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1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones has passed away

Parnelli Jones, the man who won the 1963 Indianapolis 500 and became an Indy 500 winning team owner, passed away on Tuesday.

Jones, whose real name was Rufus Parnell Jones, etched his name in the annals of Indy car racing lore rather quickly in his career in the early to mid-1960s. Born in Texarkana, Arkansas, Jones cut his teeth racing stock cars and Late Models in the late 1950s.

Jones made his first start in Indy car racing at the Milwaukee Mile in 1960, the race immediately after the Indianapolis 500. His best finish that season was second place at the California State Fairgrounds.

He first came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1961 after catching the attention of J.C. Agajanian. He was named Rookie of the Year in the 1961 Indianapolis 500 qualifying fifth and placing 12th. He shared the ROY honor with Bobby Marshman. Jones gathered his first win in USAC championship car racing later in 1961 in the season finale at Phoenix.

Jones qualified on the pole in 1962 and led 120 of the race’s 200 laps, but only mustered a seventh-place finish.

In 1963 he started on pole and led 167 laps en route to his only victory in the Indianapolis 500. The victory was mired in some controversy as Jones’ car had developed a crack in the oil reservoir spoiling oil on the race track, which some argue was why Eddie Sachs, who was closing on Jones in the waiting laps, ended up crashing.

Agajanian is said to have argued with the race director to not issue a black flag to Jones.

Jones later piloted one of the infamous turbine engine racing cars that were brought to the track by Andy Granatelli in 1967. Jones was en route to what would have been a second Indy 500 victory that year had it not been for a 6-cent transmission bearing that failed with just three-laps left in the race. AJ Foyt took his third Indy 500 victory that year.

In all, Jones is credited with six USAC/Indy Car championship victories in his open-wheel driving career. He also had seven wins in USAC stock car competition and four wins in 34 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series (then known as the Grand National Series).

Jones capped off his driving career with seven wins in the Trans-Am Series in which he won a drivers championship in 1970.

That same year he started Vel’s Parnelli Jones racing which owned both of Al Unser’s back-to-back Indianapolis 500 winning machines in 1970 and 1971. Jones also owned a Formula One team for three seasons from 1974 to 1976.

Jones died of natural causes on Tuesday. He was 90 years old. He was the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500. That distinction now falls to AJ Foyt, who turned 89 in January.

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1 comment

Roger Rabbit June 5, 2024 at 12:58 pm

RIP Parnelli, he was an awesome person and a great driver. Watched many a race between him and AJ Foyt at Indianpolis Raceway Park. Running Camaro’s and Mustangs on the road course. Good times.

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