Posting vignettes based on great postcards found in my mail box and elsewhere.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The "Cool and Unshakeable" Parnelli Jones

Perhaps the perfect name for a race car driver -- Parnelli Jones. (Of course, he dropped his first name, Rufus, which rhymes with dufus.) Jones was an incredible talent in a racing machine. He won the Indianapolis 500 once in 1963 but came close to winning in 1967. Leading the race with three laps to go he was forced out by a mechanical break down.

In his autobiography, They Call Me Mister 500, Andy Granatelli made a list of the great Indy drivers. "The names of the outstanding ones leap immediately to mind; the incomparable Jimmy Clark, the cool and unshakable Rufus Parnelli Jones, Graham Hill, Johnny Parsons, Pat Flaherty, Jim Rathmann, Bobby Unser." By a vote of the fans Jones is listed as one of the 33 all-time top Indy drivers. He has the distinction of being the first driver to crack the 150 mph barrier in qualifying at the speedway.

This 6X9 inch picture postcard is the official speedway post qualifying picture. He is at the wheel of the Offenhauser-powered roadster, the J.C. Agajanian Williard Battery Special, in which he won the pole position as the fastest qualifier and the 1963 race. Yes, that is a garbage truck riding pig, complete with cowboy hat decal on the oil reservoir tank. The car owner was J.C. Agajanian, a California pig farmer, whose cars always carried the cartoon emblem.

Judging from the large crowd, my guess is the picture was taken sometime after his qualifying run on the first day of qualifying, usually the second weekend in May. He is one of ten drivers to win the pole position twice, in 1962-1963. Each time was a new speed record. In 1963 his average speed was 151.153. This year's (2009) pole winner is Brazilian Helio Castroneves's. His four-lap qualifying average was 224.864 mph.

The 6X9 picture postcard below shows Jones at the pole (right, foreground) leading the pace lap before the start of the 1963 Indianapolis 500 mile. The red car beside Jones is Jim Hurtubise in a Novi-powered car, one of three in the field that year. Jones and Hurtubise battled in the early laps for the lead, a battle that was caught on recorded tape by Fleetwood Sounds. The tape was made into a thirty-three and a third vinyl disk which I listened to as a young boy. The original tape recording was made into a CD in 2005. It is available from Track one records Bobby Unser's, then a rookie, qualification run. Unser also drove one of the Novi's. The engine was one of the loudest and most powerful race cars ever to circle the track. The Novi's were super-charged and developed more horsepower per cubic inch than any other car. To seriously addicted motorheads, the Novi sound was not only an ear-splitting roar but universally regarded as finely tuned motor music.


  1. I love a good postcard blog!

    This is a really neat card. I've been to the Indy 500 three times in my life, and it's pretty cool to see a vintage view of a familiar place.

    It's also pretty cool that you live in Fairbanks. :) I'll be back to check in on your blog.


  2. Katie,
    Your blog is super. I'll be visiting yours too. Thanks for dropping by.