I’ve known Benji and Hope Jones for almost 12 years. They both took my US History classes when I taught at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Hope played soccer for ULM, while Benji ran track and cross country. They met at ULM and fell in love and married and have some really cool kids. They remain two of my favorite students of all time. Personable, incredibly smart, and always nice to me.
The own Jones Racing Company, and put on races in and around the Greensboro, NC area. This is their first season as owners of their own company after working for Setup Events for almost a decade. I thought it would be nice to share them with you and let you get an inside glimpse into what its like to run your own racing company with small kids and your own training schedule.
1) Tell me how you got started in this industry. Race management is a lot of work but can be a lot of fun. what is your story?
When we moved to North Carolina in 2004, Benji was competing in triathlons a lot. I was in graduate school, and he was working in cardiac rehab at the local hospital. As you can imagine, we were bringing home some serious Benjamins…racing gets expensive quickly, so Benji started working races in exchange for race entries. He always wanted to be in race production. For one of his assignments in college, he put on a duathlon on campus. So Benji began working races for the owner of a production company here in NC, and after a certain amount of time, he was given the opportunity to become a franchise. Given I was in graduate school, and we were still broke as a joke, Benji had the bright idea of me learning the timing/results/registration side of things so he wouldn’t have to hire anyone to do that. I remember I was so mad at first because I felt like I had too much on my plate. He was still working at hospital at the time, so we were juggling a lot. We started out very small, manual timing (pull tags, no chips), and then started growing from there. I ended up falling in love with the whole process, so when I finished graduate school, we were doing this full time. We also found that we worked really well together. It pays to marry someone you actually like. We were a franchise for 6 years and now we are our own company.
2) You both have a background in athetics at the collegiate level. Tell us about that and how it helps you run a racing company.
Our college athletics experience has shaped every single aspect of our life – the way we run our company, how we interact with athletes, how we parent, it’s endless. Benji and I have both competed at high levels so just understanding competition, teamwork, communication, working under pressure, it all relates. We are used to having to perform under pressure, and races can get very high pressured very quickly. For both of us, it was the best time of our life. It gave us a perspective for our events that we would not have had otherwise. We understand our events are not the Olympics. Our goal is to make them fun and safe for everyone involved. There have been a couple of times we’ve had to have a Coming to Jesus talk with some athletes and parents, if you know what I mean. The goal is for it to become a lifestyle for people, not necessarily racing, but training and staying fit and being healthy. So when people act like the national championship is on the line, we have to just encourage them to take it down a notch.
3) If you are administering races for other people, when do you guys get to train or race yourselves?
In the most miserable months there are for racing, January and February! We work from home during the week, so getting training in is a matter of setting the time aside. Same boat as everyone else really. Racing is a little more difficult. We have races every weekend, so we usually try to do a half marathon or marathon in the off season to stay in shape. We haven’t done that in a couple of years, so you can just imagine the amazing shape we are currently in.
4) What’s the craziest thing to happen at one of your races?
Our very first race we put on where we were in charge of everything was the first year of Running of the Lights. Everything that could have gone wrong at a race went wrong; we were so green. I thought we’d get 100 people, Benji was optimistic at 200. We got 600 people, so we took in a lot of race day registrations. When the race was over and we were done cleaning up, it was around 3am. I was carrying the cash box with all the money collected, and I put it on the roof of my car to get my keys out. One of our staffers came to talk to me, and I got distracted. When I was about halfway home (which was 45 minutes away), Benji called me and said, “WHERE IS THE CASH BOX?!” I’ll never forget looking at the seat next to me and seeing it wasn’t there. My stomach dropped. Apparently it had flown off the top of my car before I was out of the park, and a security guard was driving by as it flew off. Money was everywhere he said, but the guard spent 20 minutes walking around picking up all the money he could find. Every penny was accounted for–$7,000. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is. So you can imagine the jokes I get to this day from staffers about leaving me with the money.
5) If you could produce or create any race, what would it be? What is your dream race production?
Anything in the Olympics! Being a part of something on that scale with that much passion and pride would be so cool.