Most men his age couldn't climb into a race car through the glassless window, let alone drive one. But Jones is in his crash helmet and his royal-blue racing suit for the feature. Asked if his suit is fireproof, he replies, "I had me one that they said was fireproof, and they told me it was custom-made, but it was so big, a whole family must've moved out of it before I climbed in. When I put my hands in the pockets, I never did touch bottom."
He has driven 2½ hours from Tallahassee, towing number 6 behind a 1981 Chevy Silverado with 146,000 miles on the odometer. When the racing is finished tonight, he'll drive the 2½ hours home.
When he was still living on the farm, Harvey attended high school in Tallahassee, and when he was 26 he began racing. In 1951, after two divorces, he met his current wife, Hazel. Her father drove the wrecker at the Tallahassee track, so he was acquainted with Jones and she was acquainted with stock car racing.
Harvey and Hazel were married on Christmas Eve 1952 and have lived on the same street in Tallahassee since 1953. Theirs is a circumscribed world: Harvey has never been to New York City or anywhere west of Texas. He has never flown in a commercial airplane. Hazel has worked for the Florida state government since 1949. Harvey's '34 Chevy two-door sedan is still in the garage. He and Hazel have four children, his complete pit crew at Cordele. He also has a daughter by his first wife.
"Those other two wives are dead," Harvey says. "But I had nothin' to do with none of it."
Hazel doesn't work in the pit crew with her two sons and two daughters. This evening she sits in a lawn chair in the top row of Cordele's grandstand, absorbed in a Harlequin romance titled Lady of the Upper Kingdom. The moon is up higher now, helping to illuminate the back straightaway, where darker-colored cars such as Harvey's tend to disappear.
The first few laps are uneventful—one caution flag, no serious wrecks. Jones slips back to sixth position. The leaders, including Randy Ellenberg in red number 28, pull steadily away. Number 6 doesn't seem to have the engine power to catch them. Or Jones might just be playing his waiting game.
Ellenberg, 34, a jocular giant from Valdosta, takes pride in having outpaced a 73-year-old man. "I beat him twice," he says. "I wanted to do that before he died."
Jones estimates that dirt-track racing is "60-percent dishonest." He says, "I try to build a car that's legal." Among drivers, accusations of cheating—for building too powerful an engine for the class or using an aluminum flywheel or some such novelty—are common, if costly. Jones boasts that no protest against him has been successful. "Down in Valdosta," he says, "I won the feature six or seven weeks in a row. Well, we were pushin' the car backwards onto the track all the time, instead of driving it in reverse. After one race, these guys come over and they say they're protesting that I'm not carrying a full gear box. It cost them $125 to do that, you know.
"They say, 'We want to see you drive it in reverse.' So I put it in gear and backed it up. I told 'em, 'It'll go forwards and it'll go backwards. It'll go anywhere but straight up.' They were so mad! They said, 'Then how come you've been pushin' it backwards all the time?' And I said, 'To give damn fools like you somethin' to be angry about.' "