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My Favorite Car: Parnelli Jones

Note: This continues a series of interviews with Indianapolis 500 legends about the favorite car they drove in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and why, in their words. “My Favorite Car” interviews will appear at IMS.com on Mondays through the spring. Read other installments of "My Favorite Car" here.

Q: What was your favorite car you drove in the Indianapolis 500?

Parnelli Jones: My ’63 winning car. I drove it as a rookie (in 1961) and led the race for 27 laps until I lost a cylinder. I came back the next year and was the first to run 150 mph with a car and sat on the pole. I was leading that race, long gone, and then lost my brakes. Then I came back the next year and won. I led most of the race. In 1964, I was leading the race and had a race going with A.J. (Foyt). I went into the pits during the pit stop to refuel, and it caught on fire. But I ran the car for four years, and I was pretty dominant. So, that was my favorite car. Between that, and I drove a Lotus one year and drove the turbine car. But by far, my Indy roadster would be my favorite car.

Q: What was the best part about that car, the horsepower or handling?

PJ: I think it was handling, more than anything. I was able to run it a little bit on the loose side. That made it a little bit faster because most of the time we had a little bit of understeer. I was fortunate enough to be able to drive it without any understeer.

Q: That was the special trick that got you to 150 mph in 1962, letting the car slide in the corners, correct?

PJ: Yeah. About that time, I was running sprint cars and a Champ car, too. I was pretty well fine-tuned. I used to run 50, 60 races a year. When you do that, it’s like going to work.

Q: You drove the same roadster for the first four years of your Indy 500 career. How much did you refine or change the car from year to year?

PJ: We tried to refine it every year. That’s one of the reasons why we got in trouble with a car fire in the pits the last time we ran it because we built an all-aluminum fuel tank. Aluminum was not strong enough to carry 50 gallons of fuel. It broke the pickup, which was one of the reasons it caught on fire in the pits. We kept trying to develop the car every year. We put an air intake on it; we were the first to do that, to put cold air into the injectors.

Q: Did you know right away in 1961 that this car was ready to win? Or did it take you awhile to develop it to dominance?

PJ: I really went to the Speedway like a duck to water (in 1961). The car handled well for me, right off the bat. I was fortunate enough to lead 27 laps early in the race. We were running really easy, not trying to force myself. I think if the car would have kept going and not dropped a cylinder, I think I would have been able to win as a rookie.

Q: In 1965, were you reluctant to switch to a rear-engine car after four years in the roadster? Or did you see the writing on the wall and thought you had no choice?

PJ: I drove the Lotus and won at Milwaukee (in 1964). I knew right then the car would put the other (front-engine) cars out of business. I wound up finishing second to Jimmy Clark with that car (at Indy in 1965). After that, that’s when I made the deal with Andy (Granatelli) to drive the turbine for the following year.

Facts about Parnelli Jones’ 1963 Indianapolis 500 car:
Car name: Agajanian Willard Battery Watson/Offy
Car number: 98
Team: Agajanian Racing Enterprises
Qualified: First
Finished: First
Laps Completed: 200
Laps Led: 167
Status: Running
Parnelli Jones career ‘500” starts: 7 (1961-67)

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