier to let us run four-speed since the Gresham people were letting us do that,” he said. “So, there was this one guy who always waxed us every time with the automatic. We always finished second or third to him. Well once Lanier switched to four-speed, we got him on the restart and ended up beating him for the win. That was a big early accomplishment for me. That and the two championships were definitely eye openers, kind of like an ‘I can do this,’ type of deal.”
Moving up the Ranks
When he first began racing, Jones had no set plans to ascend to NASCAR. He was just a kid out there having fun on a racetrack.
“I just mainly wanted to see where it would go when I first started,” he said. “I didn’t really have a goal of racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway one day. I didn’t have plans to go Cup racing at that time or anything like that. I was just doing it to have fun at that point, but then obviously I kept on moving up, and it got more and more serious.”
Looking back, Jones can see how both Gresham and Lanier have helped shape him into the racer he is today, especially when it comes to short tracks.
“Lanier was a very technical racetrack,” he explained. “It didn’t have really any banking and it was a short little track. Then I’d go to Gresham and that was more like Bristol with a lot of banking, half-mile, really fast. I think growing up on those two tracks gave me the best of both worlds when it comes to the short tracks we race on today.”
While Jones has moved up into NASCAR and Gresham and Lanier have undergone surface changes and closures, the 20-year-old driver still tries to keep his short track roots going today.
“What has been really cool is we have done a couple late model races this past year with the same team from when I first started,” said Jones. “We’ve never really drifted away too far, so I do try to keep that part of my past going still today.”