By: Ashley McCubbin
After a runner-up in the ARCA Menards Series West Championship in 2019, Jagger Jones is shifting gears by going open-wheel racing this season in the USF2000 Championship. The Cape Motorsports competitor recently spoke with NEWS FROM THE PITS about the transition, and more.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts looking back at St. Petersburg for opening weekend?
JAGGER JONES: I think it was a very productive weekend for me and the team. We struggled a bit Thursday in the one practice session which kind of sucked as it got cut short in half with red flags – so only 15 minutes on track before having to go into qualifying. But we made the car better for qualifying – qualified fifth, but was only a half a tenth off the pole which is crazy how competitive the USF2000 series is. Then going into the race, we struggled a bit in race one. It’s the first race that I’ve really done in two years so just kind of getting back in the swing of things, trying to figure out how aggressive to be, and made some mistakes.
It wasn’t what we hoped for, but Sunday was a nice rebound. Started fourth, fell back to fifth at the start, and then worked my way back up to third to hold my teammate off for a podium. It was a solid weekend – running solidly, staying out of trouble. That was kind of the goal of the weekend in staying discipline and not making any rookie mistakes at St. Pete, which is really easy to do there on such a challenging street track. I think it was a decent weekend and I think we have a lot to build on going to Barber.
ASHLEY: You started off the year showing speed through testing. Now having carried that into St. Petersburg, how much did that boost your confidence?
JAGGER: I think I have been super confident just on this whole switch on the Road to Indy. I think not racing for a little while revamps the adrenaline, spark you have in knowing this could be one of the last opportunities to have at making it as a professional racecar driver. I think just – I’ve always had confidence in myself, it’s not something I’ve really struggled with.
But defiantly the speed in testing – the official test at Homestead, as well as the Chris Griffis test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a great test, but also all the private testing. We had great speed as well, so that boosted the confidence, but going fast and winning races are two different completely things, but I’m very confident that we’ll get to victory lane very soon very really into this year.
ASHLEY: You mentioned Barber Motorsports Park. What are your thoughts on getting to the Alabama road course?
JAGGER: So we went and tested there in December of last year – it was super cold and it rained a little bit on the first day, but it was great to get some laps there. That track is tight – super fun, but there’s some tough spots. Super technical track I would say, it being a motorcycle track, not even designed as a car or IndyCar track. I hear it’s very hard to pass so that will definitely be a factor going into qualifying. We’ll put a lot of emphasis on that as it’s very important where you start, and these are short races. With Barber being a track that’s hard to pass, it will be really trying to be on pole or start in the first row or two for the best shot to win.
But I think we’ll have a good year this year. The Cape guys are good at what they do. They’ve been doing this so long. They have a solid group of guys and a solid group of data and information. They’ve been to all these tracks that we’re going to. they know how to set-up these cars and make these cars go fast. So it really comes down to me giving them proper feedback, figuring out my driving, but I’m looking forward to it. I think we’ll have some chance at some wins at Barber.
ASHLEY: Knowing this is your rookie campaign, what are your goals and expectations?
JAGGER: I think the main goal is to win the championship this year. I know it’s my first year of open-wheel racing, but our speed throughout testing and a solid weekend at a track like St Pete that is tough for a rookie, I think our success proves it’s possible. Going into this, that’s been my goal the entire time – winning the championship this year, but I’d also like to a win race. I’d like to win a race in the next two races and another goal of mine this year is to obviously win Rookie of the Year along with the championship, that’s the main goal this year.
It’s cool how IndyCar has the ladder system – with the scholarship as it actually means something to win the championship. They pay for a good portion and sponsor you in the next series, which is super cool that IndyCar and the Road to Indy are doing that. I think that’s why so many people put such an emphasis in the Road to Indy on winning the championship.
ASHLEY: What track are you most excited to get to?
JAGGER: So there’s a couple. I think St. Pete is one of them, just being the first ever street race in a car. That was one I was very excited for. Obviously, Indianapolis Motor Speedway – I cannot mention that with all the family history that I have there. It’ll be super cool to race on that race course. it was cool getting to just drive there a couple months ago when we were testing. I think it’ll be super cool to race these cars on an oval, so I’m excited for IRP. I’ve done some oval racing before (so) even though this is completely different, it will be fun to get back on an oval.
I think another one that I am looking forward to is Road America. We went and tested there; it was one of my first times in the USF car and that track is awesome. The long straightaways, hard brake zones, the carousel, the kink in the backstretch section is just so fun to drive as a driver. Such a long track too so you really just have to – you can actually pass there in these cars. You can pass at other tracks, but there, since the long straightaways, hard braking zones, that track will be fun to race at.
ASHLEY: The background we’ve seen you in is stock cars – late models, ARCA Menards West. Why did you make the choice to go USF2000 racing for the 2022 campaign?
JAGGER: So IndyCar, open-wheel racing definitely has something unfamiliar with me just because of my family history – with my grandpa, dad racing IndyCar in the past and my grandpa’s success. So it’s nothing too foreign to me growing up so I originally started in karting as many drivers do on road courses throughout the United States – and did a bunch of races in Europe. So I was kind of headed down a more IndyCar / open-wheel path, which a lot of karters do.
But the decision ultimately came as I tested a Legend car and a late model a little bit, and I really liked it and thought the racing would be fun. I considered doing some open-wheel tests and considering where I wanted to put my focus on going forward going out of karts into cars, but I tested the NASCAR stuff and I liked it. One thing led to a next, and I was signed for a full season in late models. Then we got a couple years down the NASCAR route, and it gets hard to find the money at that stage to be racing every year. I didn’t race a lot last year, the year before, just because it’s very expensive.
Some things happened with COVID that didn’t allow me to continue racing the NASCAR stuff, and an opportunity presented it to do some open-wheel stuff. I’ve always liked open-wheel racing as that’s all I wanted to do and it was something that I was happy doing the NASCAR stuff, but something I had on my mind doing NASCAR stuff. I had a few meetings and talked to some people that were willing to help me do some Road to Indy stuff this year and I’m a racecar driver – I like driving anything, whether the NASCAR, the off-road stuff, open-wheel cars.
I just want to race as it’s in my blood, and it was really a no-brainer decision to me to hop in and test an open-wheel car. The opportunity then presented itself for the entire year and I was fully on-board, ready to do it. It’s been a super fun new challenge as driving different styles of cars is something that I enjoy. I think being a diverse racecar driver able to drive a wide variety of cars helps you with anything that you want to do. I would consider myself a better racecar driver in general now that I’ve done this. I have some open-wheel experience, I have stock car experience, I have a wider variety of tools and I think that will help me in the future.
ASHLEY: What has been the biggest challenge and stood out in the transition over to open-wheel competition?
JAGGER: So obviously the tracks, racing on road courses most of the time versus racing on ovals most of the time before obviously is the biggest difference. But being more exact, I would say how light the cars are that I am racing now are. The cars weight 1290 pounds with the driver in – whereas the stock car is way heavier, almost like taxi cabs compared to the open-wheels that are sometimes called fighter jets. So the complete opposite ends of the spectrum, so that’s been a big change.
Everything that you do while you’re in the open-wheel cars, when you’re on the throttle, when you’re on the brakes, makes a very direct impact on how the car handles, where the car goes. The stock car stuff, you have to be very patient, very mellow, very conservative with your driving style because you’re having to deal with such a big heavy car – it’s almost like a boat. You have to worry about saving the tires with all that horsepower in the stock cars, whereas the formula cars, it’s completely different. You have to attack, attack the corners; you really have to push the braking zones as they are crazy.
That’s another big thing – the braking in these formula cars, the amount of pressure you apply and the amount of speed you transition going from off throttle to full brakes to fully off the brakes is very quick in these cars, and that’s something that I haven’t been used to in anything that I’ve driven in the past. So that’s been a little bit of a challenge. But I think simulator work, testing, very adaptable as a driver with my driving style has helped with this challenge. So far it’s been working out pretty well.
I definitely have some things to learn, some things to master as I’m not 100% there yet, but I think I can figure these things out more and more as the year comes. I can figure out how to set-up and make changes to make the car better in the races will be the next big focus because it’s not something that you can practice in testing. Sometimes you go out and feel great by yourself, and then you go out in a race and you’re pushing 10% harder than you would in practice with the adrenaline rushing – you’re having to pass, and the tires are harder from having to pass so more variables. It’s just kind of going to be a learning curve figuring that out but we’re on the right track.
ASHLEY: You’ve ran stock cars and now USF2000. But what else would you like to get behind the wheel of?
JAGGER: So I’ve also done a little bit of off-road racing in the past, which was super cool. I actually did the Norra 1000 a couple years – actually with Don Prudhomme whose a drag racer so we were both coming different eras and backgrounds so that was pretty cool. I’ve driven some other types of cars. I think SportsCar is the easy answer that will in the near future. I think opportunities may present themselves, and hopefully after this year and I do find some success in similar road racing, it’d be cool to do some SportsCar and endurance racing to help add with my open-wheel stuff as we don’t race a lot. We only have eight races a year, 18 races, so there’s definitely some time to fit that in the schedule. Maybe not this year – but in the coming years.
In the way future, I’m not opposed to ever racing stock cars again. I’m not closing my mind off anything – like I said before, I am a racecar driver and I will race anything. I think racing as a sport in general is super cool and I don’t think it needs to be as divided. I think drivers should be able to do some IndyCar, some NASCAR and some SportsCar racing like you see Kyle Larson and other people able to do. It only makes you better as a driver, and all racing is fun. I’ve never raced something and been like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that again,” so I’m not closing my mind off anything.
One thing that is definitely on my bucket list under the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 would possibly be the Dakar Rally once I’m older, maybe after my full-time career as an IndyCar career. I think that’d be something cool to do; I’ve followed that the last couple of years. I like off-road racing – it’s a huge challenge, a lot more variables, and it’s awesome. I’ve been lucky to do some in the past and I’d like to do more later on in life, but for now, the main focus is making it to IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500, and an IndyCar Championship.