Even with a Cup Series career that has produced victories at Daytona and Darlington, Erik Jones never stopped loving Super Late Models.
It’s a form of competition that has given him so much, and it’s a discipline Jones has wanted to contribute additional time to since he has become an established commodity at the highest levels of NASCAR.
Jones made his first appearance at Five Flags Speedway since 2014 over the summer when he made two Southern Super Series/Blizzard Series starts on one weekend in August with Travis Braden and BJ McLeod.
He has raced Super Late Models sporadically over the past five years, but had made it known across the industry that he was actively looking for the right opportunity to race at least 10 times a year when his Cup Series schedule would allow.
Enter Justin Oertel and Cody Glick at HAMKE Race Cars.
"It's been four or five years since I was a part of a consistent Super Late Model program and Justin called me and asked about my level of interest," Jones said. "So we partnered up and they were able to put together the car and engine and get us racing the past couple of weeks.
"The big thing is that HAMKE are the cars to beat at Pensacola right now. They're so strong and they have such a good system, and that was important to me."
That system included Glick, who oversees everything technical related to HAMKE Race Cars. Glick is also a former Truck Series crew chief that served as truck chief with Jones when he captured the championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Glick also served as Jones’ crew chief when they won the CRA Triple Crown races at Berlin, Anderson and Winchester.
"It's incredible to think about in that it's been seven or eight years now," Jones said. "It's been cool to get back with him and work with him here. He's evolved a lot as a crew chief.
"He's become a mentor to a lot of people in this kind of racing. He's learned a lot in NASCAR and we speak a lot of the same languages. It's been refreshing to bounce a lot of ideas off him."
So far, so good for Jones, Glick and Oertel this week.
Even though it has been seven years since Jones has last made a Snowball Derby attempt, he has a general idea of what a race winning car feels like, and he believes he has it through a week of testing and practice.
"We came down on Monday for our test and I was pretty happy with it," Jones said. "Really worked through race trim stuff in practice. I have a general idea of what I want it to feel like. I don’t watch the stop watch much. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here but that’s where racing over the summer here helped.
"Pretty happy with it. Speed was there on our mock run and you can’t ask for more than that."
Jones will race next season with Richard Petty Motorsports but fully anticipates making this No. 4 Super Late Model his hobby of choice every chance he gets next season, and especially the off-season once the NASCAR campaign comes to a close.
"We put this together right before the Cup Series schedule came out and we didn’t think there would be so few off-weekends but I think we’re going to do every mid-week show we can and some winter races too," Jones said.
"I think we can get 10 races in next year and that’s more than I’ve done in seven years and it’s something that I’ve really wanted to do more of for awhile."