Being one of the most decorated drivers in United States Auto Club (USAC) history means you have a long list of accomplishments. Levi Jones has the honor of being in such rarified company mainly because of his seven championships – five USAC National Sprint Car Series titles (2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011) and two USAC Silver Crown championships (2010, 2011).
Those are gaudy statistics for Jones, an the Olney, Ill., native who started racing hoping just to win a Saturday night race, let alone championships in one of the most prestigious racing organizations. Unfortunately Jones was unable to add to those title numbers in 2012. His season was cut short by injury in late August, costing a shot at winning a fourth straight Sprint Car crown and third consecutive Silver Crown championship.
“It was tough to take myself out of the championship chase, but I had to look to the future,” Jones said. “You always want to finish what you start, but when more than one doctor tells you that you need surgery as soon as possible, you have to take them seriously. We had a great run going, and we were looking to win another title or two with Chevy Performance, but we decided to make the right decision. I’m hungry to get back in the car and go after another championship.”
Jones’ season ended after surgery Sept. 4 to repair two herniated discs. He competed in the first six Silver Crown races, finishing in the top-five three times. His best finishes of 2012 were both third-place runs, first at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and then at Iowa Speedway. Despite missing the final three races of the season, he still finished eighth in the championship standings.
If the numbers from his past are any indication, Jones will be right back in championship contention. With his career total of seven USAC championships, he is tied with a pair of racing legends – Mel Kenyon and Rich Vogler. Only A.J. Foyt has more, with 10 USAC National titles.
Jones matched the accomplishments of Jack Hewitt (1986-87), J.J. Yeley (2002-03), Dave Steele (2004-05) and Bud Kaeding (2006-07) as the only repeat champions in the Silver Crown division after earning the 2011 title by driving for Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing. It was the sixth Silver Crown title for car owner Stewart and his second with partner Curb-Agajanian. In addition to Jones’ 2010 and 2011 titles, Stewart captured four consecutive Silver Crown titles from 2002 to 2005 as a co-owner with Bob East.
Jones’ run to his second straight Silver Crown championship went much smoother than the one he earned in 2010, when, following his season-opening victory in February at USA Raceway in Tucson, Ariz., the team suffered some major setbacks that left it with a handful of poor finishes. In a showcase of resiliency, Jones and the team rallied to win the title by just two points.
“Once you win a championship, your goal for the next year is coming back and winning it again,” Jones said. “We learned a lot winning the Silver Crown title in 2010. I remember in April when Jim Campbell, Terry Dolan and Eleni Mareskas from Chevy came to the shop and talked about how proud they were of the championships we’ve won. That kind of hit home. I never even dreamed of being able to win a USAC race, let alone a championship. To have multiple championships in both the Sprint Car and Silver Crown series is still pretty hard for me to believe.”
Jones’ other title run, his journey to a fourth straight National Sprint Car title, also was derailed because of the surgery. He competed in 29 events with one victory and 16 top-five finishes. He was within striking distance of a fourth title before missing the final five races of the campaign. The year before, Jones became only the third driver to win three consecutive USAC Sprint Car titles, joining four-time USAC Sprint Car champion Steve Butler (1986-88) and Robbie Stanley (1991-93).
“I remember putting our first car together and talking about going to our first USAC race when we had no business going,” Jones said following his 2011 Sprint Car title. “We were just hoping to make a race, let alone someday win a championship. We now stand here as a five-time USAC National Sprint Car champion. This puts us in a class of our own, and that’s really special.”
Jones’ 2011 title marked the sixth USAC Sprint Car championship for car owner Stewart. Three of Jones’ four previous titles (2007, 2008 and 2010) came driving for Stewart. J.J. Yeley (2003) and Josh Wise (2006) piloted Stewart’s No. 20 to the other two USAC Sprint Car crowns. Jones’ first Sprint Car title came with Benic Enterprises in 2005.
Jones’ 2009 Sprint Car Series championship season included wins in four feature races and 16 top-fives and 20 top-10s in 34 events.
He took part in eight Silver Crown races in 2009 with best finishes of second in July at Iowa Speedway in Newton and third in February at Manzanita Speedway near Phoenix and in August at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. He added another 14 USAC Midget Series events with a best finish of fourth at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway.
Jones’ runner-up Sprint Car season of 2008 featured three fast time awards and two victories along the way, one coming at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway and the second at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track, both in May. He had 11 top-five finishes and 15 top-10 finishes overall. He also finished fourth in the Silver Crown championship and sixth in the Midget Series.
The 2007 racing season, Jones’ first of two championship runs with TSR, was full of defining moments. Not only was it his first with his new team, it also was the first for team sponsor Chevrolet. Jones won four Sprint Car Series races in 2007 and added another 11 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes. He was voted to the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters (AARWBA) All-America Second Team.
Jones was also in control of the USAC Sprint Car Series standings for the majority of the 2007 season. He took the lead following the first race at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway and never dropped out of the top-five at any point during the season. Jones reclaimed the championship lead for the final time during the series’ Indiana Sprint Week event July 12 at Lawrenceburg Speedway.
The 2007 racing season also held another milestone for Jones, as he captured his first career USAC National Midget Car Series victory Sept. 7 at the Plymouth (Wis.) Dirt Track. Gaining momentum in the late stages of the season, Jones announced himself as a threat in the series by posting several strong finishes, including a second-place finish in the Belleville Midget Nationals, en route to seventh place in the final USAC Midget standings.
Jones made three USAC Silver Crown Series starts for TSR in 2007, as the team once again only competed on the dirt. Posting a best finish of ninth in the “American Revolution Weekend” Sept. 22 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, Jones scored his second series top-10 finish of the season. He also faced a heartbreaking defeat at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in the USAC Silver Crown Series, as he led the 100-mile event with two laps to go when the right rear tire on the No. 10 TSR/Chevy/Maxim gave out, relegating Jones to a 23rd place finish.
The 2006 racing season was a milestone year for Jones as he was named to drive for the TSR stable. He kicked off the season in January with a USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series victory at Manzanita in his pursuit of back-to-back National Sprint Car Series championships. Over the course of the season, Jones racked up 11 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 finishes but fell just short of earning the title, finishing as the series runner-up to his then TSR teammate Wise.
The 2006 racing season also saw Jones take on his first full year of USAC Midget competition. Consistent improvement and top-10 finishes aided him to a sixth-place finish in the Midget standings. Jones also competed in five dirt Silver Crown events, and took part in a historic battle with Wise in the finish of the 54th Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in May at Indianapolis. Coming to the stripe just behind his teammate, Jones earned his season-best finish in the event.
Jones’ path to Tony Stewart Racing began in 2005, where he commenced an all-out assault on the Sprint Car Series. Scoring a series-high five victories, Jones also recorded a clean sweep of the Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track. He also set a non-Winged Sprint car track record at Eldora Speedway during the USAC 4-Crown Nationals, reeling off a lap of 14.750 seconds at the legendary half-mile facility. He then went on to win the Sprint Car Series portion of the event.
Winning four of five events in the inaugural O’Reilly Sprint Bandits “Tour ‘N Topless” series, Jones was also crowned the series’ first champion in 2005. He also won the Ultimate Challenge at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. At the season-ending USAC national awards banquet, Jones was honored as the 2005 Earl’s Fast Qualifier Sprint Car Champion. Another jewel in his 2005 crown was being named “Driver of the Year” by the North American Non-Winged Sprint Car Poll voting panel.
Jones earned USAC’s “Most Improved Driver” award in 2001 and finished third in the series’ Sprint Car point championship in 2003. In 2004, Jones began to attract national attention by winning the USAC Indiana Sprint Week title. He went on to win the Sprint Car National event in front of a NASCAR audience in the fall of 2004 in Concord, N.C., taking the victory at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also earned the 2004 Earl’s Fast Qualifier championship for his efforts in the Sprint Car Series competition, and finished the season ranked fourth in the series’ championship standings.
Making the switch to full-time sprint car racing in 2000, Jones earned his first USAC fast qualifier award at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind., during an Indiana Sprint Week event. While competing in Modified Midget events early in his career, Jones got his start in full-size sprint cars in 1998 at age 16. Competing weekly at local race tracks in the Midwest, Jones won the 1998 Red Hill Speedway sprint car track championship.
Jones resides in Swansea, Ill., with his wife, Heidi, and their two sons, Cru and Winston. Jones was a standout on the East Richmond High School basketball team in his hometown and is actively involved in the family business – a growing chain of farm and home retail stores based in the Midwest called Rural King Supply. When not racing, Jones likes to spend time with his family and enjoys playing pool.