Indy 500 Winner Parnelli Jones Dead At 90

Parnelli Jones and J. C. Agajanian
(Penske Entertainment)
Parnelli Jones and J. C. Agajanian
Parnelli Jones and car owner J. C. Agajanian. (Penske Entertainment)

American racing legend Parnelli Jones died peacefully at his California home on July 4 at age 90.

Jones was the first driver to break the 150 mph qualifying speed for the Indy 500 in 1962 and followed it up with a win in 1963.

His career as a driver and team owner spanned decades and many disciplines, including off-road racing, where he won the Baja 1000 in 1971 and 1972 in the iconic Big Oly Ford Bronco.

Jones also claimed drivers championships in several sprint and stock car series and nearly won the Indy 500 again in 1967 in the turbine-powered STP-Paxton Turbocar that had a transmission part failure as he was leading with three laps to go.


parnelli jones in 98 car
Jones won the 1963 Indy 500 in the No. 98 Offenhauser-powered Watson. (Penske Entertainment)

Al Unser won the Indy 500 for the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing team in 1970 and 1972.

“The racing world has lost a great competitor and a true champion. Parnelli Jones was one of the most accomplished racers in history, and his determination and will to win made him one of the toughest competitors I have ever seen,” IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske said in a statement on Jones’ death.

“From racing against him on track to competing against him as a fellow team owner, I always respected Parnelli’s passion and commitment to the sport he loved. I was proud to call Parnelli a good friend for many years, and our thoughts are with his family as we remember one of the true legends of motorsports.”


Jones’ given name was Rufus Parnell, and he came about being known as Parnelli in an unusual way. As the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tells it, a 17-year-old Jones had entered a race that had a minimum age of 18, so he needed to register under an alias. A classmate of his used to call him Parnellie, and a friend suggested he use that for the race. The name stuck, although the “e” was lost later on.