SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Don Prudhomme waited 50 years for his first off-road race and hit a cactus.
The drag racing great known as “The Snake” was able to fix the mangled front end and keep going, but fought an internal battle with himself as he drove through the rugged Baja California landscape.
“It was one of those things where you say ‘I’ll never do this again, I’ll never do this again,'” Prudhomme said. “Lord, if you let me finish this next section, I swear I won’t be back.”
Well, The Snake is back. And this time he’s tackling the NORRA Mexican 1000 with a 16-year-old high school junior.
But Jagger Jones is no ordinary 16-year-old. His grandfather is another racing legend, Parnelli Jones. His dad, P.J., is an accomplished racer, too.
Jagger grew up around racing and is an up-and-coming racer in his own right. He even finished the Mexican 1000 a year ago in his first try.
There may be a huge age gap between the 78-year-old Snake and Jones, but they both know racing.
“I know a little more about driving a dragster than driving a Polaris,” Prudhomme said. “Jagger’s going to teach me a thing or two.”
The Mexican 1000 is similar to the Baja 1000, only spread across five days.
Operated by the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA), the Mexican 1000 starts Sunday in Ensenada and ends next Thursday in San Jose, del Cabo. The race is a brutal test of racing ability and stamina, zigzagging across Baja through deserts and forests at speeds of 100 mph or more.
Just finishing is a feat.
“It’s longer than you expect,” Jagger Jones said. “You think of the Baja 1000, it’s all in one day and it’s like, ‘oh, we get to spread it out,’ but five days in a row is a long race and you’ve got to conserve, make sure you finish.”
Jones did it a year ago.
Driving with his brother, 14-year-old Jace, Jones was leading his division when the gearbox on their side-by-side UTV went out. They managed to get the gearbox fixed and finish the race.
No surprise there.
Jones has been racing since he was nine. He won a national go-kart championship at 14 and spent parts of two years racing karts in Europe.
Jones originally wanted to try the Formula One route, but tried late-model racing at the suggestion of his father. He has since racked up numerous wins in late-model cars and earlier this year bumped up to the NASCA K&N Pro Series West.
“He’s a real racer, a real-deal guy,” Prudhomme said. “You see a lot of young drivers in NASCAR and IndyCar now. Jagger right in line to be one of those.”
Prudhomme proved himself to be the real deal in a drag racing career spanning six decades.
The Snake won four NHRA Funny Car championships and racked up 49 wins in a Hall of Fame career. He added another 63 NHRA victories as an owner and recently joined John Force in securing sponsorship for up-and-coming drag racer Austin Prock.
Prudhomme began racing long before Jones was born, but the younger driver got a sense of how big a deal The Snake is during an NHRA race in Phoenix earlier this year.
“I don’t know too much about drag racing, but I obviously know the history, a lot of the things he’s done,” Jones said. “Just walking around with him, everyone’s asking for his autograph. It’s pretty crazy.”
The young driver should give the legend a shot at a higher finish in this year’s Mexican 1000.
The pair will split driving duties, though Jones may get a little more time behind the wheel. Prudhomme didn’t like his speed in last year’s race, so Jones will likely drive through the speed sections and at night, if they get caught out in the dark.
Jones also will be there to help Prudhomme avoid his nemesis cactus.
“That cactus is still out there. It’s got my name on it,” Prudhomme said. “I’m sure when I go by it, I’ll tip my cap to it or helmet to it. It knocked the crap out of me.”
The Snake has The Kid this time. That cactus won’t stand a chance.
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