In the days when racers were contested with cars powered by flat-head Ford engines and home-made skeeters running on alcohol dominated the racing scene, Harvey Jones was the man to see to get the most horsepower. Jones’ skills also were highly sought even when small-block Chevrolet engines became the short-track powerplants of choice.
Jones, a 2003 inductee into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, also had a knack for tuning chassis, but many said his greatest attribute was that he knew how to be a great friend to those who knew him. Jones, 91, died Dec. 16 of lingering effects from an automobile accident. Harvey Jones, no relation to the late short-track driver of the same name, lived in McDonough in his later years but grew up in Atlanta working with his father in an armature shop on Ivy Street. He loved racing from the start of the sport but never had a desire to take the wheel himself, as he explained in an interview years ago. He was at the old Peach Bowl Speedway in Atlanta for that track’s first race with an asphalt surface after opening as a dirt track. Legendary driver Bob Flock took Jones for a ride around the speedway. “He drove that car flat out all the way around the track,” Jones recalled. “I was scared to death. I made up my mind if I ever got out of there you wouldn’t catch me in another one.”
Jones was true to his word, and from the earliest days of stock car racing to the modern era, his engines and chassis knowledge led to hundreds of wins by some of auto racing’s greatest drivers. The legendary Ed Samples, the national stock car champion in 1946, was among those who found success with Jones’ help, as did Jack Smith, Curtis Turner, Gober Sosebee, Billy Carden, T.C. Hunt, Johnny Sudderth, the Flock brothers and many other racers of the 1940s and early 1950s.
He also helped prepare cars for drivers in the all-black stock car league that toured the Southeast in the 1940s and 1950s and won numerous races with drivers including Juckie Lewis, whom he considered to be among the best of the Atlanta Stock Car Club drivers. In later years, Jones won races with drivers like Ronnie Sanders, Mike Head and the late Russell Nelson.
Sanders, noting Jones’ way of working on cars without a wide assortment of modern tools, often referred to him as a “blacksmith mechanic.” But Sanders also said that Jones was a true innovator who knew how to make cars go fast and didn’t mind sharing that knowledge with up-and-coming drivers.
“When I first started racing, I didn’t know the front end of the car from the back,” Sanders said. “Harvey taught me what I needed to know to race.”
Jones also had an uncanny ability to recall details of races, including dates and times, from decades past, and in that regard was a great help to reporters and historians seeking information from the pioneer days of the sport.
But as many of his friends pointed out, if Jones didn’t take a liking to you, you’d know it.”If he didn’t like you he wouldn’t tell you what day it was,” Mike Head recalled. But there were plenty who Jones did like, and he was a loyal friend to them all. “Harvey used to tell me: ‘I knew you could drive the first time I ever saw you race,'” Head said. “He was my engine builder, by more important that that, he was my friend.”
Jones is survived by his common-law wife of more than 40 years, Gail Gwynn, and her daughters Lisa Waldrop and Michelle Kelly.