Road & Track (USA)

‘I Went from Chump to Champ’

DAVY JONES, 1986, 1996


Wanna see an up-and-coming profession­al athlete in his worst moment? Search “Davy Jones Road America crash” on Youtube. The year was 1986, and the Chicago-born driver was 22, racing a Bmw-powered March GTP in IMSA. Jones tucked in behind a Nissan going through Road America’s famous kink when he lost downforce on the car’s front end. The vehicle was in pieces in seconds, and Jones was lucky to be alive. “The car was absolutely destroyed,” he remembers. He ended up in an ambulance, fearing this shunt could be a career ender.

The team manager, John Dick, came to Jones and said, “Davy, BMW and all the powers that be just lost a million-dollar race car. But the team believes in you. We’re going to build you a new car. We’re going to go to Watkins Glen, and we’re going to kick ass.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Four weeks later, Jones and teammate John Andretti won at

Watkins Glen. “I went from chump to champ,” Jones recalls. That victory launched Jones’s trajectory. But as many fans know, that’s where this story really gets interestin­g.

Jones debuted at Le Mans with the Jaguar factory team in 1988. For four straight years, he competed in the Silk Cut XJR-9. He led the race every time but came up short in each, finishing second in 1991. Then: nothing. Jaguar folded the team. Five years went by before Jones got picked up by Joest Porsche. The team bought Jaguar’s XJR-14S and redid the bodywork on one of them, making it an open-cockpit and flat-bottom car. Engine: Porsche turbo 3.0-liter flat-six. Testing at Circuit Paul Ricard revealed that the machine had what it took to be a winner, and Jones thought maybe this was his time to break through.

On Memorial Day weekend 1996, Jones placed second in one of the closest Indy 500s in history, behind Buddy Lazier (who two months earlier had broken his back in 16 places after a crash in Phoenix). Then Jones took off for Le Mans, where he co-drove with Alexander Wurz of Austria and Manuel Reuter of Germany. The No. 7 Joest Porsche manhandled the competitio­n for most of the 24 hours, and at the end, on his fifth and what would turn out to be his last go at Le Mans, Jones was in the cockpit a lap ahead of the second-place Porsche 911 GT1. And there it was: the checkered flag, waving in the wind. The team completed 354 laps—over 2991 miles.

“When you win a race like Le Mans, you’re ecstatic, but you’re more relieved than anything,” Jones says today from his home outside South Lake Tahoe. “It’s a team effort and takes everybody’s effort to win. You’re so focused on the race and the strategy and the competitio­n. It’s not until a couple of days later that it sinks in. A few days later, you’re, like, fucking A! We won that thing!”

No American has won it since.

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