West Series: Tribute to Parnelli Jones

By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing at age 90 of Parnelli Jones, a true legend of the NASCAR West Series (now known as ARCA Menards Series West), and motorsports as a whole.

Legendary motorsports driver parnelli jones has passed away.
Photo from Vincent Delforge’s personal collection of NASCAR programs.

Rufus Parnell Jones, known as “Parnelli”, was born on August 12, 1933 in Texarkana, Arkansas, but his family quickly moved to Torrance, California, where Parnelli lived his entire life until his death on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. In his last years he fought against Parkinson’s disease with the competitive spirit that made him an immense automobile racing champion and businessman.

He was nicknamed Parnelli by his boyhood friend Billy Calder, who hoped that the Jones family would not discover their son was racing cars as a 17-year-old minor.Jones participated in his very first race in a Jalopy race at Carrell Speedway in Gardena, CA in 1950. An oval where he won so many races including the West Series.

Between 1956 and 1970 he participated in 49 races in the West Series (including combination races with the Cup Series), obtaining 15 wins, 26 top-fives, 32 top-10s and 8 poles. He obtained his best ranking in the championship in 1957 with 8th position without ever having had a full season at 100%. He made sporadic appearances in the 1960s and took part in his last race in 1970 at Riverside, a combination race between the Grand National (current NASCAR Cup Series) and the West Series. He finished in 11th position.

Legendary motorsports driver parnelli jones has passed away.
Photo from Vincent Delforge’s personal collection of NASCAR programs.

He mainly drove Ford Motor Company cars. All his victories in the West Series were for Ford and for legendary owners like Oscar Mapples or Vel Miletich. He also drove for Bill Stroppe’s team.

Note that he still holds the record for consecutive victories in the West Series with six victories obtained between 1958 (the last four races) and 1959 (the first two races).

A jack of all trades, he took part in races all over the world. Winning four races in the NASCAR Cup Series. One of his greatest achievements was his victory at the Indianapolis 500 in 1963 when he beat the Scotsman and future double Formula 1 champion Jimmy Clark and his formidable Lotus Ford with his Watson/Offy entered by J.C. Agajanian.

1963 was an exceptional year for Jones as he won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the USAC Stock Car class, driving the same Mercury Marauder he drove in NASCAR and specially modified by Bill Stroppe. Jones won the famous Hill Climb event again in 1964.

He won countless races and championships in Midgets, Sprint Cars, SCCA TransAm, AAA/USAC, etc. or even in Off Roads in the biggest races like the Baja 1000,..  But a serious accident during the 1974 Baja 1000 (Mexico) decided him to retire definitely his driver’s helmet.

Legendary motorsports driver parnelli jones has passed away.
Photo from Vincent Delforge’s personal collection of NASCAR programs.

Between 1970 and 1977, he managed the Vels Parnelli Jones Racing team with his friend Vel Miletich. With this team he won the Indy 500 in 1970 and 1971 with driver Al Unser, Sr. and he also achieved great success in F5000 with Mario Andretti. With the latter as driver he also participated between 1974 and 1976 in the Formula 1 world championship.

He then developed with Cosworth the DFX turbocharged unit which would dominate USAC/CART between 1978 and 1987, winning every championship and Indy 500 during this period.

An entrepreneur at heart, he succeeded wherever he went, including in the business world with his company Parnelli Jones, Inc.

His son P.J. and grandson Jagger were also drivers, including in the West Series. P.J. competed in nine races in West Series between 1990 and 2008. Jagger ran 14 races in 2019, securing one victory and the rookie of the year title that season.

The entire Kickin’ the Tires team extends its most sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Parnelli Jones West Series Stats

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