By Jody Weisel
It is often said that if you live long enough, you will see the passing of the greats…and so it is with Don Jones. Don died in 2008, at the age of 84.
Most of the American motocross scene is too young to know much about Don Jones and, at best, most would think of him only as the father of four-time 250 National Champion Gary Jones. And while that is true enough, Don was so much more than just the father of a racer.
Don was a respected racer himself in the hallowed days before motocross, excelling in the rough and tumble world when BSA, Matchless and Triumph and Harley ruled the offroad world. He was also a motorcycle dealer, inventor, R&D genius, team manager, motorcycle designer and father.
Unlike the fathers of many of today’s motorcycle racers, Don?s credentials allowed him to stand side-by-side as an equal with his two factory rider sons, Gary and DeWayne. Don was instrumental in designing the first YZ-versions of the Yamaha DT-1. He ran his own aftermarket company, Jones Racing Products. He built designed and market his own motorcycle, the Mexican-built Ammex. The Ammex achieved a modicum of success in the hands of Gary Jones and Eddie Lawson before the devaluation of the peso limited its horizon.
Since Gary Jones and I were inseparable during the 1970s, it was only natural that I was exposed to Don on a regular basis. You couldn’t help but like the man. He was gruff, irascible and guileless. If I had a spare moment at a National, I would go talk to Don; and during the races I always tried to stand next to him in the mechanic’s area to hear the pearls of wisdom (and sarcasm) that inevitable flowed from his unregulated brain. To my way of thinking he was as straight a shooter as I had ever met. It was almost as though he had no inner dialogue; what he thought, he spoke and what he spoke was so truthful that it couldn’t help but hurt. Yet, that was the charm of Don. He was a curmudgeon, and although I first met him when he was in his mid 40s, he was a curmudgeon even at that age.
It is easy to reminisce about the funny things that Don did or said during his years on the National circuit at Team Yamaha, Team Honda, Team Can-Am and with his own Ammex team, but it misses the accomplishments of the man. Yet, who can avoid the appeal of a father, who when asked by his son DeWayne if they are going to go to Lake Whitney for the 250 National, Don answers, “We don’t have to drive all the way to Lake Whitney to lose, we can lose right here at home.”
I’m going to miss Don, but not as much as his large family will. The “Jones Gang” was a feudin’, fightin’ and lovin’ clan. They have been torn apart over the years by disagreements, but they have always managed to maintain respect and pull together. The central element of the Jones’ success and lasting endowment to the sport was the man that Gary and DeWayne called “My Old Man.”
I had made plans with “The Motocross Files” producer Todd Huffman to go up to the Jones compound in the desert and conduct an interview with Don for Todd, who had to be away on business. The interview was of some importance because Don’s illness, which had only been diagnosed in May of 2008, had progressed so rapidly. Don’s memories of the glory days of motocross needed to be preserved and since I always liked talking to Don, I said I would do the off-camera part. I never got the chance to go, but four days before Don passed away from cancer, I sent a letter to him. I want to share the letter with every one because it expresses what I thought of Don.
One of the things I marveled about when I saw you at the San Diego Museum in May was how all of us kids were so young in the 1970s and you were so old, and then 35 years later we are looking so old and you looked exactly the same. I’m not sure if that means you are a good looking old codger or were an old looking 40-year-old. Either way, I have always had a warm spot for your irascible ways.
In lots of ways, you reminded me of my father. I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with him, but time proved him right on most accounts. My “old man” was the coolest father on the block to all my friends, but I never saw him in the same light as my buddies did. To me he was the guy to yelled at me to get things done and lectured me on how to do them correctly. I should admit that I never batted more than .500 on the “get it done” versus “get it done correctly” scale.
So, you can imagine what Gary must have felt when he learned that I thought you were the coolest dad; honest, outspoken and straightforward. Then it came to me, that if I was your kid I probably wouldn’t find your gruff exterior any more pleasing than I found my own fathers. That’s a strange paradox when your kid’s friends find you to be a straight-shooter, but your own kids have trouble with the same traits. It must be a part of life that will always go unexplained.
Most of the us motocross guys from the 1970s had little experience with people who told the truth all the time…and told it in a way that you couldn’t ignore. I thought that you made the “Big Picture” a lot clearer. I don’t know all the personal dynamics that go into human relationships, but the world needs a lot more Don Jones and a lot less glad-handers.
I am sure of two things, one of us is going to leave this mortal coil before the other (and there is a 100 percent certainty that neither one of us wants to win that race). But, let’s just say for the sake of argument that it’s you before me. In that case, I’m going to be sad on levels beyond just normal empathy. I think you are one of the greats.
However, if I go before you, I’m willing to accept that you might say, “I knew Jody, and as you know, he thought I was one of the greats.”
Gary Jones (73) gets the holeshot on a Don Jones-designed Ammex.