Another Indy 500 slips by, but Jones’ comeback near
Winning the Indianapolis 500 means everything to Davy Jones, but not enough to rush a comeback from a life-threatening crash 16 months ago.
The Glenbrook auto racer, who finished second in the 1996 Indy 500, has decided to wait until later in the year or early 1999 to resume life in the fast lane.
“I wanted to make my first race back the Indy 500 this year, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do it right. I feel (car) testing is a critical part of my rehabilitation that I still need to complete,” said the 33-year-old Jones. “Physically, I’m fine, and I don’t really have a problem getting back in a car and starting testing. But until you get back on the horse and start riding again, you don’t know mentally how it’s going to affect you.
“I’ve always been able to put things behind me and start riding again, though.”
Fortunately for Jones he doesn’t remember any details of his horrific crash in Florida where his Galles race car slammed into a Walt Disney World Speedway wall at 160-plus mph during a practice session Jan. 23, 1997 in Orlando, Fla. The impact nearly broke his neck, leaving him with torn neck ligaments and nerve damage.
“I’m fortunate that what I remember is all positive. I remember everything right up to that practice session,” he said. “I remember being quicker than everybody else, so I guess I went out on a good note.
“The impact was about 107 Gs, so my head tried to leave me. The nerves take forever to rejuvenate, so that’s why it’s been so long.”
For three and a half months following the accident, Jones wore a halo to ensure no neck movement and proper healing of the damaged ligaments. After the halo was removed Jones underwent months of rehabilitation in Houston. Jones returned to the Lake Tahoe area last October and has played in this winter wonderland as he usually does – snowmobiling and skiing.
“I’ve really come back a long ways. Certainly there were times when I was going through the rehabilitation process that I thought I wasn’t going to be fit enough to get back to what I do best, but the body is an amazing machine. It heels quickly and tremendously,” said Jones, who feels he’s 90 percent physically recovered from the crash. “Like any pro athlete you have to have the right confidence level and support around you. If you have that, then mentally you are strong and you can override a lot of things.”
Because Jones was immobile for a long stretch, Galles Racing released the veteran racer from their contract and found a replacement. Since then, Galles has sold the team to Bob Nienhouse, who hired Davey Hamilton as his driver.
Jones doesn’t expect to be unemployed for long, though.
“There is a lot of interest to bring me back into a racer car,” Jones said. “I do have a good image in the sport and I have a good name. I work very well with the sponsors and have a lot of experience and know-how to bring to a team.
“When I get back into competition I have to have the right package, the right surrounding to be competitive.”
In the meantime, Jones has been regaining his competitive edge by racing go-karts and snowmobiles.
Friend Cliff Hansen, who raced against Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan in the early 80s, and his sons Cory and Hobbie introduced Jones to go-kart racing in Reno. Jones has come within a second and a half of the track record, but has decided not to race against other go-kart enthusiasts.
“It brought back memories of when I started racing. I haven’t done anything competitive in it, but that’s not what I’m in it for. It’s helped me in my driving skills and getting my endurance back,” Jones said. “I feel like I’m learning quite a bit, and that’s all part of getting back to the level I was once was at.”
Ultimately, Jones envisions returning to the level of racing he enjoyed prior to the crash. He came within a whisker of winning his first Indy 500 eight months before his awful crash.
“Obviously, that race is the race I want to win. I feel I could come back and win that race, not only once, but two or three times would be acceptable to me,” Jones said. “Without any seat time in a race car, I’m better off for now not competing. There’s a lot to do between now and when I get back to racing at a competitive level.”
Last week, Jones made an emotional return to the Old Brickyard, and he learned right away that the fans miss him.
“The fans are always asking the same questions: ‘When are you coming back? You should be back already, shouldn’t you?,” Jones said. “But I’m not ready yet; the timing isn’t right.”
Jones also found the sponsors and Indy Racing League very supportive.
“When you get back around that kind of racing atmosphere it really gets your adrenaline going. You feel like a Superman or something. When it comes to reality, however, you can’t jump right back in the car and pick it up again. You have to go through steps you have to,” Jones said.
Besides the racing fans, CART driver Al Unser Jr. has been Jones’ biggest supporter throughout his down time.
“He’s given me more encouragement than any other driver to getting me back to what I do best,” Jones said.
Even though the sport almost took his life, Jones lives to race another day.
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