JONESVILLE — Saturday night for Jeff Parsons started out with a ho-hum, fourth-place finish in an Open Wheel Modified heat race at Friendship Motor Speedway.
He rolled into the pits with a smile on his face. There was no sense of urgency.
Finally, after a few minutes of talking and swigging down part of a Vitamin Water, Parsons and his crew went to work.
“I know we were a little slow in the heat,” Parsons said. “But I wasn’t pushing the issue.
“I knew we’d be fast in the feature.”
Twenty-five minutes later, the stagger was changed and No. 44 was gassed up.
It was hardly an experience one would expect from the driver labeled “Mr. Excitement” by former Friendship announcer Corey Hensley. Parsons, driving a car with a fire under the hood, said “he just kept running it. I wasn’t coming in,” he said.
So on that night in 2008, Hensley called Parsons “Mr. Excitement.”
And he still is. At least during features.
He started fifth in the heat, moved to fourth and stayed there. Parsons said it’s not worth it to try to win a heat race. “In the heat race race, I don’t push it,” he said.
And he knows the track conditions for the heat race are likely going to change before the feature race.
“You got to watch it,” he said. “We just keep changing stuff. That’s why we ran better in the feature.”
A ‘premier track’
It’s the driving style that has captured the attention of fans and other drivers. He’ll go high or low in the same race to move up.
“He can adapt,” said Bradley Rhyne, the owner of the I-77 CB & Chrome Shop and one of Parsons’ sponsors. “He can make the car work no matter what the track is doing. He’ll find something that will work.
“His adaptability’s unbelievable.”
“I just try to go where nobody’s at,” Parsons said. “Saturday, people were trying to run up top. I’ll go to the top if that’s where I gotta go.
“Saturday, a lot of the modifieds were running one groove up top. The fast groove was the top.”
But Parsons stayed low, moving from seventh to second by the seventh lap. A broken rocker arm put him out of the race after eight laps.
After a fast start this season, Parsons has had his share of problems the last few weeks. But he still is very fond of Friendship.
“At Elkin, you gotta have a good driver, a good motor, a good car,” Parsons said. “It think it’s the perfect size for racing.
“It’s the premier track to us. It’s the one you want to win at.
“They’ve got a lot of fans.”
Sometimes those fans aren’t his fans. “We get booed,” Parsons said. “They don’t like to see us win.
“But we deserve to win as much as anybody.”
‘A lot of good luck’
Jeff Parsons, now 26, has been racing since he was 11 years old.
His first car, “a tank” he said, was a four-cylinder Toyota Corolla.
“I just rode it around until I got a bunch of seat time,” Parsons said.
Parsons, born and raised in Union Grove, got the bug from his dad — Jackie Parsons. His dad drove late models and street stocks. But he wasn’t going to easily prop an 11-year-old up behind the wheel of a race car.
“He made me work on my own car,” Parsons said. “He had an old car sitting out there. He said, ‘you get it running, you can race it.’
“I knew we could get it running. I didn’t know how fast it would be.”
Parsons found out. “It wasn’t very fast,” he said.
He moved to eight-cylinders by the time he was 14. He won his first race — a Street Stock feature — in 2004 at Antioch Speedway in Morganton. The win didn’t come quickly.
“We’d been close a bunch of times,” Parsons said. “Something would break.
“We just got lucky and won one.”
During the last five seasons, he’s won five points championships — three at Friendship Motor Speedway and two more at Rolling Thunder Speedway in Ararat, Virginia.
“We’ve had a lot of good luck over the years,” Parsons said. “Last year, we won 43 races.”
At 311 Speedway in Madison, Parsons won 13 races — 10 in a row — in the Limited Sportsman division in 2012.
“A lot of that is — we’ve learned the track,” he said, “and how to adjust the cars. You have to stay on top of it.”
Wherever he shows up — and it’s mostly Rolling Thunder or Friendship these days — race promoters and track owners are happy to see him.
“They know if we show up,” Parsons said, “we might not win, but we’re going to put on a good show.
“We take the money and put it right back in the cars. We do it for the fun of it.
“We just go there to have fun. We definitely don’t do it for the money. I do it to see the smile on the kids’ faces.”
A lot of support
Behind the roll-up door for the last bay on the end at Carter and Kirk Paving is an old red race car — a renegade. No. 44. Parsons has raced it as recently as a few weeks ago at Rolling Thunder.
He was winning in it in 2005 and 2006. He is still driving it. Until he lost the last time out at Rolling Thunder, he hadn’t lost in the car this season.
Carter and Kirk Paving, owned by Mike and Darlene Brown, has worked out for Parsons. When Parsons took the seat in the Limited Sportsman formerly driven by Mike, he said Mike told him to bring “my stuff over to work on.”
It didn’t make sense for Parsons to work on his cars somewhere else and on the Browns’ car in Jonesville.
“We’ve got a good spot to work on ‘em,” Parsons said. “It’s five nights a week if we don’t race on Friday. If we race on Friday, we’ll do it in four. If you don’t have anything tore up, you can do it in four.
“If you tear something up, you have four long nights.
“I couldn’t keep ‘em running if we didn’t have a good crew to help us.”
The crew is Josh Stanley, Will Hamm, his sister Heather Parsons, Brandon Adams and Timmy Phillips. From time to time, Tony and Angela Ellis will help out as will Daniel Ingersoll.
“A lot of races are won in the shop,” he said. “Like Buck (Stevens, Saturday night’s modified feature winner), you gotta be there at the end to win it.
“And I couldn’t do any of this without my family and my girlfriend Amanda.”
A clean driver
It’s Parsons’ first year in a modified — a class that is also in its first year at Friendship. “The modified’s the most fun,” he said, “because it’s different. It’s a little bit late model; a little bit limited sportsman; and a little renegade.”
Parsons said Adams and Phillips built the motor for it and then “we put it all together.”
Although he is second in points in the Renegades; second in points in the Open Wheel Modifieds; and third in points in the Limited Sportsmen, Parsons maintains he is not looking for points on Saturday night.
“We’re there to win first and the points second,” Parsons said. “If you’re points racing it’s not that good of a show.
“To win, we’ll go five-wide if we have to.”
Parsons’ modified is sponsored by EG Enterprise in Harmony; Gunner’s in the Grove in Union Grove; I-77 CB & Chrome Shop in Union Grove; Parson’s Towing in Jonesville; and Insane Racing Graphics in Germanton.
“To me,” said Rhyne, “he is one of the cleanest drivers out there.
“He represents all the sponsors well.”
“We’re always looking for more sponsors,” Parsons said. “All they got to do is get ahold of me.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or Twitter @elkinareasports.