BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ted Jones executed his first pass down a dragstrip at age 16.
Thus began a fast-paced adventure for the motorsports visionary from Indianapolis.
During pre-race ceremonies for Sunday’s National Hot Rod Association Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, Jones will be inducted into the Legends of Thunder Valley.
A walking encyclopedia of drag racing history, Jones has served as a track owner, manager of Bristol Dragway, and president of Master Entertainment Group.
"This is a great honor because it’s Bristol," said Jones during a recent press conference. "I spent so much of my life and career at this track."
Three years after making his debut as a racer, Jones bought his first dragstrip in Ohio. When that facility became successful, Jones built a new dragstrip in the middle of an Ohio cornfield.
"I love the sport and I felt like I could do things for it," Jones said.
Jones owned four tracks in the Midwest by the time he called Bristol Dragway owner and International Hot Rod Association president Larry Carrier in hopes of landing an IHRA national event for his track in Muncie, Indiana.
Shortly after Carrier gave his approval, the innovative Jones helped steer IHRA to a new level by bringing television coverage, a traveling safety crew and a custom trophy,
"Larry saw how well organized we were, and he said that I needed to come to Bristol and work for him," Jones said. "I sold my drag strips and started running the IHRA."
Over the next two decades, Jones worked in several professional capacities at Bristol Dragway.
Jones was far more than an administrator. He developed many new classes of competition and created innovations that are still utilized at the top levels of the sport.
Those creations, which were usually introduced as experimental categories in Bristol, include NHRA classes such as Top Dragster, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Pro Mod and Mountain Motor Pro Stock.
This weekend will mark the first time since 1997 that the Mountain Motor class, which spotlights 800 cubic inch engines generating 200-mph-plus quarter-mile runs, will be contested at Thunder Valley.
"The idea was to create a Pro Stock class with a ‘run whatcha brung’ mentality with big motors," Jones said. "It was an instant hit with everybody. We would have 40-50 cars trying to qualify for a 16-car field."
Jones was also the mastermind behind the 16-car bracket currently used for NHRA pro class eliminations and for the alternate lane qualifying procedure.
After leaving IHRA and Bristol Dragway, Jones was hired by ESPN to produce drag racing television content. He also formed the Bristol, Tennessee-based Masters Entertainment Group that aired NHRA and IHRA races across the country.
"ESPN was new with about 10 million homes and IHRA needed a lot of TV coverage," Jones said. "I convinced (ESPN) that drag racing would be cool."
Jones said he is proud of the rich history and continued growth of drag racing in Bristol.
"I was so thrilled when Bruton Smith and Jeff Byrd redid this facility and made it into the incredible mansion that it is today," Jones said. "I never would have expected all this growth. Thunder Valley is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s one of the best dragstrips in America."
On Sunday, the teenaged racer turned drag racing pioneer will become an even bigger part of Bristol Dragway history.
"To see my name go up there with those true legends of Thunder Valley is incredible," Jones said. "Those guys raced with me when I was the manager of Thunder Valley. They are my mentors and idols, so this is an unbelievable honor."
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