Racing Legend Parnelli Jones Dies at 90

1967 motor trend 500 riverside nascar
Racing Legend Parnelli Jones Dies at 90The Enthusiast Network - Getty Images

Rufus Parnell "Parnelli" Jones, an Indianapolis 500 winner and a racing icon from an era when a driver of his skill could run and win in any type of car he pleased, died on Tuesday at the age of 90.

Born in Texarkana, Arkansas, Jones got his start racing in California under the nickname "Parnelli" to hide his identity and age. He won his first major sprint car title ten years later, and within a year he was entered in the Indianapolis 500 by long-time racing promoter J. C. Agajanian. He became the first driver to break the 150-mph average speed barrier in qualifying in 1962, won the race over Jim Clark with a cracked oil reservoir in 1963, and finished second to Clark's legendary Lotus Type 38 in 1965.

The dirt background served Jones well across a wide variety of racing disciplines, from four NASCAR stock car races to a class win at Pikes Peak in 1963. In 1970, he dominated perhaps the most iconic season of the Trans-Am championship in a Bud Moore Mustang. In 1971 and 1972, he won the Baja 1000 back-to-back in the "Big Oly" Bronco that changed off-road racing forever.

1967 51st indianapolis 500
The Enthusiast Network - Getty Images

While he did not win the race, the most unique accomplishment of Parnelli Jones may be the laps he led in the 1967 Indianapolis 500. He ran that race in Andy Granatelli's STP-Paxton Turbocar, a race car powered by a gas turbine. Jones led 171 laps before the car retired with a mechanical issue with eight laps to go, ending his hopes of becoming a two-time winner and taking the world off the timeline where gas turbine race cars were seriously pursued for decades to come.


Jones is survived by his wife, two sons, and six grandchildren. One of those sons, P.J. Jones, is a racer himself; he won the 1993 24 Hours of Daytona driving with Dan Gurney's All American Racers.

You Might Also Like