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Parnelli Jones, 1933–2024

2 Mins read
Credit: NASCAR

Parnelli Jones, who enjoyed success in virtually everything he raced from pavement to off-road, has passed away at the of 90. His son P.J. Jones explained Tuesday that he had been battling Parkinson’s disease “for the last few years.”

Jones is most famous for winning the 1963 Indianapolis 500, his third of seven attempts from 1961 to 1967. He was an open-wheel regular in USAC during the 1960s which he balanced with select starts in the NASCAR Grand National Series (now Cup Series), where he won four times, and the Pacific Coast Late Model Series that has since become the ARCA Menards Series West.

Bill Stroppe, who built his USAC and NASCAR cars, also designed his Mercury with which he won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1963. At the turn of the decade, Stroppe challenged Jones to try out off-road racing, entering the NORRA Mexican 1000 in 1968. Stroppe later built a Ford Bronco nicknamed “Big Oly”, with which Jones won the Mexican 1000 in 1970, the Baja 500 in 1970 and 1973, and back-to-back Baja 1000s in 1971 and 1972. Jones and Stroppe also won the 1973 Mint 400. Fellow Indy 500 champion Rick Mears and off-road great Walker Evans also raced alongside Jones in the desert.

After ending his driving career, he remained involved as a team owner. Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing won the Indy 500 with Al Unser in 1970 and 1971 and three consecutive USAC titles courtesy of Unser and Joe Leonard from 1970 to 1972, while the great Mario Andretti raced for Jones in Formula One from 1974 to 1976. The team’s Class 8 Chevrolet truck also claimed the 1976 SCORE International truck championship and class wins at the Baja 500 and 1000. Chevrolet also enlisted Jones with building the BFG Blazer, which went on to race with Scoop Vessels and Bob Gordon.

He has been inducted into over twenty halls of fame including the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, National Motorsports Hall of Fame, and Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame.

“The racing world has lost a great competitor and a true champion,” reads a statement from IndyCar Series boss Roger Penske. “Parnelli Jones was one of the most accomplished racers in history, and his determination and will to win made him one of the toughest competitors I have ever seen.

“From racing against him on track to competing against him as a fellow team owner, I always respected Parnelli’s passion and commitment to the sport he loved. I was proud to call Parnelli a good friend for many years, and our thoughts are with his family as we remember one of the true legends of motorsports.”

Rufus Parnelli Jones: 12 August 1933 – 4 June 2024

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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