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Jones key part of pit crew

Andy Ouriel • Jul 16, 2015 at 11:40 AM

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ThorSport Racing driver Matt Crafton probably earned the team’s most valuable player award in 2013 for securing a season championship — the company’s first ever since debuting in 1996.

But no team member deserves the distinction of most improved, or even most versatile, more than Tom Jones.

His tragedy-to-triumph story started in Lima, where, as a high school senior, he enrolled in classes to study high-performance vehicles.

“I just knew I wanted to be in racing,” Jones said. “I became a fan at 5, when I began watching all of the races”    The four-year education process involved pit crew-certified instructors teaching him how to change tires, jump over walls and other techniques in hopes he could one day work for a professional racing team.

And he finally got his big break.

In February 2013, ThorSport Racing employees hired Jones to begin working on a pit crew team.

But his dream almost ended just one month into his career.

During a race in Martinsville, Va., Jones cracked under pressure when servicing Johnny Sauter’s No. 98 vehicle in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event.

About 40,000 people, including his teammates, watched Jones falter.

In short, Jones stumbled and fumbled a bit too much in pit road, causing significant delays for Sauter — who, despite pit troubles, still won the race.

“The most difficult thing was being under pressure” Jones said. “I felt like I let the team down”

Similar to when Major League Baseball players struggle, the ThorSport team demoted Jones. They pulled Jones away from working on pit stops and tasked him with low-skilled jobs almost anyone could accomplish.

Jones, however, didn’t complain.

Rather, he accepted each and every mundane assignment given to him at the company’s headquarters near Wendy’s off West Perkins Avenue. In between jobs, he spent massive amounts of time practicing pit stops. He soon began to flawlessly change tires, remove lug nuts and reassemble fresh parts on trucks in rapid fashion. Company personnel noticed how much Jones had improved — and gave him the second chance he desired and deserved.

“He reinvented himself,” said David Pepper, ThorSport Racing’s team manager. “From that moment we took him off (the pit crew) to this minute, he keeps getting better and is learning more things. He has broadened his skill set to where he is now a valuable member of this organization”

In fact, Jones became so good that he not only rejoined Sauter’s team in mid-2013 but also simultaneously served as a pit crew member for the company’s ARCA Racing Series team as well.

He sometimes spent two days a week serving as a pit crew member for both teams in 2013.

“The travels are somewhat extreme” Jones said. “One day, I was in Canada and then flew overnight to Illinois for another race”

Jones played a massive role in ThorSport’s monumental 2013 season, he served as a pit crew member for both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series. ThorSport Racing claimed the company’s first season championships in both series a year ago.

No other ThorSport pit crew member serviced more winners in 2013 than Jones — an achievement Jones feels most proud of.

“This makes me feel so good,” Jones said. “It’s definitely a life-changing experience. It’s like a roller coaster: You have your high points and low points. At my low point, I thought I was going to get fired. But I worked my way back to the top and we ended with two championships”

Jones, who’s also an in-house mechanic and fabricator, embodies perseverance, a key trait all ThorSport employees should have, Pepper said.

“It’s real easy to quit” Pepper said. “People quit all the time. The hard part is saying, ‘No, I am not going to quit. I am not going to fail’ And that’s what Tom did. He succeeded”

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