Don Coble, Nascar Columnist
CONCORD, N.C. -- His race car was spewing steam and oil, but it was nothing compared to the volcano that was brewing inside Buckshot Jones.
The night race three years ago at the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway was special for a lot of reasons. Not only was it one of the most competitive races of the season, but the towering corners transformed the 43-car race into a carnival freak show of sparks, twisted metal and boiling tempers.
It also was the night Buckshot Jones, a college graduate, went off the deep end.
The first seven months of that NASCAR Busch Series season featured several highly visual, highly publicized run-ins with driver Randy LaJoie. When the two tangled at Bristol, Jones, as usual, was the mechanical loser. But instead of loading the car on the transporter, Jones instructed his crew to fix the car well enough for one more lap around the half-mile short track. Jones pulled back on the raceway. He slowed to a crawl in the third turn, then made a hard right turn in front of LaJoie. LaJoie steered clear, and Jones wound up driving headfirst into the outside wall. NASCAR black-flagged him for reckless driving and imposed a fine.
Time has tempered Jones' demeanor. Maybe marriage has had a quieting effect on him. Maybe the time and money it takes to rebuild cars has calmed him down. Maybe the race, not the fight, has finally become more important.
''My eagerness and aggressiveness probably hurt me early on in my career,'' Jones said. ''A lot of times it caused me to end the race with a torn-up race car. You can always look back and say, 'I should have done this or that.' ''
A graduate from the school of business at University of Georgia, Jones is a magnet among fans and sponsors. His ability to attract, sign and please corporate America is a reason why he will earn a promotion next year to one of the Petty Enterprises Dodges on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The team is sponsored by Atlanta-based Georgia Pacific.
Richard Petty, the sport's all-time leading winner with 200 victories, said he wanted a young and aggressive driver. He will satisfy both of those needs in Jones, 30.
This will be Jones' second venture into the Winston Cup Series. Financed by his father, the first team got off to a bad start when it failed to make the starting lineup for the season-opening Daytona 500. By midseason, it was apparent the transformation from the Busch Series was a bigger jump than they expected. By the end of the year, the Winston Cup operation was closed, and Jones was back on familiar ground the Busch Series. While Jones has yet to win a race this year, he has learned to keep all the fenders on the car and not make enemies.
''You start to realize the consequences of your decisions, and then you remember no one lap counts more during the race than the final lap,'' Jones said. ''By no means have I lost my aggressiveness. I still get in that car and want to run it as fast as it will go for as long as it will go. Now it's just more of a controlled aggressiveness.''
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