June 16, 2024

Parnelli Jones Pushed Boundaries in Indy 500’s Most Innovative Era

Photo: Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network (Getty Images)

Parnelli Jones passed away due to natural causes on Monday at the age of 90 at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrence, his hometown. The victor of the 1963 Indianapolis 500 was one of the iconic drivers in American racing during the 1960s. Jones was arguably the quickest driver in an era of unprecedented change as the 1950s roadsters were replaced by rear-engined vehicles and turbine-powered beasts.

Jones made his debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1961 with praises from sprint car and late-model stock car racing. He shared the Rookie of the Year title with Bobby Marshman after finishing 12th. The following year, he was the first to exceed 150 mph in qualifying.

During the 1963 Indy 500, Jones solidified his place among the Speedway’s legends. He fended off Jim Clark’s rear-engined Lotus 29 to claim victory. However, there was controversy surrounding the end of the race. Jones’ Watson roadster was leaking fuel in the final laps, and race officials contemplated waving the black flag, which would have required Jones to relinquish the lead. After a heated exchange between team owner J. C. Agajanian and officials, the flag was never shown, and Jones emerged victorious.

The 1967 Indy 500 with Parnelli Jones and AJ Foyt

In 1967, Jones had the opportunity to drive a pioneering machine. He was offered the chance to pilot Andy Granatelli’s STP-Paxton Turbocar. This four-wheel-drive Indy special was equipped with a 550-horsepower aircraft turbine. Despite being 400 pounds overweight and experiencing a three-second throttle lag, it was the clear favorite to win. According to Speed Sport, Jones stated:

“So I decided I’d do what Jim Hurtubise did during the ‘63 race. He’d dropped back at the start, then pulled to the outside and passed a half dozen cars, including me, to lead the first lap. So when Gordy dove down, I stayed high and zipped around everyone. Mario [Andretti] gave me the finger when I waved as I went by him.”

Sadly, with only four laps remaining, a $6 transmission bearing failed on the Turbocar. Jones had led 171 laps of the 200-lap classic. This marked the end of his participation in the Indy 500. Although Jones continued to compete in other series and achieved success as a team owner, his legacy will forever be tied to his seven-year tenure as a driver at Indianapolis.


Q: What made Parnelli Jones a standout driver during his era?

A: Parnelli Jones was known for his speed and skill, particularly in adapting to the evolving technology and machinery in the world of racing during the 1960s.

Q: How did Parnelli Jones secure his victory in the 1963 Indy 500?

A: Jones held off competitors like Jim Clark to secure a memorable win, despite facing challenges like a leaking fuel tank in the final laps.


Parnelli Jones will always be remembered as a legendary figure in the realm of American racing. His contributions, both on the track and as a team owner, have left an indelible mark on the sport. His fearless driving and innovative approach to racing have inspired generations of motorsport enthusiasts and professionals alike.

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