DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Sprint Car star Levi Jones quietly retired last week in a move that slightly surprised team owner Tony Stewart.
Although Jones had discussed retirement with Stewart in the last year and had scaled back his schedule, his decision to retire immediately in the middle of the season was unexpected. But Stewart said Friday he didn't question the choice made by Jones, who won six of his seven USAC national championships driving for Tony Stewart Racing.
"He was driving our Silver Crown car and we definitely had races on our plate he was going to run this year," Stewart said. "But when a driver makes that decision, as an owner and a fellow driver, you understand. Race drivers don't make those decisions very easily, and they don't make them overnight. I know it's something he had thought about a long time. When they finally make that decision, you stand behind them 100 percent. You don't make them question why they are doing it, you don't ask them why – they've thought it through already."
Jones, who began racing 410 Sprint Cars in 1998 when he was 16, planned to return full-time to Illinois with his wife and children and focus on his family business. The Jones family owns a handful of Rural King Supply franchises, a chain of farm- and retail-based stores in the Midwest.
"After reevaluating where I am at this point in my life, I've made the decision to step away from my career as a professional driver and focus on my family and our business," Jones said last week in announcing his retirement.
"Racing has consumed the majority of my life, and while I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to share this with my family, the time has come for my focus to shift to exploring what lies outside of the sport."
Jones won Sprint Car titles in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He earned back-to-back Silver Crown championships in 2010 and 2011, and all but his 2005 title was won driving for Stewart.
"My decision to end my career wasn't an easy one, but I'm in a place personally that allows me to do so without being bitter or wondering what might have been," Jones said. "I've had the privilege of winning a lot of big races in my career thanks to the support of great teams filled with a lot of great people."
Jones made 393 starts in his USAC Sprint Car career, winning 28 races. He also 74 Silver Crown starts, winning three features, and 120 National Midget Car starts with four victories. His most recent win was the prestigious Hoosier Hundred event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in May.
"It wasn't a total shock by any means, but I thought there were other things that he wanted to do in sprint car racing. I know he wanted to run a winged car some and he had started to do that a little bit," Stewart said. "He's in a financial situation now where he can go be with his family business and retire from racing on his own terms."