Speed is king at J+R Racing

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 28, 2004

Wesley Jones, left, and Paul Rusch of J+R Racing show off their modified 1968 Chevrolet Camaro. Behind them is a drag racing simulator that they created.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[6/27/04]Hidden inside an inconspicuous building on Paxton Road are the treasures of Wesley Jones and Paul Rusch.

The green awning on the tin structure bears the name J+R Racing. Inside sits pipes, car parts, drums of fuel and a couple of high-powered race cars.

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Drag racing is a pasttime for the two men, who spend their free time buried under the hoods of their cars, looking for ways to make them run faster.

“We do more work in the garage than we do racing,” said Rusch, who is a retired firefighter.

They also work closely with Murl Carpenter, 56, a crew chief, of sorts.

“I started racing when I was a teenager. I’ve always raced my whole life,” said Carpenter, who also runs a 1986 Chevrolet truck. “When I was a kid, I raced trucks on the farm. I raced them in the dirt and on the highway.

“I got my first speeding ticket three days after I got my driver’s license.”

Rusch, 51, grew up mud-racing in Pearl with Jones’ father and remembers Jones hanging around the garage as a kid.

After Jones’ father died several years ago, Rusch and Jones continued to race together and have become best friends.

Through the years, the pair have gone through myriad cars.

Rusch started racing as a teenager with a 1962 Ford Falcon, and he now drives a 1971 Chevrolet Vega.

Jones started with a funny car, moved on to a dragster and now races his modified 1968 Camaro.

He bought the Camaro in October and customized it from scratch. The twisted blend of fiberglass and steel was completed in February.

The latest addition, which is still in progress, is a $4,500 computer system that will analyze the car’s components and help increase efficiency and effectiveness.

The Camaro can reach 150 mph on an 1/8-mile track and 191 mph on a 1/4-mile track. The three insist it will get even faster as they work on it more.

“I’m trying to get more horsepower out of it, just every week, trying to get a little bit more, a little bit more,” Carpenter said. “It’s called getting the maximum out of it, and sometimes it takes a long time to do it, and a lot of money, too.”

The three travel around the region to race. They compete on tracks in Greenville, Byram, Tuscola, Canton, Hattiesburg and Monroe, La.

As members of the north Mississippi group, the Dixie Door Slammers, Jones and Rusch compete in a variety of drag races.

“Straight-up” drag racing starts both racers at the same line at the same time.

Another type of racing is called “bracket” racing, in which the cars start at different times as a handicap to ensure that each should finish at the same time.

The key to winning a bracket competition, Jones said, is “how good you are off the starting line, and how good you are at guessing how your car’s going to run.”

But there is one drawback to bracket racing.

“No matter how much money you put into that car, if you’re bracket racing, a guy with a stock Pinto will come out there and win,” Jones said. “Because the handicap equals everything up.”

The runs take their toll on the cars and their parts.

To help pay for the constant modifications, replacements and add-ons, Jones runs an electrical company and employs Rusch part-time.

“That’s the only way I can keep racing is to keep working,” said Rusch, who also draws retirement from the fire department. “We don’t make enough money on the cars to pay for the cars. We make enough to buy the fuel.”

And even the fuel is expensive. The cars run on alcohol, which they buy by the barrel at $2 a gallon but each barrel lasts only two races.

Jones and Rusch found another way to help pay for their hobby.

They created a drag-racing simulator that features two car frames on a trailer with a projection screen. For $5 a pop, participants can jump into the seats, push the ignition when the light turns green and watch their cars race down the track on the screen.

They have brought the simulator to tracks as far as San Antonio and Rockingham, N.C. And on a given weekend, the simulator can generate up to $1,000.

“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t hunt. I work and this is my stress relief,” said Jones, who’s electrical company is right next door to the garage. “I can get aggravated, worn out, ticked off. I can come out here, go tinkering on stuff and forget about what’s on the other side of that door.”