INDIANAPOLIS — Norman “Bubby” Jones, a two-time champion of the California Racing Ass’n in the 1980s, died Saturday the age of 78.
Officials from the United States Auto Club confirmed Jones’ passing to SPEED SPORT.
Born June 4, 1941, the Illinois native was a star sprint car driver. He earned 27 victories in USAC national competition, including 22 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series triumphs.
He started his career racing motorcycles in the 1960s before making the transition to sprint car racing after his family expressed a concern for his safety racing motorcycles.
By 1967 Jones had taken over the car previously run by Larry Cannon and used it to win multiple races and track championships across the Midwest over the following few seasons. In 1971, Jones decided to give up racing and focus on his day job as a barber, at least until M.A. Brown offered him the chance to race full time.
Driving car owned by Brown and Chuck Amati, Jones criss-crossed the country for the next several seasons. He earned strong finishes in the Western World Championships and Pacific Coast Nationals, turning many heads along the way.
In 1976, Jones made the move to USAC in the hopes of garnering enough attention to make a run at the Indianapolis 500. Jones earned his lone Silver Crown victory, topping the Ted Horn 100 at the DuQuoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds in a car owned by Roger Beck. He also won the Western World Championships and the Turkey Night Grand Prix to close out the ’76 season.
The following season Jones was tabbed as a replacement for his friend and rival Jan Opperman, who attempted to return too soon from an injury that sidelined him the year before, in the Longhorn Racers stable of cars owned by Bobby Hillin.
He delivered in a big way for Hillin, winning seven USAC sprint car events, including races at Eldora Speedway, Winchester Speedway, the Terre Haute Action Track and Indianapolis Raceway Park, resulting in a top-five USAC sprint car championship finish. He also earned a USAC midget win at Eldora and topped the Hut Hundred midget feature.
However, the highlight of Jones’ season was qualifying for his lone Indianapolis 500. He finished 21st in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977 for Longhorn. Despite two additional attempts in 1978 and ’81, Jones never again qualified for the Indianapolis 500.
The next two seasons on the USAC trail were great for Jones. He scored victories at Eldora, Terre Haute, New Breman and the Indiana State Fairgrounds. He nearly won the 1979 USAC sprint car crown, but a crash on the first lap of the penultimate race of the year at Eldora cost him the title.
During the 1979 season, he became one of just two drivers to win at least four consecutive USAC Sprint Car races at Terre Haute, and the only to driver to do so in a single season. His prowess at Terre Haute extended to the midgets where he captured the 1977 Hut 100, and added to his to his tally of four USAC National Midget victories with additional scores at Eldora in 1977 and Springfield (Ill.) Speedway in 1979.
Change was the name of the game for Jones after 1979 as the Midwestern racer packed up and moved to California to compete in the California Racing Ass’n. He proceeded to rack up wins, specifically at Ascot Park. Between 1980 and ’81, he won 20 times at Ascot alone.
In 1983, Jones topped the CRA championship standings, thanks largely to 11 more wins at Ascot Park. He backed it up with another championship in ’84, this time thanks in large part to 12 triumphs on the Ascot dirt.
He continued to score wins at Ascot, earning another eight in 1986 alone, before opting to retire prior to the 1988 season. He didn’t stay retired however, opting to return to action in 1990 in a car fielded by Larry Henry.
He picked up a few wins, including triumphs at Vermilion County Speedway and his final triumph at Ascot, in 1990. He added what would be his final sprint car triumph in 1991, winning the Pacific Nationals at Manzanita Speedway.
Following his second retirement, Jones helped develop promote Perris Auto Speedway in California. He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1998.