He is quite simply one of the best racers in history. “The Greatest 33.” He is Parnelli Jones. Now 80-years old, Jones is retired, but he’s as engaging as ever, still on top of all things racing and the sport he so loves.
Jones is an Indianapolis 500 legend. As a driver, he won the Memorial Day classic in 1963 and added two more Indy 500s in 1970 and 1971 as an owner. He did it with passion and pride ever since he was first drawn to racing.
“I guess more than anything, I was attracted to the thrill of it and the completion,” Parnelli told Breitbart Sports. “Trying to do something better than the next guy. Racing, taking a car, and being able to handle it gives you an inner thrill like no other.”
Jones provided plenty of thrills for fans as well. Many point to the 1962 Indy 500, where Jones took pole position and led the way for 120 laps. Then it happened. The exhaust pipe burned through one of Jones’s brake lines eventually settling for a seventh place finish.
Without a radio, Jones actually told his crew about the brake problem by slowly driving through the pits and shouting to them. Smarts and ingenuity that many drivers today would never fathom dealing with.
“Indy cars have been struggling because some of the electronics have taken some of the driver input out of the equation,” Jones said. “Aerodynamics of cars makes it hard to be creative or different than someone else. We need to improve ourselves. NASCAR gets the viewers because it’s so entertaining when you can rub fenders like they do.”
All types of racing should take heed. After all, Jones is one of the most versatile drivers of all-time. He won races in sports cars, IndyCars, sprint cars, midgets, off-road vehicles, and stock cars. A truly amazing dossier.
Although he personally did not drive Formula 1, he did compete as a car owner with Mario Andretti. Parnelli Jones has seen it all in the world of racing.
Jones, the oldest living 500 winner looks back on his storied career fondly. He’s glad to have his health all these years later. “Even though it’s a dangerous sport, you don’t think of those things too much,” said Jones. “You rely on your own ability and have a little luck along the way. I’ve been fortunate to never spend a night in the hospital from racing and I used to run about 65 races a year.”
A new coffee table book is now available called, The Cars of Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones. The beautiful picture book includes not only some never-before-seen shots from photographer Dean Kirkland, but also stories about each car, courtesy of Jim Dilamarter and Ren Wicks Jr.
As a Matter of Fact I Am Parnelli Jones is also on the book shelves. Written by Jones and Bones Bourcier, this page-turner chronicles Jones’ rise from the dirt-tracks to victory at the Indianapolis 500.
The books really capture Jones’s career on the tracks and take us back to races from years past.
As far as today’s race game, Jones is tuned-in to all of it and he has a keen eye when it comes to other drivers. Danica Patrick for one.
“She’s got some talent, there’s no question about that,” Jones said. “I think she is a pretty good race driver. She’s a little cocky and I guess that’s exactly what you have to be to be a good driver.”
Point taken. This coming from a man who according to his biography, told himself during that race in ’62 sans brakes, “You can do it! You have more guts than anyone! You don’t have to hit the brakes!.'”
Jones has no real regrets, but he may have tweaked things a little bit if he did it all again. “If I had to do my career over I’d probably cut out the sprint car racing,” Parnelli said. “We used to run on these high bank tracks and dirt tracks. It was the most dangerous part of my career.”
Still, Jones came out of it unscathed physically and more beloved by racing aficionados.
Jones retired with six IndyCar victories and twelve pole positions, four NASCAR wins, 25 midget car feature wins, and 25 career sprint car wins. Maybe most impressive, Jones was the man many of his rivals feared most. Now a whole new era of fans are enjoying Jones through his books.
“I had a great career and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done,” Jones said. He certainly should be.