While awaiting the next development in Dan Gurney's creation of a Toyota-powered Eagle Indy car, P.J. Jones is carving quite a name for himself in NASCAR's new Craftsman SuperTruck series.
Jones, who along with Juan Fangio is one of Gurney's test drivers, will drive a Die Hard Chevy C-1500 pickup owned by Scoop Vessels and Darryl Guiducci when the SuperTrucks race Saturday night at Saugus Speedway in what promises to be the biggest event at the Santa Clarita track in its 56-year history.
"Without a doubt, there's never been anything like it out here," said Ray Wilkings, the speedway's owner-general manager. "We can squeeze about 6,500 in the stands and another 1,200 in the pits, and I'll bet we'll have 10,000 looking for tickets by Saturday."
The $148,000 purse is the largest for a race at Saugus. The winner will receive about $20,000.
Jones, 25-year-old son of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, will be one of the favorites in the 200-lap (66.6 mile) race around a one-third mile asphalt oval. The 34 entries include not only former Saugus track champions Bill Sedgwick and Ron Hornaday Jr., winner of last week's SuperTruck race in Tucson, but also such Winston Cup veterans as Geoff Bodine, Joe Ruttman and Ken Schrader.
Although Hornaday won at Tucson, Jones made the show. He was running second, shortly after the halfway point, when he had to pit for a flat tire and dropped three laps behind the leaders. Through judicious use of yellow caution flags, he made up the three laps and was on Hornaday's bumper late in the race when another caution flag brought about a restart two laps from the finish.
"We didn't have a good gear for that last restart, so I tried to hold back and get a jump on Ron, but he was too smart and slowed down so I couldn't get him," Jones said. "He beat me by four-tenths of a second."
Earlier, Jones won preseason truck races at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield and Tucson.
"I can't wait until some of the guys from back East see Saugus," Jones said. "It's as flat as a Sears parking lot, and there's nothing anywhere that compares with it. It's unique, that's all I can say.
"It's going to be tough and frustrating on the drivers, but it should be great for spectators. There's going to be an awful lot of bumping and shoving going on, probably more nudging than passing.
"The West Coast guys, like Hornaday, Sedgwick, (Rick) Carelli and myself, should have a bit of an advantage, having raced on it. I ran a Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix in '91 and won a couple of Western States midget races there."
Saturday night's race will be run in two 100-lap segments, with a brief intermission during which crews can fuel, change tires and make mechanical adjustments. SuperTrucks are almost identical to Winston Cup stock cars, except for a slightly longer wheelbase and a taller body.
The race will be shown live on TNN, the Nashville Network, at 7 p.m.
"Page (P.J.'s injured younger brother) will be watching on TV, so I want to win it for him," Jones said. "The truck I'm driving was actually built for Page to drive. I'm just keeping it warm until he gets back."
Page suffered serious head injuries in a sprint car accident last September at Eldora Speedway in Ohio and is continuing to undergo therapy and rehabilitation.
"Page still can't walk or talk, but he knows what's going on and he answers questions by writing," P.J. said. "Mario (Andretti) came to see him last week and asked Page, 'Do you know who I am?' and Page wrote 'Mario.' "
Motor Racing Notes
MOTORCYCLES--After a two-year absence, the Formula USA road racing series returns to its home track, Willow Springs Raceway, for national championship races Saturday and Sunday. The Sonoco Race Fuels Nationals will consist of two 10-lap sprints Sunday. Favorites include series champion Dave Sadowski, Chuck Graves, Dale Quarterley and Rich Oliver. Racing will begin at noon both days. . . . Speedway bikes will be in action Friday night at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
STOCK CARS--NASCAR's Winston Racing Series will start its 14th season this weekend with more than $100,000 at stake in the national short track competition. There are eight regions, involving 98 tracks. Four Southern California ovals--Saugus, Mesa Marin, Orange Show and Cajon--are in the Sunbelt Region. . . . Street stocks and IMCA modifieds will race Friday night at Ventura Raceway.
SPRINT CARS--The great experiment of Steve Kinser switching to Winston Cup stock cars is over. The 14-time World of Outlaws champion has parted with car owner Kenny Bernstein after qualifying for only two of seven races. . . . IMCA sprinters and Western Legends will share billing Saturday night at Ventura Raceway.
MISCELLANY--U.S. Auto Club midgets and three-quarter midgets will be at Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale on Saturday night. . . . Continental Motosport Club will play host to the Sunstar Sprocket Spring Classic, a six-race motocross series, starting Sunday at Sunrise Valley Raceway in Adelanto.