Where Are They Now? Catching up with Parnelli Jones

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While he may be known more for his wins in the Indianapolis 500 and the Baja 1000, it was stock car racing that helped Parnelli Jones on the path to become the racing legend he is.

And even during his most successful years in open-wheel and off-road racing, the Torrence, California resident frequently went back to his stock car racing roots.

The first race Jones competed in was a “jalopy race” stock car event at Carrell Speedway in Gardena, California in 1950. He had to lie about his age because 17 was considered a “minor,” which if the truth had come out, would have kept him from racing.

While he struggled early on, Jones’ raw talent eventually turned to great success, earning 15 stock car wins across several West Coast-based series including late models and modifieds over the next few years.

Richard Petty and Parnelli Jones in 2003. (Photo: Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage via Getty Images.)

Then, one year after winning the Indianapolis 500, Jones captured the 1964 USAC stock car championship, earning eight wins that season.

Jones went on to make 34 NASCAR Grand National starts, earning four wins, six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes.

He also made an additional 30 starts in the California-based Winston West Series (which now is known as the ARCA Menards Series West), earning four wins, 15 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes. He was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2001.

“One thing about a stock car is its handling.” Jones told NBC Sports. “It’s a lot tougher to drive, but I adapted well to different kinds of racing. It seemed like once I got in the car, it wasn’t the race so much as it was the car itself. I enjoyed my short span in NASCAR.”

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Jones said the high point of his NASCAR career was his win in the 1967 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside International Raceway. But it was three years later at Riverside, in the final NASCAR race of his career — and while driving for Wood Brothers Racing — that gave Jones great personal satisfaction for a different kind of reason.

Parnelli Jones celebrates his victory in the 1967 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside International Raceway. (Photo by Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“NASCAR took my tires away after qualifying at Riverside,” Jones said. “They told me I couldn’t run the Firestone tires, I had to run Goodyears.”

Then, Jones, no stranger to displaying feistiness in his career, added with a laugh:

“After I set my qualifying (sixth) time, they made me start dead last. I was able to come up through the field to the lead before I made my first pit stop. When I got to the pits, I rolled down the window net and I gave Bill France (Sr.) the ‘one lap sign’ (raised his middle finger).”

Not only did he go from last to first, he dominated the race, leading 88 laps, before the clutch on his Mercury broke with 25 laps to go. A.J. Foyt passed Jones for the lead and held on for the win. Still, Jones finished 11th in the race.

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Health issues in the last year have slowed down the 86-year-old Jones – he missed attending the Indianapolis 500 last year for the first time since 1958 – but he still has a need for speed. He is helping oversee the budding racing career of grandson Jagger Jones, as well as son PJ’s racing and off-road race vehicle manufacturing exploits.

Parnelli is particularly proud of 17-year-old Jagger. The third-generation racer finished second and was rookie of the year last season in the NASCAR ARCA Menards West Series.

“The first toy they get is a race car or something like that, and then they follow their parents. Jagger is no different,” Parnelli said of his grandson. “He’s certainly a very bright kid, very sharp, he adapts well and learns well.

“He’s a very smart kid, has great grades and is at the top all the time. I’m very proud of him. He’s certainly put a great mark on the Jones family.”

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While he spends most of his time in his Southern California home or office, Parnelli still keeps up with a number of racing friends, including legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme and NASCAR/IndyCar/IMSA team owner Chip Ganassi.

Drag racing legend Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme and Jagger Jones, Parnelli Jones’ grandson, raced together in last year’s NORRA Mexican 1000 in Baja, California. The duo plans to again compete together in the race in October. (Photo: Don Prudhomme).

“There was a cop once upon a time who pulled someone over for speeding and said, ‘Who the hell do you think you are, Parnelli Jones?’” Prudhomme said with a laugh. “I heard that saying even before I met Parnelli and once I did meet him, I understood why.

“We never raced against each other, which actually is kind of special because you get to know someone like that outside of racing; we just struck up a great friendship. And then I became real good friends with his son PJ, and I’ve raced in Baja with his grandson Jagger and we’re scheduled to do that again hopefully later this year.

“When I’m sitting next to Jagger in the race car and he has his helmet on, you’d think it’s Parnelli driving. It’s the same thing. He’s a 17-year-old kid and he’s impressed the heck out of me.

“Parnelli also really showed me there was more to living than just racing. He quit at a pretty young age and that always impressed me, like how can you do that? I didn’t think anybody could get out of a car (at that age), but he was going into business and became very successful, which also impressed me.

“He inspired me to try and make a success out of myself outside of just being at the race track. Parnelli is somebody I’ve always looked up to for that.”

Ganassi has been a diehard fan of Jones – and eventually became great friends with – for virtually his entire life. His admiration began when Ganassi was 5 years old and his father bought him an 8mm film of the 1963 Indianapolis 500 that was held just a few months earlier.

Team owner Chip Ganassi has been a lifelong fan and close friends with Parnelli Jones for nearly 40 years. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I played that film on our wall and watched it a thousand times,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “Then, several years later, I finally make it to the Indy 500 as a driver (1981 at the age of 23) and I meet Parnelli. I told him the story about how my dad had bought that film for me and how I watched it.

“I’ve become real good friends with him. I remember five years ago, I even had Thanksgiving dinner with him, his wife, his son PJ and his wife and their sons.

“The thing about Parnelli is he’s still current. He may not be the physical specimen he once was, but his mind, he’s got a lot of race craft in him still. He knows what’s going on in racing.

“Not only was he my first-ever hero, he was also the first name I ever knew in racing. There’s no question how much he’s inspired me in my life.”

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Jones enjoyed success in virtually every form of motorsport he participated in, be it NASCAR, open-wheel, sprint cars, off-road and more. Someone even once said Jones would be competitive and win races even if he drove a forklift.

When asked what one word best described him and his desire to succeed in any form of racing he took part in, Jones chuckled with his response: “Impatience.”

LeeRoy Yarbrough (middle) and Parnelli Jones (right) talk before Jones’ final NASCAR  race in 1970 at Riverside. (Photo by The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“That’s when you have racing in your blood and enjoyed driving all kinds of different cars as well,” Jones said. “Once I accomplished one series or something like that, I would want to see what’s out afield and I liked jumping around doing different types of racing.

“It was fun and I was having a great time doing that and I was fortunate enough not to get hurt.”

But the faster he went, the level of risk and danger increased, prompting Parnelli to scale back his time behind the wheel by his mid-30s.

His last Indianapolis 500 was in 1967 at the age of 33 (finished sixth), and his last NASCAR race was in 1970 at the age of 36 (11th at Riverside).

“I was fortunate enough not to be injured and then started backing down from my racing,” Jones said. “I’d been very lucky and fortunate in a time where I’d won sprint car championships and Indy and the cars back then were very, very dangerous. I didn’t want to push my luck, plus I wanted to start a family.”

Jones would go on to have a very successful business career, building a corporate empire that included nearly 50 retail tire stores in the West, a wholesale business that sold automotive parts and supplies to countless dealerships across the country, and designed and sold wheels for car owners who wanted to customize their rides.

He also became a successful race team owner, winning back-to-back Indy 500 titles in 1970 and 1971 and three straight USAC championships from 1970-1972.

But once a racer, always a racer: Jones unretired briefly in 1993 at the age of 60 to take part in Fast Masters, a made-for-TV event that featured 50 retired drivers from various forms of motorsports, including NASCAR luminaries Bobby and Donnie Allison, Buddy Baker, Harry Gant, Benny Parsons, David Pearson and Dick Trickle.

In the six Fast Masters races, Jones competed just three times but won once, finished runner-up a second time and his lowest finish was just sixth (in the championship finale). He also earned one pole and never qualified lower than third in the three events he entered.

Jones was ultra-competitive throughout his racing and business career, but for as good of a race car driver that he was, he’s an even better person overall according to those who know him well.

“We’re pals,” Prudhomme said. “And if you’re pals with Parnelli Jones, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Editor’s note: We will have another story on Jones’ success in other race series, particularly Indy car and off-road racing, on NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk later this month. 

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media. 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.