A Legend Races into Seattle

historic

Parnelli Jones here for vintage car power show

By EVAN MCMULLEN
SPECIAL TO THE P-I

Racing legend Parnelli Jones is the headline celebrity attraction for this year’s 19th annual Pacific Northwest Vintage Historic Races.

More than 250 vintage collector cars will compete in this year’s races, which are themed around the Chevrolet Camaro, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year, and the Trans-Am racing series.

Jones offers audiences at the traditionally well-attended races a particularly apropos bit of walking, talking history that’s certain to rev the event into high gear.

His fierce racing style made him a pivotal figure in the golden age of Trans-Am racing. His 1970 race-winning Boss 302 Mustang is one of the most widely recognized and reproduced models in history.

In his long career, Jones distinguished himself in a wide variety of vehicles and racing environments, including Formula 1, stock cars, sports cars, midget cars, sprint cars and off-road vehicles.

Most famous for his 1963 Indy 500 win, Jones is arguably one of the most innovative, versatile and broadly experienced veterans in the sport’s history.

Born Rufus Parnell Jones 1933 in Texarkana, Ark., the man whose nickname was to become an international brand began his career in a jalopy at Carrol Speedway in Gardena, Calif., at age 17.

On the heels of a Midwest Sprint crown win in 1960, he burst into the high-performance spotlight as Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 1961.

The next year, Jones became the first racer in Indy history to qualify for the event at a speed of more than 150 mph, capturing the pole position at a record-setting 150.37 mph.

In 1963, he once again took the pole, this time riding to victory despite a horizontal oil reservoir crack that threatened him with black-flag disqualification through the last 40 laps.

Jones muscled the car to the checkered flag, holding on for the win as his oil level plummeted to the level of the crack.

The same year, Jones won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in a Mercury Marauder USAC stock car built by famed fabricator Bill Stroppe, shattering the stock-car speed record in the process.

Jones went on to take the USAC stock car world by storm, capturing its crown in 1964 with seven wins (and one tie for first), winning the Turkey Night Grand Prix midget car event.

Among other things, Jones is credited with introducing the Pratt & Whitney turbine to Indy in a landmark near-win for owner Andy Granatelli that seemed a shoo-in until a bearing failure crippled the car in its last laps.

Subsequent rule changes rendered the turbine obsolete for Indy racing.

Before he retired from Indy racing in 1968, Jones amassed six Indy wins as a driver and owner.

Jones broke from Indy driving in 1968 to pursue a new career in off-road racing at the same time he devoted increasing attention to his Firestone businesses.

Northwest fans may recall Jones’ subsequent off-road adventures. After a few hard-charging, car-crunching efforts, Jones ultimately won the Mexican 1,000 (now known as the Baja 1,000) in a specially built Stroppe car he dubbed “Big Oly” for its Tumwater-based sponsor, Olympia Beer.

By the end of 1973, Jones had captured his second Mexican 1,000 victory as well as Baja 500 and Mint 500 titles. Following a serious crash the next year, he abandoned off-road racing to concentrate on his business and competition as an owner.

Jones’ driving career ended with six Indy Car wins, four NASCAR wins (out of 34 starts), 25 sprint car wins and 25 midget car wins. The Motorsports Hall of Fame lauds him as perhaps the most versatile and influential competitor in the history of the sport.

Detailed, colorful accounts and exploits can be found inventoried at length in any credible history book or online. For more information on Jones’ record-setting career, visit the Motorsports Hall of Fame sites at www.mshf.comand www.motorsportshalloffame.com.

Do yourself a favor: trade your recliner for a vintage bucket seat this weekend. See Jones at the Society of 19th Annual PNW Historics Vintage Races at Pacific Raceway (formerly Seattle International Raceway) at state Route 18 in Kent.

The event runs from Friday to Sunday. For admission and an event calendar, visit www.northwesthistorics.com.

The weekend-long event is presented by Society of Vintage Racing Enthusiasts, SOVREN Guild of Children’s Hospital and select sponsors.

All proceeds benefit uncompensated care at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, which has raised more than $5 million over the past 19 years.

Evan McMullen is proprietor of Cosmopolitan Motors in Seattle.