(Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Beyond the Cockpit: Erik Jones Likes That Old Time Rock &… Country

There’s no question that Erik Jones‘ passion for racing runs deep. But what some may not know is that the fourth-year NASCAR Cup Series driver is almost as equally passionate about music, particularly oldies in the rock and country genres that came out long before the 23-year-old was born.

But Jones doesn’t just listen to classic music. He studies it, just as his late father raised him to do. From reading musicians’ autobiographies (including one by a singer he shares a last name with) to attending numerous concerts to always having a song blaring in his house, music is a huge part of Jones’ life. 


Frontstretch recently caught up with Jones to discuss all things music, as well as his Racing Reference first and why his quarantine period has been so busy. 

Michael Massie, Frontstretch: I noticed the other day you said that you were reading George Jones’ autobiography. What got you reading that?

Erik Jones: What got me reading I guess is liking his music. I’ve really always been a fan of classic country music, and George Jones was always one of my favorites. So I was just interested. I always get when I listen to, especially music artists, their journey, their path and how they got where they are, how they grew up. So that’s kind of what got me reading about him and reading his autobiography. So it’s kind of cool to hear from their side and their story, what they went through to get there and all the stuff they did and went through once they did get to the top level. So that’s kind of what led me to read that, and I’ve always been interested in that kind of music.

Massie: Some regard George Jones’ song “He Stopped Loving Her Today” as the saddest country song. Is there a song that you would consider the saddest or any song that hits you right in the feelings?

Jones: I mean, that one’s right up there, right? He’s got a couple of them. “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “The “Grand Tour” are both are really sad songs if you listen to them. But such a good voice. I mean, I have to agree “He Stopped Loving Her Today is probably the saddest country song that I’ve ever heard. But his voice is so good. He’s so good at telling a story through songs. He kind of brings you in if you really listen to it. It really gets you in the music, in the song of telling that story.

Massie: Anyone else you’ve been listening to recently?

Jones: Classic country, you know, I listen to a lot of those guys. George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, who else? I’d have to go and start looking through my phone. But all those guys are guys that I like to listen to. Merle Haggard. I’m trying to think. But all those guys are guys that are constantly on my playlist, on my phone coming through. I listen to a lot of music just in general, even around the house during the day.

Massie: If you had to do a Mount Rushmore of music in general, doesn’t have to be classic country, who would be your four?

Jones: Oh, that’s tough. I mean, mine’s going to be unique to me, right?

Massie: Exactly, I’m not asking for the four greatest, but who is the most important to you.

Jones: Yeah, in my opinion, the Eagles are up there on my list for sure, I would have to put them on there. Bob Seger, he’s one of my favorites, Michigan guy, always loved his music. I’ve been to a bunch of his concerts. Waylon Jennings would be on there. And No. 4, I would have to say probably The Rolling Stones.

Massie: Is there a favorite concert that you’ve been to?

Jones: I’ve been to some good ones. My first ever concert was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank [Williams] Jr., and that was a really good concert. I’ve seen the Eagles as well. Probably the best concert I’ve been to, though, I’ve seen Bob Seger a couple times. I went and saw him last year when he came down to Charlotte, and that was one of my favorite shows. He still puts on a great show and has a great voice. So that’s probably my favorite concert I’ve been to.

Massie: So how does a kid from Michigan born in the 1990s grow up loving all this old music typically associated with the Southern regions of the country?

Jones: I don’t know. Really from my dad, I guess. Ever since I was a kid, he was a big music fan and always playing music. We were outside a lot when I was a growing up, working. We had a garage, and we were always usually out there listening to music. And the music that was always on out there was either classic rock or classic country. So I guess that’s kind of where I got all the music tastes from.

Some kids I guess don’t pick that up and don’t enjoy that kind of music from their parents. But for me, it was something I kind of locked onto and started to really enjoy. Some of it was just that he would always quiz me on the music: ask me who sang it, what the song name was. So I just really quickly over the years started memorizing songs, the names and the artists. So we’d always kind of quiz each other back and forth going down the road, because we did a lot of traveling for racing too. That’s kind of where it really came from. Obviously, my dad was born in 1962, so the generation there was a little different, and obviously, the music taste was different. But I’ve always just loved that music, and it’s never really changed.

There’s not a lot of newer music I listen to today. There’s some here and there, but most of it is that stuff I grew up with.

Massie: I’m five years older than you, and I love all the classic stuff as well. But it makes it hard to relate musically to people in my own generation. Have you found that to be a problem for yourself?

Jones: Yeah, for sure. There’s times where you’ll have people over, you’re grilling out or something and you’re playing music and nobody really knows the songs very well. So you get kind of caught in a bind there, because I don’t know what to play. So I just end up giving it to someone else. And then I don’t know the songs either.

So yeah, I think there’s a gap there musically, generationally to some of what my friends listen to. I got a couple buddies that listen to the same stuff that I do, but most of them listen to more of the modern stuff and what’s out now. So that’s fair, it’s kind of a barrier at times. But I do my best to put up with it when it’s on, and I think they do they do the same for me. So you kind of learn each way, each from each genre, I guess more than anything. But there is that feeling for sure.

Massie: Do you play any instruments or do any singing?

Jones: I play the guitar very, very little. But when I was younger, I took lessons and played a lot. In the last six or seven years, I haven’t played that much, but I’ve been trying to get back into it. I still remember very little about playing it, but I do play the guitar a little bit.

Massie: If Kyle Petty called you up and asked to do a duet, would you do it?

Jones: Yeah, I’d give it a shot. I don’t know how much I’d be able to [contribute], but sure, I’d give it a shot.

Massie: Do you know which driver in the garage is the best singer or musician?

Jones: Oh, that’s tough. Best singer, I don’t know, I’d like to say me. I like to karaoke, but I haven’t heard too many other singing voices out of the garage. Best musician? That’s a good question, too. I don’t really know either. I don’t know if really any other guys play many instruments. I haven’t heard of them. I think most of us are so busy. This is the first time we’ve had some time off. So maybe here in the last two months, we’ve got guys picking instruments up now. I guess we’ll find out when we go back.

Massie: So we go to Bristol twice a year, obviously. And we’ve been to Nashville recently for the awards ceremony. Have you had any time while you were in those cities to go to any of the museums or appreciate any of the music history in those areas?

Jones: Not in Bristol, unfortunately. I’d love to be able to check it out some day. Nashville, I’ve had the chance. Yeah, I’ve been there on just vacation before, so I’ve had the chance to go to the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman [Auditorium] and see the museums there and history. Some really neat stuff there, and definitely pretty cool to go there and check out some of the past history, what Nashville’s been all about. It’s changing a lot, and Nashville’s a lot different than it was even 10 years ago. But it’s so cool to go down there and check the history out.

But Bristol is definitely a place I’d love go and be able to — I really got to get up there a day early and spend some time there and check out the music history.

Massie: After you finish the George Jones book, is there any particular book that you’re thinking about reading?

Jones: Yeah, I’m not sure yet. I’ve got a lot of books. If I ever seen one, I just buy it if I’m interested in it. But I’ve got to go through my shelf and see what’s next. Hopefully I’ve got another good one I can find on there. Like I said, I’ve got plenty of time, so I’ve had plenty of time to read.

Massie: Besides iRacing and reading, how else have you been keeping busy during this pandemic?

Jones: Right after Atlanta [Motor Speedway] got canceled, I moved a week after that into a new house. So I’ve actually been staying really busy with that. I’ve got all my stuff over here, and then everything kind of shut down. So it’s really just been busy the last month and a half moving in. And I’ve got some land here too that I’ve been working on and keeping up and getting back. Nobody had lived here for a while, so it’s just working on getting everything back in shape and kind of how I wanted it.

I’ve been actually staying really busy. There’s only been a few days where I’m like, ‘Man, I really need something to do.’

That’s been good. It’s really worked out good, timing-wise. Moving in during the season was going to be pretty challenging. So it’s been nice to have a little bit of time here to get settled in.

Massie: You might be the first driver on Racing Reference to be listed as getting a DNF because of “Internet” when you didn’t finish the Pro Invitational Series race at the virtual Bristol Motor Speedway. What happened there?

Jones: I actually had a computer issue. I don’t know. I got on to race there at Bristol … and everything was going good. I ran through practice, qualifying and warm-up and sat down to run the heat race. Took off, made it about three laps and my computer shut down. So I fired it back up, and everything seemed OK. Then I ran some more laps for the race, hopped in the race, and the same thing happened three more times during the race. So finally after three times, I folded. I guess I waved the white flag on that one. I couldn’t do much more after that. I was already 40 or 50 laps down.

So yeah, it sucked. I was pretty excited for Bristol. iRacing isn’t exactly my forte, but Bristol’s such a cool track and one of my favorites. I was pretty excited to run that one, so it was a bummer to not get to run it. But I got a new sim rig now. I got a new computer. … Fingers crossed we got our issues resolved now.

Massie: Does the fact that we’re going to have a more compressed season or reduced season when it all starts back up add more pressure and stress to you being in a contract year?

Jones: I don’t think so. It’s hard to tell, right? We haven’t done that before and don’t really know what it’s going to play out like. … We’ve got a lot of races to make up already as it is, almost two months worth. The goal is still to run all 36 races and have the playoffs intact. It’s going to be really busy and really unique, but everybody knows it’s a unique situation. And I think that will shine a light on certain situations.

For me, I kind of like it. You just get to go out and race like crazy all the time. It’s pretty fun. It kind of reminds me of late model racing more than the NASCAR schedule with three-day weekends and race on Sunday, and then we have to wait again until next Sunday. … It’s going to be crazy, especially for the teams trying to get cars ready for each race. But for me, it’s going to be pretty fun getting to race as much as we’re going to here in a little bit. It’s pretty exciting.

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Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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