Parnelli Jones, Racing Legend, Passes Away at 90

Remembering a Racing Icon: The Legacy of Parnelli Jones (1933-2024)

Parnelli Jones stands with the Ford Mustang Boss 302R and Boss 302. (Ford).

Rufus Parnell “Parnelli” Jones passed away on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Torrance, California, at the age of 90. Jones, a native of Texarkana, Arkansas, rose to prominence as a professional racing driver and later as a successful racing team owner.

Jones’s remarkable career spanned multiple disciplines, from the prestigious Indianapolis 500 to the grueling Baja 1000 desert race and the Trans-Am Championship series. He was known for his exceptional talent behind the wheel and his unparalleled success in various types of vehicles, including sports cars, IndyCars, sprint cars, midget cars, off-road vehicles, and stock cars.

Born on August 12, 1933, Jones developed a passion for racing at a young age. He honed his skills on the racetracks of California, where he participated in his first race at Carrell Speedway in Gardena. Throughout the 1950s, Jones showcased his prowess in stock car racing, claiming 15 victories in the NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Series.

Parnelli Jones with his 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Trans-Am car. (Ford).

Jones’s breakthrough came in 1960 when he clinched the Midwest region Sprint car title, catching the attention of racing promoter J. C. Agajanian, who became his sponsor. He made his debut at the prestigious Indianapolis 500 in 1961, earning Rookie of the Year honors despite enduring a stone-induced injury during the race.

1962 Jones made history by becoming the first driver to qualify over 150 mph at the Indianapolis 500, winning the pole position. He went on to secure victory at the iconic race in 1963, etching his name into racing lore. Despite facing setbacks, including a brake line failure in 1962 and a turbine car breakdown in 1967, Jones’s legacy as an IndyCar driver remained unmatched.

Jones’s versatility extended beyond the asphalt of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He conquered off-road racing, winning the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1963 and dominating the Baja 1000 with his legendary vehicle, “Big Oly,” in the 1970s.

Parnelli Jones with his “Big Oly” Ford Bronco in 1968. (Ford).

As a racing team owner, Jones tasted success at the highest level, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1970 and 1971 with driver Al Unser behind the wheel of the Johnny Lightning special. His team, Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing, also secured multiple USAC National Championships, further solidifying his status as a motorsport luminary.

Jones’s contributions to the world of racing extended beyond his achievements on the track. He remained a revered figure in the racing community, inspiring generations of drivers with his talent, tenacity, and dedication to the sport.

Parnelli Jones is survived by his wife, Judy, two sons, P.J. and Page, and six grandchildren, including Jagger. He leaves behind a legacy that will forever be celebrated in the annals of motorsports history. Jones’s indelible mark on the racing world will continue to inspire enthusiasts and drivers alike for years to come.