By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Richard Childress Racing driver Brandon Jones. Jones is a 20-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series driver. He drives the No. 33 AAA, Nexteer Automotive, Menards, Rain-X Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Jones is not in the Playoffs for the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship and currently sits 17th in the points standings.
Seth Eggert: How did you become interested in Motorsports?
Brandon Jones: My first interaction with motorsports was coming to the track as a young child. I still am I guess, a kid being 20-years-old. Coming as a nine-year-old, a 10-year-old to the racetrack, being fortunate enough to come in the pits and interact with the Cup drivers. My first interaction was with Kevin Harvick and those guys. That was neat and that is kind of what got me hooked.
I’ve always been a car guy, truck guy, tractor, anything that has wheels. When I first got a taste for this, I was like, this is what I’m supposed to be doing and what I wanted to try and pursue.
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
BJ: My first race was at Lanier Speedway in Braselton, GA. I do remember the result, there was only like three trucks entered in this race and I remember I was scared to death to try to pass the guy and touch him, move him out of the way. I actually had Cale Gale, a former driver at the time coaching me, helping me out, trying to tell me how to do it, set up the pass. That was fun, and I want to say the next race which was the next year, we ended up winning it. It was a good little start.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
BJ: Probably Cale and his father Bubba Gale. Those guys got me hooked up, got me started. They were kind of my coaches my first year of racing. I’ve still ran races with them to this day and they continue to help me out, so that’s the people I lean on.
SE: What inspires you to compete?
BJ: The drive to win. There’s only one winner here and there’s always room for improvement. And when you get that first win, it’s such a big build up, a big high that you’re trying to accomplish so to see everybody go crazy on your team and see the accomplishment that you made as a whole and as a team, that’s pretty neat. That’s what I’ve been striving to do and trying to do each day to be better.
SE: Is it intimidating to have a Hall of Famer like Richard Childress as a team owner?
BJ: No, not really. It’s more of a morale booster having him, a Hall of Famer, being around the track every weekend. He’s extremely involved with the team, trying to make it better as much as he can. That’s cool, that’s a big booster for us.
SE: Is there a specific track that you want to win at?
BJ: Any of them would be awesome, but I would probably say the really prestigious races like the Brickyard, Daytona, Talladega. Those are some of the easier tracks to drive, but I feel like the media and everything you get for winning that race puts your name out there.
SE: You have two full-time teammates in Brendan Gaughan and Daniel Hemric, as well as Austin Dillon, Ben Kennedy, Brian Scott, Paul Menard, Scott Lagasse, Jr., and Ty Dillon. How beneficial is it to have so many teammates?
BJ: It’s good and bad at the same time. You have so much knowledge to help you get better, but having so many teams, it’s very hard on the shops to put 100 percent into your car because you have so many teams. There is so much stuff going on at the shops that it’s kind of hard to focus on one car and make it your prime and best car.
SE: Do you feel that it hinders the development of drivers like yourself and others to have Cup drivers competing nearly every week?
BJ: It’s good and bad, like having a ton of teammates. You follow the guys in practice, some of the Cup guys you can get behind in practice and watch their line and what they’re doing as far as if they didn’t run, you wouldn’t get any of that or any exposure of somebody that you could be racing with in the future.
In that sense it’s awesome, but when it comes to racing, they have just been in the sport so long, know how to put their car on the edge. Coming from a Cup car and stepping down to an Xfinity car, the confidence is high there. I know that when I go from Xfinity to ARCA, it’s like night and day difference just because of the confidence level I have from here.
SE: In ARCA Racing Series competition, you have won back-to-back races at Michigan International Speedway. What do those wins mean to you?
BJ: It’s good. Sometimes you kind of get into a slump every once in a while and it’s hard to build yourself out of that. So if you can get in another car, at least come to the track that you’re running at and compete for a win it’s just a big confidence booster for myself and for the team as well. If they see you out there winning, they know that you can do it and that you can compete for a win. It does help for sure, the cars, not so much, I don’t think they match up too much but at least the buildup helps you.
SE: You split time with Frank Kimmel for one season in ARCA. How did that further your career?
BJ: He helped a lot. He was actually my spotter for the times when he wasn’t racing. He was there at the track every single week. And he had been to all of those tracks multiple times, so it helped a lot.
A funny story, he said that I showed him how to save tires at one point. It was a short track and I was pretty shocked at it. I may have helped him out a little bit as well, but I definitely feel like that he gave me some insight on how he used to do it.
SE: What does it mean to you that your first pole position in NASCAR competition came at Daytona International Speedway?
BJ: It was neat. This is a team that I have wanted to be with for a while now, Nick Harrison being my crew chief, he was kind of my buddy coming into this. Just to be able to do it with them was a blast. The way it ended was not the way we wanted to end the race. We were competitive the whole time so I thought that we could have at least competed for the win there.
SE: What does the future hold for you, where will you be one year from now?
BJ: I would love to stay in Xfinity, but I don’t know what team that’ll be at. I’m still focused on this year and trying to win a race and trying to get a win with these guys. I would love to say three or four more years in Xfinity, it’s not something I want to jump to the next level just yet. There’s always time for it. If you make the call too early you can hurt yourself.