MOULTRIE — Six years ago, Moultrie’s Rusty Clary had a couple extra tickets to the Gatornationals and his son Walt asked if he could invite his friend Justin Jones and his father, Doerun Elementary Principal Chuck Jones, to join them.

Clary said sure and when the group got to Gainesville, Fla., Justin got his first closeup look at NHRA racing.

“I knew that is what I wanted to do,” Jones said.

Jones had always been fascinated with cars, but he knew he’d need to do more to prepare for a possible career in racing.

After graduating from Colquitt County High in May 2005, he enrolled that December at the Universal Technical Institute automotive training program in Orlando, Fla., where he continued to learn the ins and outs of automotive care.

Last year, the group went to the Gatornationals again and Clary introduced Jones to longtime NHRA star Kenny Bernstein, owner of Kenny Bernstein Racing.

“I told him I’d be interested if they ever had an opening,” Jones said. “They told me to send them a resume.”

Later last season, as the Clarys and the Joneses made their way to a race in Memphis, Tenn., Justin’s cell phone rang. It was Kenny’s wife Sheryl wanting to know if Justin was heading to the race.

He said he was, and she said Bernstein and crew chief Jimmy Walsh wanted to meet with him.

Following the meeting, Bernstein offered him a job on his Monster Energy Funny Car Racing Team.

“I couldn’t turn it down,” Jones said. “Working for a racing team ... it was a dream.

“I went to work for them on Dec. 6.”

Going to work for Kenny Bernstein Racing meant giving up the job he had working on BMWs and Mercedes in Albany and moving to Brownsburg, Ind.

His responsibilities include cleaning and inspecting the Dodge Charger Funny Car body and supply trailer.

“I do whatever I’m told,” he said recently as the team prepared for another race. “But I take care of the body of the car, make sure it’s OK after each race.

“I’m versatile. I can do anything.”

In Bernstein, Jones has gone to work for one of the biggest names in drag racing.

Bernstein won four Funny Car championships between 1985-1988 and in 1996, he won the Top Fuel title, becoming the first driver to championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

On March 30, 1992, he became the first driver to break the 300 mph barrier when he clocked a 301.70 during qualifying for the Gatornationals.

He also was the first to reach 310 mph, when he was clocked at 311.85 mph on October 30, 1994, at Pomona, Calif.

And he is the only team owner to have victories in NHRA, NASCAR Winston Cup and IndyCar.

Brett Bodine gave Bernstein his NASCAR victory at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1990.

And his 29-year association with Budweiser is the longest-running team sponsorship in motorsports. Bernstein owns the Top Fuel Budweiser car, driven by his son Brandon.

Last year, Kenny Bernstein was inducted into the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Kenny Bernstein retired after the 2002 season, but came back the next year after his son Brandon was injured in a race.

In 2007, he fielded the Monster Energy car, but in December 2007 he announced he was turning the driving of the car over to veteran Tommy Johnson Jr.

Johnson has nine career nitro victories, including two in Top Fuel and seven in Funny Car.

Bernstein, Johnson and their crew began the season Feb. 7-10 at the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., and missed the Final 16.

But the team fared better two weeks later at the Kragen NHRA Nationals in Phoenix, Ariz., turning in a Final Four finish.

The Monster Energy crew was in Cecil for some testing before heading to the Gatornationals earlier this month.

After rain cancelled two qualifying runs, a loss of traction on the final run bumped the car to 16th-place finish in Gainesville.

This week the team is taking the Dodge Charger to Baytown, Texas, outside Houston, for the O’Reilly Spring Nationals.

Qualifying will be on ESPN2 from 4:30-5 p.m. and 10-11 p.m. on Saturday.

Eliminations will be on from 4:30-7 p.m. Sunday, also on ESPN2.

Clary has been friends with Bernsteins for a number of years, often grilling for them at races.

He keeps in touch with the Bernsteins and says Sheryl Bernstein, who is active in the race team, calls Jones “our baby.”

“He fits right in,” Clary says. “They love him.”

Jones said his family would have preferred he go to college after high school graduation, but let him pursue his dream.

Jones has enjoyed his first taste of NHRA, living in Indiana and traveling to around the country for testing and races.

“They are awesome to work for,” Jones said. “And we’ve got the best crew chief.

“He’s laid back, but he expects you to work hard.

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