Indy 500 Winner, Team Owner, Racing Innovator
It’s that desire, that will to win that you have to have. It’s not somebody giving you something. It’s something you’re taking!Parnelli Jones
About the Innovator
Rufus Parnell Jones was born August 12, 1933, in Texarkana, Arkansas, but grew up in Torrance, California, steeped in southern California’s car culture. “Parnelli” (a nickname given by an aunt) was hot rodding by age 17, and racing on local and regional circuits soon after that. Jones’s aggressive driving style caught the eye of promoter J.C. Agajanian who, in 1960, brought him into the big time. Jones finished 12th in his debut Indianapolis 500 in 1961, but set a record the next year by qualifying at 150.370 miles per hour. Jones won the 500 in 1963. While his victory, after avoiding a black flag for an oil leak, was controversial, there was no doubt that he’d dominated the race by leading 167 of 200 laps. Jones would’ve won again in 1967 if a transmission bearing hadn’t failed him just four laps from the finish. Even so, Jones’s car – a turbine-powered, four-wheel drive STP-Paxton Special built by Andy Granatelli – made a lasting impression on America’s most celebrated automobile race.
Jones founded Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing, with partner Vel Miletich, in 1967. Al Unser earned back-to-back Indy 500 victories for VPJ in 1970 and 1971, while Mario Andretti drove for the team in Formula One in the 1974, 1975 and 1976 seasons. Though no longer piloting open-cockpit cars, Jones kept his own driving skills sharp in Trans-Am and Baja races through the 1970s. With their legendary Ford Bronco “Big Oly,” he and co-driver Bill Stroppe won the Baja 1000 in 1971 and 1972, and the Baja 500 and the Mint 400 in 1973. When Jones wasn’t racing, he kept busy selling tires and automotive parts through his retail businesses.
Why He Innovates
For Parnelli Jones, innovation kept his team ahead of the competition from year to year. Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing was a pioneer in the use of radio communication between driver and crew. VPJ was also one of the first teams to use a transporter truck – complete with a mobile machine shop – to move its cars to races. Jones pursued unconventional sponsorships, too. VPJ’s 1970 and 1971 Indianapolis 500 cars, backed by model car maker Johnny Lighting, remain some of the race’s most-loved winners.