Anyone who’s even casually into racing has undoubtedly heard the name Parnelli Jones.

From Pikes Peak to Formula 1, the man transcended virtually every facet of the motorsports world, successfully competing in open-wheel racing, NASCAR, and off-roading as both a racer and a team owner—picking up plenty of trophies and speed records along the way.

Away from the track, Jones was an ambassador for the racing community where he championed motorsports alongside contemporaries like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Al Unser.

A common sight at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jones was the first racer to qualify over the 150 mph mark for the Indy 500 in 1962 and the won the race a year later in 1963. He also famously piloted the STP-Paxton Turbocar during the 1967 Indy 500. He dominated much of the race and many experts agree he would have easily won had a minor mechanical failure—with just four laps to go—resulted in a 6th-place finish. (Turbine-powered cars were prohibited from competing after 1968.)

vintage photo of Parnelli Jones with a Ford Bronco
(Image/Ford Motor Company)

Parnelli Jones is equally famous for his off-road success, campaigning a Ford Bronco in the newly-minted Baja 1,000 race in 1968. He would eventually win the Baja 1,000 in 1972—and again in 1973.

Jones was also a force in the nascent Trans Am series during the 1960s, first in a Mercury Cougar, then he piloted a Boss 302 Mustang to a second place finish in the Trans Am Driver’s Championship for 1969.

The following year, Parnelli Jones took first place in the Driver’s Championship (besting second place Mark Donohue by a single point).

parnelli jones in his 1970 mustang boss 302 prior to a race
(Image/Ford Motor Company | Creative Commons – BY-SA 4.0)

In the decades since his initial success on the track, Jones never strayed far away from the racing and automotive industries, running a profitable branch of tire and performance parts distributors. He occasionally made celebrity and exhibition appearances behind the wheel too.

Jones had been battling Parkinson’s Disease for several years. He passed away June 4, 2024 at the age of 90.

Share this Article