I am going to begin this story about others with a story about me. Let’s be honest with ourselves, nobody appreciates a good James story more than James himself. Yes, I did begin by referring to myself in the third person while referring to myself. Epic is a good word to describe what just happened.
One of my first local races in North Carolina was the White Lake Half, which took place in May of 2009. It would be there, at the most polarizing venue in North Carolina, that I would meet Hope and Benji Jones for the first time. If you’ve been to a race you would almost certainly recognize Hope and Benji if I pointed them out to you but you wouldn’t necessarily know them immediately. They are not celebrities (although they are in their own mind, but I digress) and they do not jump up and down, waving and shouting “look at me” quite like I do.
It wouldn’t be for another two years that I would have my first, memorable experience with a Jones. It was Cool Breeze 2011; one of the first events of the year in the North Carolina Triathlon Series (NCTS) and one of the most temperamental in terms of weather. I walked into packet pickup like I owned the place. Racing “open” like a boss and sauntering through the line like it was just no big deal, I arrived at the table and realized I didn’t have my *required* picture identification on me. I asked the nice lady there if it was a “big deal” and she told me I had to go back to my car and get it if I wanted my packet. Dangit! Wasn’t I special?! Wasn’t I more important because I was “open?”
No James…no you were not.
I only realized later that “nice lady” was Hope Jones, one half of the Jones team, race producer/organizer/timer/resultser/mom/wife extraordinaire. The takeaway from my little anecdote is that nobody is special. Wait, that’s not right. The takeaway is that EVERYBODY is special if you’re at a Jones-run event. That aforementioned sense of entitlement does not belong at a Jones event. It was a great little lesson to me and has both influenced my interaction with people as well as the way I see myself since that fateful moment.
I have since gone on to race quite a few races run by Hope and Benji under the umbrella of Setup Events. For years they were the “face” of the North Carolina Triathlon Series. Their innovations, tweaking, and running of those races made them some of the most popular and beloved races ‘round these parts.
In the late Fall of 2013, however, the Jones team separated from Setup Events and Jones Racing Company emerged with an impressive calendar of events. Some favorites are on their extensive events calendar and knowing how athlete focused the Joneses are leads me to the conclusion that North Carolina athletes are in for a real treat in 2014 and beyond.
I had the great opportunity to “sit down” (via computer) and “interview” (via email) Hope and Benji. They gave some great insight into their races, expectations, hopes and dreams.
Now for the good stuff!
JH: Have there been any notable challenges in getting your own "brand" off the ground?
Hope: Tons. We would probably both say that the hardest part is having to tap into skills that we haven’t really had to use before: marketing, sponsorship, web development, things like that. It’s really amazing how bad we are those things.
JH: Will you guys being doing a “series” with your races? (NCTS and other Setup “groups” of races were set up as a “series” in the sense that each “group” had series standings and awards based on race scoring)
Benji: Unfortunately we cannot. We have, however, established a rewards program where athletes can earn some swag depending on how many events they do, but that’s about it. It just gives us a way to show our thanks to the athletes for supporting us and choosing to race with us.
JH: What's the most fun part of creating and managing race events?
Hope: Creating something from nothing. We show up in this empty field, in this empty parking lot, and we get to use our imagination and make it all come together. It’s like being a kid playing in sandbox. You show up and there’s only sand, then next thing you know you have a castle and a bridge and a city and a pond, a whole new world.
JH: What's the least fun part?
Hope: All of the above – in pouring down rain.
JH: Where do you see JRC 5 years from now?
Hope: We currently do about 65 events a year between running events and triathlons. Five years ago we had five. So I’d like to think five years from now that we would have over 100 with a good solid crew behind us. We are also working on building a 501c3 to benefit athletes in need (think Boston, cycling accidents, etc). We have seen too often things happen to our athletes while training or racing, and we want to have something set up to be able to quickly respond and help those families in times of hardship. We would like to think that in five years, this part of our company would be up and running and really making an impact.
JH: Will you be live-timing any events in 2014?
Hope: Yes, this is the biggest piece we have been working on in the off season. Accurate results are important to us, so we want to make sure that when we launch, it actually works. No one likes to be promised something only for it to not actually deliver. So much of live timing is dependent on servers and companies that we have no control over. In other words, if their systems go down, there’s no live timing. Athletes don’t see that, they see that what we promised wasn’t delivered. So before we do anything, we just want to make sure we are using a dependable system. Live timing in triathlons is a little trickier just because many venues are in obscure locations that do not have good service, so it can be difficult to access the needed networks in the middle of Timbuktu.
JH: What about a live webcast?
Hope: Yes, this is also something we have been working on. Remember when we mentioned tapping into skills we haven’t used before? This is one of those things.
JH: How does Jones Racing separate itself from the other race production companies?
Benji: We think it’s the athletes and event organizers that could probably answer this question better. There are a lot of race production companies, and we all do things a little differently. Something that is important to one company may not be important to another and vice versa. The biggest feedback we tend to get is that we communicate well, we are approachable and available. There’s something to be said for something as simple as responding to athlete emails or organizer questions and answering phone calls.
JH: What can athletes looking forward to when attending your races?
Hope: Fast, accurate results, friendly staff, great venues, well-marked and safe courses, quality production, family-friendly. We have two kids who come to all our races with us, so we understand the importance of having things for kids to do so spouses aren’t trying to keep their kids entertained in a confined space for 3 hours.
JH: Speaking of kids, how do your kids handle the early wake up calls?
Hope: They are rock stars. Camryn was 10 days old at her first event. We used to park the truck at the finish line, Hope would time, jump in the truck to nurse Camryn, and then get back out and keep timing. After making it through those days, it seems easy now. They are 5 and 7 and races are all they know. They roll out of bed with more enthusiasm than we usually do. We’re pretty positive this will change as they get older, but we try to keep it fun for them. So far, they get pretty bummed when we do not have a race to go to, so we’ll see.
JH: Is spectating really free??
Hope: Depends on your definition of free.
JH: How do you feel about the NC triathlon market and where it is headed?
Benji: We would be lying if we said it wasn’t a little concerning. Races used to sell out at 500-800 within hours. Now there are so many events to choose from that the population of racers is being spread across all these events, which just ends up leading events to cancel because they would end up going in the hole to put the race on. Triathlons used to be the cool thing; everyone wanted to try it, everyone’s friends were doing, it was new, it was exciting. We need to bring that excitement back. Athletes are busier than ever and finding time train and balance work, family, etc. really takes its toll. Races need to offer something different. Something that stands out from the run of the mill triathlon. It’s going to take something unique to bring the local tri markets out of the slump.
JH: From all the years of watching races, tell us about one of the most memorable/inspiring moments you can remember.
Hope: Without a doubt it was the first year of the Take Flight triathlon in Charlotte. That event was organized by Scott and Renee Campbell who lost their son Garrett to Batten’s Disease. Garrett had passed away in December, and the race was put on the following October. So it had not even been a year since his passing. Scott, Garrett’s dad, actually competed in the race and his brother Mark was the announcer. When Scott crossed the finish line and his brother was cheering for him and announcing that it was Garrett’s dad, it was just a really powerful moment. I don’t think there was a dry eye at the finish line. Scott finished and gave Benji a big hug and you could just feel the emotion in the moment. It’s something we will never forget. It’s why we do what we do.
JH: I am sure you see a lot of "oh no!" moments. What suggestions might you have to make race day run a bit smoother?
Hope: Read the Event Details and make a checklist of your equipment. The Event Details answer 95% of the questions, but no one wants to read them. A checklist for equipment takes the guessing game out. We’ve had people show up at events who have forgotten the strangest things. Make a list, check it twice, and make sure you have everything you need to race.
JH: Can you recall your favorite "oh no!" moment and how an athlete creatively overcame it?
Hope: The first one that comes to mind was a triathlon where an athlete forgot to bring shoes. So he just did the run in his socks. He stands out because he didn’t even skip a beat; the decision was a no-brainer for him. Many athletes would have reacted very differently in that situation.
JH: You have a lot of races on your race calendar; got any favorites?
Hope: For triathlons, Belews Lake and all the West Virginia events. Belews Lake is our hometown race, so it’s really special to us. We also get to sleep in our own bed, which doesn’t happen often in season. Our WV events are just some of the most beautiful venues we have ever been to. It’s also the same people that do them every year, and the events are smaller, so it’s like a family reunion every time we go back. The athletes have seen our kids grow up each year, we’ve seen their kids grow, it’s just awesome. For running events, Running of the Lights. You just can’t beat the countdown to the New Year at the start line with all the participants. It is loud and awesome.
JH: What's the most interesting Benji fact that nobody knows?
Hope: He has the school record at University of Louisiana at Monroe in indoor track in the 800m. He ran a 1:50 indoor and a 1:49 outdoor. He also won Tri Latta in 2006 – ran a 16:30 5K off the bike. I think no one realizes that he actually used to race (very fast, James adds) before this all got started.
I believe, once all is said and done, the appropriate expression for a situation like what NC is currently experiencing is: “a rising tide lifts all ships.” Athletes have a veritable panoply of options from which to select their races in 2014 and beyond. What Hope and Benji Jones have done for the NC endurance community cannot really be measured objectively but the knowledge that an event they put on is going to be impeccable in every measurable sense of what a race SHOULD be is enough to lend me confidence in putting down my hard-earned money to sign up for a JRC race.
I am excited for the future of triathlon in general but most importantly I am excited about triathlon in North Carolina. We have some great race options as athletes and, more importantly, a great community and environment in which to participate in those races!