Parnelli Jones

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Parnelli Jones
Jones in 2015
BornRufus Parnell Jones
(1933-08-12)August 12, 1933
Texarkana, Arkansas, United States
DiedJune 4, 2024(2024-06-04) (aged 90)
Torrance, California, United States
Championship titles
USAC Midwest Sprint Car (1960)
USAC Sprint Car (1961, 1962)
USAC Stock Car (1964)
Major victories
Indianapolis 500 (1963)
Baja 1000 (1971, 1972)
Champ Car career
59 races run over 8 years
Best finish3rd (1962)
First race1960 Rex Mays Classic (Milwaukee)
Last race1967 Indianapolis 500 (Indianapolis)
First win1961 Bobby Ball Memorial (Phoenix)
Last win1965 Rex Mays Classic (Milwaukee)
Wins Podiums Poles
6 17 12
NASCAR Cup Series career
34 races run over 12 years
Best finish33rd (1958)
First race1956 Race 24 (Merced)
Last race1970 Motor Trend 500 (Riverside)
First win1957 Race 36 (Bremerton)
Last win1967 Motor Trend 500 (Riverside)
Wins Top tens Poles
4 11 3

Rufus Parnell "Parnelli" Jones[1] (August 12, 1933 – June 4, 2024) was an American professional racing driver and racing team owner. He is notable for his accomplishments while competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Baja 1000 desert race, and the Trans-Am Championship series. In 1962, he became the first driver to qualify over 150 mph (240 km/h). He won the race in 1963, then famously broke down while leading the 1967 race with three laps to go in a turbine car.[2] During his career as an owner, he won the Indy 500 in 19701971 with driver Al Unser.

Jones won races in many types of vehicles: sports cars, IndyCars, sprint cars, midget cars, off-road vehicles, and stock cars.

Driving career

[edit]

Born in Texarkana, Arkansas, Jones' family moved to Torrance, California, where he grew up (and lived in nearby Rolling Hills). He was nicknamed Parnelli by his boyhood friend Billy Calder, who hoped that the Jones family would not discover their son was racing cars as a 17-year-old minor.[3] Jones participated in his first race in a Jalopy race at Carrell Speedway in Gardena, California.[3] He developed his racing skills by racing in many different classes in the 1950s, including 15 stock car racing wins in the NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Series.[4]

His first major championship was the Midwest region Sprint car title in 1960. The title caught the attention of promoter J. C. Agajanian, who became his sponsor.[5] He began racing at Indianapolis in 1961.

Jones was named the 1961 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, an honor that he shared with Bobby Marshman. Jones led early in the race and ran among the leaders until being hit in the face with a stone, bloodying his face, blurring his vision and slowing him to a 12th-place finish.

In 1962, he was the first driver to qualify over 150 mph at the Indianapolis 500, winning the pole position at a speed of 150.370 mph (241.997 km/h). Jones dominated the first two-thirds of the race until a brake line failure slowed him, and he settled for a seventh-place finish.

Jones drives the car he drove in the Indianapolis 500 from 1961 through 1964 around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track in 2012.

In the 1963 Indianapolis 500, he started on the pole. This was the year the controversial Lotus-Ford rear-engined cars made their first appearance, and had ruffled the Indianapolis establishment. Before the race, the chief steward, Harlan Fengler, told the teams that he would black-flag any cars that leaked oil on the track, warning, "Don't believe me, just try me."

With Scotsman Jim Clark in a Lotus-Ford closing on Jones in the waning laps, Jones' car developed a horizontal crack in the external oil reservoir. At that moment, driver Eddie Sachs crashed on the oil-slickened racing surface and brought out a yellow caution flag, slowing the field. Agajanian, Jones' car owner, argued with chief steward Harlan Fengler not to issue a black flag, insisting the oil level had dropped below the level of the crack, and that the leak had stopped. As Agajanian pleaded with Fengler, Lotus head man Colin Chapman rushed up to join the conversation and demanded that Fengler follow the rules about disqualifying cars with oil leaks. With the end of the race just minutes away, Fengler took no action, and Jones went on to win. The Lotus-Ford team, while unhappy with the obvious favoritism displayed by race officials toward Jones and Agajanian, also acknowledged Jones' clear superiority in the event. In addition, Ford officials recognized that a victory through disqualification of Clark's biggest competitor would not be well received by the public, so they declined to protest.

Also that year, legendary vehicle fabricator Bill Stroppe built a Mercury Marauder USAC Stock car for Jones. Jones won the 1963 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the car, and broke the stock car speed record.[3]

In 1964, he won seven races (and tied for a win) on his way to the USAC Stock car crown. He won the Turkey Night Grand Prix midget car event. Mercury decided to pull out of stock car racing after the season. The following year, Jones almost won Indy for a second time, finishing second behind Jim Clark.

He won five of the nine midget car events that he entered in 1966, including the Turkey Night Grand Prix. He finished fourteenth in the final points despite competing in only nine of 65 events.[2]

Jones's STP-Paxton Turbocar from the 1967 Indianapolis 500.

In 1967, he drove in the Indianapolis 500 for owner Andy Granatelli in the revolutionary STP-Paxton Turbocar. Jones dominated the race but dropped out with three laps to go when a small, inexpensive transmission bearing broke. After 1968, turbine-powered cars were legislated out of competition.

Also in 1967, as part of his stock car contract with the Lincoln-Mercury division of the Ford Motor Company, Jones drove a Mercury Cougar for Bud Moore in the second-year Trans Am series. In April, Jones dueled with teammate, friend and rival Dan Gurney in a brutal 300-mile (480 km), 4-hour event at Green Valley, Texas in 113-degree heat, losing by inches to Gurney.

Stroppe suggested that Jones try his hand at off-road racing in front of a large crowd at a Christmas party in 1967. Jones at first said no, since he had enough of dirt. Stroppe suggested that maybe off-road racing was too hard for Jones, and the challenge started Jones' off-road career.[3] Jones and Stroppe teamed up for the 711-mile (1,144 km) Star Dust 7/11 race across the Nevada desert in early 1968. Jones had never driven or pre-run the Ford Bronco. Jones hit a dry wash at full speed, which broke the wheels and blew out the front tires. Jones would later have a guest appearance in the original film Gone in 60 Seconds featuring him and his Bronco which was stolen in the plot. Jones had become hooked on off-road racing.[3]

In 1968, Jones headed a super-roster of seven drivers signed by Andy Granatelli to drive STP Lotus 56 turbine cars in an unprecedented single-team assault on the Indianapolis 500. The deaths of Jim Clark and Mike Spence, plus a serious injury to Jackie Stewart, whittled the entry to four. Jones, testing his reworked 1967 car in practice, was dissatisfied with the car's performance compared to the newer "wedge"-shaped Lotus 56 turbines, and had concluded the car was unsafe. He stepped out of the car, which was subsequently assigned to Joe Leonard, who promptly wrecked the car in practice. Jones retired from driving IndyCars, but later admitted, "If I hadn't already won Indy, they could never have kept me out of that car."

Jones entered the 1968 NORRA Mexican 1000 (now Baja 1000). Jones led until the 150-mile (240 km) marker. The Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame describes Jones' racing style: "Jones and Stroppe had to find a way to keep their vehicles in one piece. During races Jones would push the vehicles at maximum speeds until they gave way, with Stroppe telling him at top volume the entire time to take it easier on the vehicle."

Image of Ford Bronco known as Big Oly driven by Parnelli Jones in multiple offroad events
Parnelli Jones driving Big Oly in Baja 500

Jones had a special car fabricated by Dick Russell via Bill Stroppe that looked like a Bronco, but had racing parts that could withstand rigorous jarring that off-road vehicles endure. Jones named the vehicle "Big Oly" after his sponsor Olympia Beer.[3] Jones used the vehicle to lead the 1971 Mexican 1000 from start to finish in a new record time of 14 hours and 59 minutes. It was the first off-road racing victory by an Indy 500-winning driver. In Big Oly, Jones won back-to-back Mexican NORRA 1000s, a Mint 400, a Baja 500, along with other victories.

Parnelli Jones sitting in 1970 Boss 302 Mustang
Jones's 1970 Boss 302 Mustang

Capitalizing on his long history with Ford, Parnelli joined with Bud Moore Engineering to race in the SCCA Trans-Am Championship series. In 1967, to help with the vehicle launch, Jones raced a prepped 1967 Mercury Cougar. The car was not overly competitive, however Ford did win the Manufacturers Title. Jones did not race in 1968 season. Jones returned to Bud Moore and Trans-Am in 1969 to help with the debut of the Boss 302 Mustang. Teamed with George Follmer, Jones finished second in the Drivers Championship to Mark Donohue driving a 1969 Penkse prepared Camaro. Both Moore and Jones agreed that the Firestone tires were the reason they did not win the championship due to their short life compared to Goodyear, but due to Jones's Firestone sponsorship, they were required.[6] In 1970, Moore, Jones, and Follmer returned to dominate the 1970 Trans-Am season.

Jones finished his racing career with major wins during the year 1973. He won his second Mexican 1000 in 16 hours and 42 minutes. He also won the 1973 Baja 500 and Mint 400 off-road events. Jones had a major accident at SCORE International's 1974 Baja 500, and stepped away from full-time off-road racing to become a race car owner.

Driving career summary

[edit]

Jones retired with six IndyCar wins and twelve pole positions, four wins in 34 NASCAR starts, including the 1967 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside,[7] 25 midget car feature wins in occasional races between 1960 and 1967,[2][8] 25 career sprint car wins,[2][9] and seven Tran-Am wins and a Drivers Championship in 1970.[10] His fifteen wins is eighth on the all-time in NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model history.[4]

In 1993, Jones took part in the Fast Masters. He advanced to the final championship round and placed 6th overall.

Car owner

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1970 Indianapolis 500 winning car (#2). The 1971 winning car (#1) is visible to the left.

Jones started Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing, which won the Indianapolis 500 again as an owner in 1970 and 1971 with driver Al Unser driving the Johnny Lightning special. The team also won the 1970, 1971, and 1972 USAC National Championships.

Jones owned the Parnelli Formula One race team from late 1974 to early 1976, although it achieved little success.

Jones returned to off-road racing as owner of Walker Evans' 1976 SCORE truck, and Evans won the championship. They teamed up for the 1977 CORE Class 2 championship.

Jones owned vehicles that took class wins at the Baja 500 and Baja 1000. His USAC Dirt Car won two championships and the Triple Crown three times.[3]

Documentary

[edit]

Jones starred in the one-hour documentary Behind the Indianapolis 500 with Parnelli Jones. Narrated by Bob Varsha, the film takes viewers behind the scenes of the Indianapolis 500, through the eyes and experiences of Parnelli Jones. In addition to Parnelli, Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser Jr., P. J. Jones, Chip Ganassi, and others are interviewed throughout. The film was selected for the 2016 Sun Valley Film Festival, which Parnelli and Bob Varsha attended.

Businessman

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Jones owned and operated several successful businesses. He owned Parnelli Jones Inc., which operated 47 retail Parnelli Jones Tire Centers in four states. Parnelli Jones Enterprises was a chain of Firestone Racing Tires in 14 Western United States. Parnelli Jones Wholesale was a reseller which sold and distributed shock absorbers, passenger car tires, and other automotive products to retail tire dealers. In addition, Parnelli Jones has several wheel manufacturers companies since the beginning of the 70s, z.b. Rebel Wheel co, US Mags and American Racing Equipment.[3]

Death

[edit]

Jones died in Torrance, California, on June 4, 2024, at the age of 90.[11]

Awards and honors

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Complete USAC Championship Car results

[edit]
Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Pos Points
1960 TRE
INDY
MIL
16
LAN
6
SPR
DNQ
MIL
13
DUQ
18
SYR
6
ISF
17
TRE
19
SAC
2
PHX
DNQ
18th 333
1961 TRE
15
INDY
12
MIL
LAN
2
MIL
23
SPR
11
DUQ
12
SYR
5
ISF
12
TRE
9
SAC
2
PHX
1
9th 750
1962 TRE
2
INDY
7
MIL
2
LAN
2
TRE
4
SPR
2
MIL
9
LAN
3
SYR
15
ISF
1
TRE
19
SAC
5
PHX
4
3rd 1,760
1963 TRE
2
INDY
1
MIL
DNQ
LAN
4
TRE
22
SPR
8
MIL
23
DUQ
6
ISF
18
TRE
22
SAC
12
PHX
4
4th 1,540
1964 PHX
3
TRE
19
INDY
23
MIL
LAN
TRE
DNQ
SPR
13
MIL
1
DUQ
16
ISF
17
TRE
1
SAC
16
PHX
17
6th 940
1965 PHX
TRE
DNQ
INDY
2
MIL
1
LAN
PIP TRE
IRP
ATL
LAN
MIL
17
SPR
MIL
DNQ
DUQ
ISF
TRE
SAC
PHX
10th 1,000
1966 PHX TRE INDY
14
MIL
DNS
LAN ATL PIP IRP LAN SPR MIL DUQ ISF TRE SAC PHX
10
41st 60
1967 PHX
TRE
INDY
6
MIL
LAN
PIP MOS
MOS
IRP
LAN
MTR
MTR
SPR
MIL
DUQ
ISF
TRE
SAC
HAN
PHX
RIV
20th 400
1972 PHX
TRE
INDY
DNP
MIL
MCH
POC
MIL
ONT
TRE
PHX
- 0

Indianapolis 500 results

[edit]

References

[edit]
  1. ^ "Parnelli Jones". www.champcarstats.com. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  2. ^ a b c d Biography Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine at the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Biography Archived 2011-09-30 at the Wayback Machine at the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame
  4. ^ a b Biography at the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, Retrieved November 8, 2007
  5. ^ Biography Archived 2006-04-27 at the Wayback Machine at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
  6. ^ Farr, Donald (June 1, 2005). "Bud Moore Engineering - Reflecting With Bud".
  7. ^ "Parnelli Jones". Racing-Reference. NASCAR Digital Media, LLC. Retrieved June 6, 2024.
  8. ^ "USAC National Midget Driver Feature Wins". usacracing.com. Archived from the original on June 6, 2024. Retrieved June 6, 2024.
  9. ^ "USAC National Sprint Car Driver Feature Wins". usacracing.com. Archived from the original on June 6, 2024. Retrieved June 6, 2024.
  10. ^ "50 Years Ago: 1970 Trans-Am | SpeedTour". Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  11. ^ Malsher-Lopez, David (June 4, 2024). "Parnelli Jones, 1933-2024". RACER. Retrieved June 4, 2024.
  12. ^ "ORMHOF - Legends Live at the Hall of Fame - Parnelli Jones". ormhof.org. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  13. ^ "Parnelli Jones". IMS Museum. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  14. ^ "Parnelli Jones". International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  15. ^ "Parnelli Jones". 2007-09-27. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  16. ^ "Parnelli Jones". sprintcarhof.com. Archived from the original on August 26, 2023.
  17. ^ "Parnelli Jones". www.mshf.com. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  18. ^ "StockcarReunion.com". www.stockcarreunion.com. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  19. ^ "PARNELLI JONES - USAC HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2012 - USAC Racing". usacracing.com. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  20. ^ "Career Stats for Parnelli Jones". Indy500.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved June 6, 2024.
[edit]
Sporting positions
Preceded by Indianapolis 500
Rookie of the Year

1961
With Bobby Marshman
Succeeded by
Preceded by Indianapolis 500 Winner
1963
Succeeded by
Sporting positions
Preceded by USAC Stock Car Champion
1964
Succeeded by