Impromptu call to action: Brandon Jones uses platform to give back to teachers

Spontaneous decisions are sometimes the best decisions. Just ask Brandon Jones.

With elementary, middle and high school getting ready to begin in North Carolina next month, Jones and his girlfriend Ashley Safin had an idea on the plane ride back from Atlanta Motor Speedway after the July 9 Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I think we should do this for teachers,” Safin recalled.

What the 25-year-old couple, who began dating 10 years ago, was trying to accomplish is raising awareness for teachers in the education system through Clear the List, an initiative to help clear Amazon wish lists for educators around the United States through donations.

Before the Cup Series race going green at Atlanta, Jones used his platform to raise awareness for teachers, hoping some of his social-media followers would do the same. Through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, Jones helped spread the message of some teachers‘ wish lists.

“I think school is an outing in a way for some people if things aren‘t going well at home or in life in general,” Jones told at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “That‘s one thing I enjoyed so much about school wasn‘t about the academics, but you showed up, hung out with your buddies, the social aspect of it was so much fun. That‘s what drove me to wanting to go to school.”

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Within a week, Jones‘ tweet had nearly 1,000 replies, many coming from teachers around the country providing their Amazon links to their wish lists.

“It‘s overwhelming,” Jones said of the feedback. “I‘ve always had super-good relationships in school. That‘s one thing I always enjoyed. I didn‘t want to go on field trips with kids, I wanted to stay back and hang out with the teachers, for whatever reason. I‘ve always grown up in that adult, corporate lifestyle in a way, so maybe I‘m just drawn to older people in that sense.”

One of those replies — six of them, technically — came from Darlington Raceway, which purchased six teacher’s wish lists in response to Jones’ tweet.

“Darlington Raceway is extremely thankful for all the teachers in the Darlington County School District and it‘s a true blessing for us to help provide some of the supplies they need as they prepare for another school year,” track president Kerry Tharp said. “One of our track‘s objectives is to do all we can to help support the young people in our community. We also want to give a shout out to all the workers in our school system and encourage them to be a part of our Workforce Appreciation initiative taking place over our upcoming Labor Day Weekend event.”

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Growing up in Georgia, Jones wanted to get to North Carolina to chase his racing career, which is why his family made the move during his high school years. Jones and Safin met at Lake Norman High School their sophomore year.

Both Jones and Safin, who admitted she one day would like to become a substitute teacher, have family and friends who are in the education system. But they don‘t consider that the primary reason for wanting to give back. Jones credits his high school teachers for pushing him and working with him while he chased his dream of making it to NASCAR.

Brandon Jones\

“I missed so much school trying to become a race car driver,” he said. “Teachers and everybody would work so well with me trying to catch me up and make sure that I was still on top of the schoolwork. I think that was a cool part and what kept me driving about wanting to be a driver. They were happy about seeing me succeed and wanting to help me in that sense.

“It‘s like a giveback in that way. I made so many friends through teachers at school that was like, ‘OK, now that I‘ve made it to where I want to be, it’s time to give back to them a little bit.‘ ”

Growing up, one of Safin‘s role models was Regan Smith‘s wife, Megan, who taught her in middle school. Jones credits Safin for coming up with the idea of kick-starting a program to help spread the links through his social-media channels.

Safin said she sees the gratitude that teachers had toward Jones‘ help.

“It became a place where [teachers] were thankful to have a platform to share their list so maybe other people would join in,” she said. “It was fun seeing what everybody needs and takes. A lot of teachers use their own money [to buy supplies for their classes], so I think it was very important for us to do a little bit for them.”

In addition to helping “Clear the List,” Jones supports the Special Forces Foundation, running the group’s logo on his car each weekend. Admittedly, he leans heavily on Safin for ideas on how to further their community outreach.

“I love the idea of doing stuff like that,” he said. “I‘m so focused here trying to do really well racing, so I‘m not always thinking in that direction. It kind of helped lighten that up a little and get that horizon bigger.”

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Through 18 Xfinity Series races this season, Jones has one victory at Martinsville with a total of seven top-10 efforts. Knowing Joe Gibbs Racing has shown plenty of speed across its three teams, he‘s intrigued that he hasn‘t seen more on-track success this year. The series heads to Pocono Raceway this weekend, where Jones has a pair of top-10 finishes in six starts.

“I‘m pretty surprised we don‘t have more top fives and even some more wins because the speed is there every weekend,” Jones added. “I think if you run top five consistently, then typically you find wins fast. I think it‘s about getting a little bit of closure in some of these races.

“But I think that‘s what you use the first half of the year for and when you get to the playoffs, you should have all of that ironed out to be ready to win.”