His given name was Norman, but that went away in a hurry. Soon enough it was Bubby, eventually shortened to Ol’ Bub.
Bubby Jones left us on January 18 at age 78, no longer able to fight off the health issues that had dogged him for the past few years.
He left behind a sea of family, friends, and admirers, grieving the loss of a bona fide legend.
Among his generation, Bub was among the elite. An ultra-successful racer, his unique style and personality captivated those who knew him. He was confident – oh, yes, Bub was confident – and smooth and fiercely independent.
Whatever he did in life, he did it on his terms and at his pace.
He had the perfect mindset and style for a sprint car driver of his era: adventurous, headstrong, daring, proud, ambitious, aggressive. He was also personable, and despite the intense competition he liked people and they liked him.
Bub grew up in Danville, Ill. – “a tough ol’ river bottom town,” he eloquently observed – and he began racing locally in the mid-1960s. His talent was immediately
evident, and he began roaming to nearby states.
In the early 1970s, Bub expanded his range and joined M.A. Brown’s famed team, paired with Chuck Amati. By the mid-1970s, he was considered one of the most promising racers in the nation.
Bub wanted to race Indy. At the time, the path to the Speedway was clearly with USAC. So, despite chafing at the rules and authority USAC represented – actually, Bub chafed at any form of authority – Bubby went USAC racing.
He landed with Bobby Hillin’s Longhorn Racing team, and in 1977 made his first and only start at the 500, running as high as eighth before the car gave out.
In 1979 Bubby teamed with car owner Don Siebert and legendary mechanic Jim McQueen to post a terrific season that included 11 USAC National Sprint Car Series wins. But after leading the points nearly all season they ultimately fell just short of the title and, in his disgust, Bubby packed his stuff and moved to the West Coast.
It was there that Bubby enjoyed some of the most notable and productive years of his life. Teaming with the Kazarian Brothers to drive their Gas Chem sprinter, Bubby and fellow legend Dean Thompson began a decade of competition that defined greatness.
Ascot was their playground, and their sensational weekly showdowns – complemented by a tremendous supporting cast of racers – mesmerized the sport.
Bubby ultimately scored two CRA titles, and despite his Midwestern roots came to personify “California cool.”
When Bub retired from driving in 1991, he maintained a close relationship with the Kazarians, lobbying them to build a race track to replace the shuttered Ascot.
Perris Auto Speedway is a result of that lobbying, and the place is yet today covered by the fingerprints of one Norman Jones.
In more recent years Bubby moved back to the Midwest, settling near Indianapolis. He wrenched for several teams and became a key mentor to a host of young racers.
Bub taught them about more than just rotating the corner and adjusting side bite; he taught them about people and emotions and the hard edges of the world. He taught them about life.
Eventually the years caught up with Ol’ Bub and he kept a low profile, staying close to home, enjoying conversations with family and friends and remembering the good days he once knew.
His legacy? He was a helluva racer, to begin. Bub was brave and bad fast and brimming with style. He could put a car on the razor edge of disaster and somehow always kept it under him.
His persona was that way, too: in conversation, he could boast right up to the edge, making sure you understood that he was a badass … but without being over the top.
Bubby had charisma. He would look at you with that sly smile, a twinkle in his eye, and you could immediately sense that this was a man who made it through life by creating his own set of rules. Everybody says they want to be their own man, but by golly, Bubby did it.
Sprint cars are meant to be exciting. It’s not so complicated to build an exciting, fast car. But finding somebody equally exciting, equally edgy, equally dynamic to drive it, well, that isn’t so simple. You have to find the precise mix of skill, bravado, desire, and ambition.
And if you want to win, there is one more key ingredient: magic.
Bubby had lots of magic. He sure did.