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Parnelli Jones, who was the oldest living Indy 500 winner, dies at 90 – Autoblog

Parnelli Jones in 2012. (AP)

 

TORRANCE, Calif. — Parnelli Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner, died Tuesday at Torrance Memorial Medical Center after a battle with Parkinson’s disease, his son said. Jones was 90.

Jones was the oldest living winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“Parnelli Jones was the greatest driver of his era,” his contemporary Mario Andretti once said. “He had aggressiveness and also a finesse that no one else possessed. And he won on everything he put his hands on.”

Rufus Parnell Jones was born in Texarkana, Arkansas, in 1933 but moved to Torrance as a young child and never left. It was there that he became “Parnelli” because his given name of Rufus was too well known for him to compete without locals knowing his true identity and that he wasn’t old enough to race.

A friend came up with “Parnellie,” which was painted on the door of Jones’s 1934 Ford jalopy. The final “e” was eventually dropped, the name remained.

Parnelli Jones in the 1963 Indy 500. (AP)

Jones in 1962 became the first driver in at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to qualify at over 150 mph with a four-lap average of 150.370. He was the Indy 500 pole-sitter in 1962 and 1963 and co-rookie of the year with Bobby Marshman in 1961.

He made seven starts at Indianapolis from 1961 through 1967 and led in five of those races for a total of 492 laps — which is the eighth-highest laps led total in the race’s history. In the only two starts he didn’t lead in 1965 and 1966, Jones ran mostly in second place. He finished second in 1965 and retired from there with mechanical trouble in 1966.

Considered one of the most versatile drivers of his time, Jones moved to other vehicles and won the Baja 1000 twice and a Trans-Am championship, in a legendary 1970 Boss 302 Mustang painted Grabber Orange to stand out. He also had four Cup Series victories in NASCAR as well as wins in USAC sprint cars and midgets.

Jones is survived by his wife of nearly 57 years, Judy, sons PJ and Page and six grandchildren. Both of Jones’ sons had professional racing careers. PJ Jones followed in his father’s footsteps by starting the Indianapolis 500 in 2004 and 2006. Page Jones was making great strides on Midwest short tracks until he suffered serious injuries in a crash in 1994, ending his driving career.

Parnelli Jones was inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Hall of Fame and both the National Sprint Car and National Midget Halls of Fame.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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