The “Around the Co-op” column is a way to get to know the people, businesses and projects that make up the Nolin service territory. This month, we’re featuring a member who lives and works around the District 3 area (represented by Director Rick Thomas). Mr. Ralph Jones is not only a local business owner that has contributed significantly to the growth of his community, but he also has a fascinating personal history we asked him to share. Below is Mr. Jones’ story in his own words…
By Mr. Ralph Jones:
I was reared on a farm and started driving tractors when I was four or five years old. as I became older my interest in driving cars, trucks increased. As a young person, high school age, driving was my “thing”. I didn’t play sports so this was my “bragging’ thing. I did not, always, want to race. Around 1963, when I was a freshman at WKU, someone opened a race track at Bonnieville, Kentucky (halfway between Upton and Bonnieville). A friend of mine, L.C. Duncan had built a 1950 Plymouth to race there and asked me to drive it. I accepted and my racing career had begun. Later, I built cars of my own and expanded to other dirt tracks in the area (Hodgenville, Taylor County Speedway, Danville and others)
My wife, Martha, didn’t particularly enjoy the dirt; so, in 1974 I branched out to asphalt and Daytona International speedway. I bought and old Holman Moody Ford and reworked it to a 1973 Torino. The first time, I went 167mph and only ran a couple of laps in the race. I ran some ARCA races in 1974 thru 1976. In 1977, we ran some NASCAR races. We ran Daytona, Atlanta, Nashville, Rockingham and a few others with limited success. In 1979 I began to get my engines from Ernie Elliott. In 1979, we ran the ARCA race at Daytona, The Twin 125 qualifying race and the Daytona 500. I finished 5th in ARCA, 12th in qualifying race, and 15th in the1979 Daytona 500. This was the first NASCAR race carried live on national television.
At the end of 1979, NASCAR went from bigger cars, I was running A I976 Torino, to the smaller cars of 1980 and up (like Thunderbirds). I was out for a year or two and bought a 1984 Thunderbird from Bill and Ernie Elliott. We converted it to a 1985 Thunderbird. I had several pole positions in ARCA with this car. In 1986, we had pole for ARCA Daytona 200 and finished second. In 1987 we won the ARCA race at Daytona, I had pole at Talladega at 203.5MPH. In 1985 thru 1987 we had several poles and top ten finishing in ARCA.
After trying unsuccessfully to acquire major sponsorship, in 1988 I decided to step away from racing. My last race was in an Elliott car for the ARCA race at Atlanta. I had the pole (fast time) for race and finished fourth. Throughout my career I was underfunded – but was able to race for those years with some success. I am proudest of the 15th finish in Daytona 500 and the win in the Daytona ARCA 200. One of the reasons that I was able to as successful was that I had a lot of local people to help free of charge or nearly free. Gary Cruse and Lanny Highbaugh come to mind – but there were others.
I decided to quit racing in 1988 because our children Ted and Joy were in high school and participating in many activities and we had begun Jones Home Center in 1977 and we needed to devote more time to these. I had taught school for seven and a half years before stopping in 1975 to have freedom to race. Martha taught for sixteen years, retiring in 984. Her working the first years we were in Jones Home Center helped us survive. My dad helped me start Jones Home Center and worked here for no pay until he passed away in 1983. In the beginning, we had a couple of employees and now we employ fourteen. Ted, our son, operates Jones Home Center now. Our daughter, Joy is a professor at Stockton University in New Jersey.
Our business, like Nolin RECC, has always been community-oriented and community-minded. Our employees think of the customer first. We have grown from a small place to where we are today by helping people. We consider ourselves a building supply and home improvement business and take “great” pride in helping our customers with their projects. We are proud of home we have helped build.
Nolin RECC has helped us grow through the years and we are grateful for it.