It almost sounds like the setup for a punchline. A guy walks into registration with a raccoon in a wheelchair.
It happened at the 2022 NASA Championships in Monterey, Calif., when Peter Jones checked in with a disabled raccoon at his side. That moment intersects two of Jones’ passions: auto racing and animal rehabilitation.
“Rachel (the racing raccoon) has a neurological condition, so she can’t actually balance, but has full use of her limbs, so she’s in a wheelchair,” Jones said. “She travels with us because we can’t hand her off to other caretakers.”
Jones isn’t just a caretaker to injured animals, he takes care of a fleet of BMW Spec E46 cars that competes mainly in NASA’s NorCal Region. It’s an interesting story of how Jones went from a general contractor doing insurance restoration work to a race shop owner.
Jones has always been involved with motorsports whether it was dirt bikes or shifter karts. He decided to get into motorcycle road racing in his 40s, a move his wife, Lauren, did not approve of. Lauren’s father raced in NASA’s SoCal Region.
“My wife grew up around motorsports and was all for karting,” Jones said. “(Lauren) was not about seeing me on a motorcycle at all. It was almost impossible for me to get her to come to the track.”
Jones had a couple of crashes on the motorcycle and put the bikes aside to try NASA’s HPDE program. Initially he wasn’t getting the same adrenaline rush and excitement as racing motorcycles, but then had a revelation.
“I had a couple of spins (in the car) and that was my wake-up moment that I realized, ‘Oh, that could have been a whole different story,’” Jones said. “When you make that mistake on a motorcycle, it’s unforgiving.”
Jones ran HPDE in Northern California and Southern California — joining his father-in-law — while competing in an Audi TT. He wanted to switch cars because he “got tired fixing or replacing” axles on his Audi. Jones looked at Spec Miata and the BMW E36 chassis and chose Spec E46, which he has raced for the past five seasons.
While his transition from HPDE to Spec E46 was seamless, the cars that Jones was racing were gaining a following.
“I’m not the best driver in the world, but my cars do very well,” Jones said. “It slowly turned into a thing where I had to make a decision as to whether I was going to build racecars or be a contractor and I, quite frankly, had enough of being a contractor.”
Specializing in insurance restoration work, Jones often had to deal with people at a difficult time. “Nobody wanted us there, but everybody needed us to be there,” he said.
Jones’ construction firm helped rebuild homes after the 2017 Santa Rosa wildfire in Northern California that destroyed more than 5,000 homes and killed 22 people. The following year, a wildfire wiped out the city of Paradise, taking out more than 11,000 homes. Jones’ construction crews rebuilt 22 homes in Paradise.
“Santa Rosa was a shock to me when I drove into (town), but there was a fire path that kind of rolled through that area, so there would be blocks wiped and then across the street fully erect buildings,” he said. “When I went up to Paradise, I sort of expected the same thing. It was just gone, there was nothing. I thought I was prepared, but that one just really set me back.”
Jones decided to change careers after 25 years as a general contractor and enjoyed building and servicing Spec E46 cars. He had a growing customer base, having sold nearly 25 race cars, helping to seed regional fields as far as the East Coast. Jones’ personal car is always for sale.
“It’s sort of an ongoing joke amongst the crowd that they’re not sure what car I’m going to show up in,” he said.
Jones moved his operations from his 2-1/2-acre property he dubbed the “Spec E46 Farm” to a facility in Elk Grove, Calif., and launched Legacy Motorworks with his wife, Lauren. They currently house 15 racecars, provide trackside support as well as delivery and maintenance.
“The energy level he has, and his willingness to help anyone and everyone have a great time in a racecar is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Matt Pruden, a friend who met Jones during their rookie NASA racing season. “I think the natural conclusion to that kind of behavior is you’re going to have a race shop whether you want it or not. That’s where Peter’s passion and personality led him.”
Pruden said it gets tougher to find parts for the BMW, but Jones always seems to find donor vehicles.
“What I like to say is he’s got a Spec E46 tree in his backyard that he shakes and another car falls off,” Pruden said. “That’s not exactly how he does it, but that’s the way it seems to us on the outside.”
Legacy Motorworks operates an extensive arrive-and-drive schedule for clients. Jones races with his clients and enjoys the challenge of endurance racing. Besides competing in numerous sprint and endurance races, Jones has run the 25 Hours of Thunderhill twice. Jones’ best finish was third place at the Thunderhill event.
“It’s a test of the team and the team’s ability to concentrate,” he said.
Jones has continued his animal rehabilitation work since founding Legacy Motorworks. Peter and Lauren specialize in squirrels and racoons, rehabilitating the animals until they’re able to be released back into the wild. Jones started volunteering for Bidwell Wildlife Rehabilitation while rebuilding homes after the Paradise fire.
The Jones family farm includes five dogs and 20 goats living their best life. Baby raccoons require four feedings a day, while baby squirrels need six daily feedings, Jones said. As the animals get older, the feedings are reduced to twice a day. The rehabilitation work adds about 30 to 45 minutes to the daily routine.
“This all sort of coincided with our empty nesting,” Jones said laughing. “It’s my way of making sure that my wife doesn’t think we need to start all over again.”
|Hometown:||Elk Grove, Calif.|
|Racing Class:||Spec E46/E2|
|Sponsors:||Legacy Motorworks, Leap Consulting Solutions|
|Day Job:||Owner, Legacy Motorworks|
|Favorite Food:||Turkey tacos|
|Favorite TV show:||NA|
|Favorite Track:||Thunderhill 5 mile|