"I don't know," he replies. "Sometimes I see all these wrecks on the racetrack, and I think he must be off someplace else, and he's let the devil take over round here."
In 1943, Jones tried to join the Army but he was told by the enlistment officer that he was considered unfit to go to war. As a toddler he had clambered up a rocking chair, trying to reach some treat on the mantel, and had tumbled into a bed of hot ashes, burning his left hand. The hand remains strong, but the middle fingers are slightly misshapen.
He was born in 1923 on a Florida panhandle farm, the son of a wanderer who had moved east from Alabama with only a mule and a wagon. Harvey was born in a barn—the house his father was building had burned to the ground. The Joneses had 33 acres of nuts, corn and cotton. On the side, they made booze. Their bucolic distillery, as described by a state treasury agent named W. George McMullen in his self-published memoir, Twenty-Eight Years a T-Man, maintained a production capacity of 400 gallons of corn liquor. Moon-shining, Harvey admits, brought in easy money.
On July 12, 1950, McMullen and his men raided the still. They chased, tackled and arrested Harvey's younger brother Hulon and reached the house where the rest of the family was holed up, intending to impound the Jones family auto.
"I thought I was about to win out," McMullen wrote, "when suddenly Harvey Jones stepped to the driver's side of the car (a late-model Mercury), reached in, pulled the keys from the switch, ran behind the car to a side gate, through the gate and began to call for someone to bring him a shotgun.
"He went into the house by a back door, still calling for a shotgun.... I figured if Harvey came out with a shotgun, he would never live to use it."
As it turned out, Harvey came out unarmed. McMullen holstered the .45 he had drawn. A few months later Harvey, who never was much of a drinker even of his own products, gave up on the distilling industry and concentrated on his full-time job. On the weekends he drove a souped-up 1940 Ford for prize money.
At Cordele, the final Sportsman division feature race of the '96 season is to be 25 laps, three eighths of a mile to the circuit. Jones has qualified fifth of the 14 entrants, claiming the inside position on the third row. It takes about 18 seconds to go around once.
The racers here start two abreast, although Turn 1 is wide enough for only 1½ vehicles. Jones's strategy is simple: Stay back, stay cool, let no one pass you and wait for the front-runners to get silly and crash. Jones hates accidents: He fumes that his blue number-6 Oldsmobile Cutlass suffered $1,200 worth of damage a couple of weeks earlier when, as he cruised along in the fifth or sixth spot, he came around Turn 3 and ran smack into a pileup caused when everybody else was blinded by the setting sun.
"To win the race," Jones reasons, "you got to be there at the end of the race. These guys who tear up their cars at the start of a race—well, it's a lot of hooey."