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Rest In Peace Parnelli Jones, Legendary Ford Racer

Parnelli Jones, a legend in motorsports, died on May 4th, 2024 at 90 years old after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, per the Associated Press. Jones was the oldest living winner of the Indy 500, having taken the trophy in 1963, and is well known for his feats behind the wheel in open wheel racing, sprint cars, midget cars, off-road racers, and stock cars. In fact, he drove a 1969 Ford Bronco – known as “Big Oly” – in the Baja 1000, and raced under The Blue Oval’s banner in a 1970 Ford Mustang in the Trans-Am Championship series in the late 1960s.

Born Rufus Parnell Jones in 1933, Jones raced under the stage name “Parnelli” instead of his given first name to avoid scrutiny from locals who knew he wasn’t old enough to drive. Initially, he ran with the name “Parnellie” on the doors of his race cars but eventually dropped the second “E.”

Jones has a long history with Ford. In 1967, he signed on with Bud Moore Engineering to race in the SCCA Trans-Am Championship, driving a 1967 Mercury Cougar, which underperformed in the division. Jones returned to the series in 1969, this time behind the wheel of a yellow 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302, where he went on to finish second in the Drivers Championship, and in 1970, he and the No. 15 Mustang absolutely dominated the competition.

Shifting his focus to off-road racing, Jones’ Ford Bronco racer was driven to victory in the Baja 1000 in 1971 and 1972. Big Oly also won the Baja 500 and Mint 400 in 1973. That iconic pony later sold for $1.87 million at the Mecum Indianapolis auction in 2021 and was subsequently wrecked by its new owner just one year later – although thankfully, the damage was mostly cosmetic.

In IndyCar, Jones won six times and earned 12 pole positions. Competition in NASCAR yielded four victories, while he earned 25 sprint car wins and seven Trans-Am wins.

“Growing up, I watched Parnelli Jones in awe… my hero with extraordinary skill in any car or truck he raced,” said Ford CEO Jim Farley in a post on social media. “I was blessed to know him well and share my sympathy with his family and close friends. Today we say good-bye to an icon, but Parnelli’s larger-than-life spirit will live on. He was amazing!”

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Alexandra is a Colorado-based journalist with a passion for all things involving horsepower, be it automotive or equestrian.

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Comments

  1. blksn8k

    He actually passed on June 4th.

    Reply
  2. blksn8k

    I watched his Big Oly Bronco cross the auction block at Mecom Indy in ’21. I just happened to be in the staging area talking to Stacey David from “Gears” when it was driven past us on its way to the auction block. I also have three diecasts of Parnelli’s race cars including the Big Oly Bronco, the ’67 Cougar Trans Am car and the ’70 Boss 302 Trans Am car. RIP PJ.

    Reply
  3. Bob

    RIP Parnelli. Thanks for all of the great memories

    Reply

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