LAS CRUCES, New Mexico — Out in the beautiful state of New Mexico, there is a unique man with a deep passion for racing. He has driven cars of various types for 40 years, with a great deal of success. In late 2019, he opened one of the nation's most well-designed, state-of-the-art oval racing facilities.
For 68-year-old Royal Jones, racing a Sprint car and USRA Modified is how he unwinds. The founder of Mesilla Valley Transportation (MVT) is now a giant of the logistics industry, yet still enjoys touring the oval against racers half his age. And the man still does a respectable job behind the wheel.
Jones has earned a pair of feature wins, 14 top-five and 32-top-10 finishes in 39 starts this year.
“We still have two more races this year on November 4-5 in the 305 Winged Sprints, and I'm leading the points in that class,” Jones said. “With the Modified, I switched back to an MB Customs car this year, and we just didn't have enough data to get it dialed in just yet.
“We had a top-five car most of the season, but recently we found some things to try that should make us a little more consistent, and even a little faster. This year, I bought a used car from Joe Duvall. We were using setups I had under the old car, which didn't work. We're still learning, but it's a great car.”
Jones has been in love with the sport since he was young and has tons of experience in a lengthy career.
“When I was a kid, I was always into cars in general,” Jones explained. “I went to a dirt track when I was in third grade, and loved it. I still have a picture in my scrapbook from when I was in Cub Scouts of a legend in Sprint Car racing around here, a guy named Sonny Holden.
“The picture shows Sonny standing next to what they called a SuperModified back then. He won the race that night on my first visit. As I went on through life, I had Hot Rods and cars of different types. Then I started driving trucks, bought my own truck and didn't have time for racing. So I got out of it.”
What the man started before he turned 30 was a great move, one that led to a return to our great sport.
“I started MVT when I was 27, and all of sudden I was home again after being out on the road all the time,” he explained. “So when the old Mesilla Valley Raceway opened up in May of 1982, my partner and I went out to watch the races on a Friday night. The next week, I was out there in a Stock Car.”
Jones took over that facility in 1993, changing the name to Southern New Mexico Speedway.
Since it first opened in mid 2019, Vado Speedway Park has set the gold standard for oval facilities. Ask anybody who has attended a race there, and they'll tell you all about it. How this incredible race track came into existence is a story worth noting for those not from this area.
“Out here in Las Cruces, it was a county-owned facility that we ran,” Jones said. “We ran it from 1993 until about 2018. It was way off the beaten path, way back behind the fairgrounds.
I partnered with businessman Sherman Barnett to run the track in El Paso around 2000.
“In El Paso, the city had grown to a point where the track was becoming a nuisance to people. We sat down in 2016 with the idea in mind to put a track in between the two cities of Las Cruces and El Paso.
“I acquired the land in Vado, we shut the old track down at the end of 2018 and opened the new track on Father's Day of 2019.”
Vado Speedway has been in existence for four seasons, yet only hosted one event in 2020 due to the pandemic. The effort Jones put into its design and layout is amazing, and it really shows.
“I had visited a lot of race tracks, and I wanted to build something that would attract an urban audience. You need those hard-core fans, but it's important to attract new folks from the city, as well. To do that, you need a really nice place. Our restrooms are second-to-none, and we have delicious food, as well.
“We got our bleachers, lights and some other items from Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway. They were built to be on a hill, but I didn't have one. So we dug a hole, and by having the track down lower it helps with noise and reduces wind speeds. And our suites and press box didn't have to be up so high.”
One look at this spotless facility where nothing was spared to enhance the experience for fans tells the story. Aside from the world-renowned Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, MO, Vado is truly the best.
Jones and his staff are gearing up for their big Fall Nationals this weekend, and he's pretty excited.
“We have A Mods, B Mods and Stock Cars running this weekend,” Jones said. “We have Bo Day from the Great State of Texas coming, along with Louisiana star Cade Dillard and several other big guns. We're paying $22,000 to the Modified winner on Sunday night; I'm looking forward to a great show.”
Jones has one of the the most impressive success stories in the business world. He started small, but kept on trucking (literally) until MVT grew to the impressive entity it is today.
“So I bought my first truck when I was 19,” he explained. “Later on, in late 1981 I partnered with Jimmy Ray and we started Mesilla Valley Transportation. He had a couple of trucks, and off we went.
“Today, we're up to 1,600 trucks and haul freight all over the country. We have several main terminals and a lot of yards where drivers drop off and pick up trailers. It's grown to a huge level today, and I could not have done it without good people working for me. I'm blessed with dedicated employees.”
Since he is approaching 70, some may wonder how much longer Jones will continue to race.
“There is no time frame on hanging up the helmet,” he said with enthusiasm. “I get up early and work out in the gym every day so I can still compete against these kids. I stay active, work long days but don't overdo it and feel very healthy these days.
“As long as I'm not in the way and can stay competitive, I'll keep on going. I have a beautiful wife who allows me to do this, so I'm fortunate. I also have a great staff at the speedway who keep things running smoothly when I'm focused on my cars. It's my passion, my fun, and I think it helps keeps me young.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas Staff Writer
Photo by James Adams