ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --
Life in the fast lane suits Daniel Jones just fine.
Jones’ work and his pastime both center on achieving extreme speeds. As the inside machinist lead at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Model and Machine Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Jones works to support the high-speed testing that occurs in test cells throughout the installation. Outside of the Arnold gates, Jones can often be found on the track putting the hammer down or in the garage gearing up for his next run.
Jones, who has worked at Arnold for around three-and-a-half years, took up drag racing as a hobby around 25 years ago. Typically in drag racing, two drivers go head-to-head, vying to be the first to cross the finish line.
A self-described “gearhead,” Jones said an interest in fast cars runs in the family, as his father also raced and tinkered with old cars and trucks in his free time.
“Growing up, he was a gearhead and I can remember going and watching him race when I was just 4 or 5 years old,” Jones said.
Since taking up drag racing himself, Jones said he has crossed paths with a number of folks who share the need for speed.
“There’s a bunch of us that kind of all run pretty tight together and all share the same interests with the ultimate goal of going as fast as we can,” Jones said.
Jones said drag racing has taken him to various parts of the country. He has competed in Bowling Green, Kentucky; Huntsville, Alabama; Florida; southern Georgia; and as far away as Kirkland, Illinois. He frequently races at the Crossville Dragway and at the Buffalo Valley Dragway, a racing facility located around 80 miles north of Arnold AFB.
Jones doesn’t spend his free time away from the track spinning his wheels, as it’s not just the behind-the-wheel aspect of drag racing he enjoys. Over the years, he has built racecars for himself and friends, as well as for the occasional customer. This work has included everything from fabricating pieces and parts for racers to complete vehicle builds.
While the thrill of victory is a bonus, Jones said it’s the exhilaration of reaching speeds well above 100 miles per hour that drives him and others to return to the dragstrip.
“It’s not so much about winning or losing,” Jones said. “It’s kind of the accomplishment of taking something that was just a big pile of tubing and various parts here and there and putting them all together and having an end product as something that will fly.”
It’s not just the hobby of drag racing that has been a part of Jones’ life for some time. While he has owned and built other cars over the years, his 1961 Ford Falcon has been with him from the beginning of his racing days. It started out as a “daily driver” and was the car Jones drove in high school.
“The car I’ve got, it was the first car I’ve ever bought, so I’ve had it 27 years,” Jones said. “I joke around with my wife, I tell her I’ve had it longer than I’ve had her.”
Eventually, Jones decided to tear down the car and rebuild it in order to make it faster. Jones has put considerable work into the Falcon to soup-up its horsepower over the past quarter-century, and it is now his primary car when he hits the dragway. It has a 514-inch block engine and is capable of reaching 120 miles per hour in an eighth of a mile.
Jones said those who enjoy drag racing form a tight-knit community, adding he has not only met plenty of fellow enthusiasts in-person but has also gotten to know some through various internet forums and social media sites. He said racers are more than willing to assist one another by offering advice and sharing ideas.
“Everybody in the racing community is pretty well open to helping, and every once in a while you get to meet up with those guys at various races,” he said.
Jones also receives support from those most important to him.
“My daughters will come and pit crew whenever time permits,” Jones said. “My wife Kristy has always supported me in my racing, and I have always made sure racing wasn’t the number one priority in my life, but it is my number one hobby.”