Set in the U.S. in 1890, the story follows Johnny Joestar, a paraplegic ex-jockey and Gyro Zeppeli, master in a mystic art named the Spin, as they compete with a vast number of others in the Steel Ball Run race: A mad-dash across America for a grand prize of 50 million dollars.
The story originally described as a "standalone alternative universe", after Chapter 23, Steel Ball Run transferred publication from Weekly Shonen Jump to seinen magazine Ultra Jump, upon which it was declared part of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure canon.
In the monthly Ultra Jump, chapters are much longer. Perhaps coincidentally, between those chapters included in Volumes 7 – 8, Araki's style takes on greater realism.
The Steel Ball Run: Press Conference
For keeping English literature, Sandman is forced to flee his tribe. Momentarily outrunning pursuing horsemen; whilst escaping, another hand is seen separating from his right.
Away, in conversation with his sister, he indicates a multitude of perfectly hemispherical hand-sized depressions in a rock face; evidence of an impossible horseback leap; and the tool with which it is suggested that a white man made them.
He shows his sister a newspaper headline regarding the imminent Steel Ball Run race, with a grand prize of $50,000,000; as Stephen Steel holds a press conference, giving the race's basic rules.
Corroborating several substantial cash prizes; starting September 25th 1890, there, on the Pacific San Diego beach; the race's goal is New York, in a distance of ~6000km, and a projected duration of ~70 days. The rules include that changing horses is not allowed; and though crime is not, weapons may be kept.
Gyro Zeppeli is introduced as he registers his entry. A man reaches and touches a Steel Ball at Gyro's waist before he is somehow forced to the ground, and it is revealed that he had taken $20 from Gyro's entry fee.
Pocoloco is introduced as he notices the news of the race.
While he is being arrested, the thief continues to harass Gyro. Gyro offers a duel; and after striking his shoulder with a Steel Ball, when the thief attempts still to shoot him, his arm twists, and he shoots himself dead.
A man in a wheelchair observes that, incredibly, the Steel Ball was spinning throughout the event; and as he reaches and touches the same, still spinning Ball in Gyro's holster, he is raised to his feet.
In narration, the man introduces himself as Johnny Joestar; continuing, "This story is the tale of my beginning to walk"; or his growing into maturity.
Johnny reflects on his reason for coming to the race start line, and on his youth as a new horse-racing talent.
An episode is recounted when he takes a date to see a play, and he cuts to the front of the queue. The man there protests, and after Johnny bribes the doormen to remove him, he reapproaches to shoot Johnny in the back.
Johnny awakens in a dark hospital, and after crying out, an orderly beats him; revealing that his legs are paralyzed, and that no one has visited, as the end of his fame.
In the present; Johnny is amazed as he stands and then falls back into his wheelchair. Gyro leaves, and Johnny desperately pursues, demanding explanation. Gyro tells him that it was a simple reflex; but, reaching out, just before or just as Johnny again touches a Steel Ball, his arm twists, and he is hung at his fingers on a nearby rafter.
Johnny resolves to discover the truth of this "Spin", and to enter the race in Gyro's pursuit.
Steel Ball Run consists of 95 chapters, compiled into Volumes 1 to 24 of the Jump Comics collected editions. The left column consists of the titles from the volumes. The right column consists of the titles from the Weekly Shonen Jump release of Part VII until Chapter 24, when it switches over to Ultra Jump.