Parnelli Jones, Champion Auto Racer and Record Setter, Is Dead at 90

He was one of the greatest drivers of the 1960s and ’70s, winning six times at Indianapolis and four times in NASCAR events while setting speed marks.

THE NEW YORK TIMES – Parnelli Jones, who as a teenager traded in a horse for a hot rod and went on to become one of the biggest stars in auto racing and a storied figure at the Indianapolis 500, died on Tuesday in Torrance, Calif., where he had lived for many years. He was 90.

His son P.J. confirmed in an interview that Jones died at Torrance Memorial Medical Center surrounded by family and friends. He had been treated for Parkinson’s disease since it was diagnosed about 10 years ago, his son said.

Jones was best known for his exploits at the Indy 500 in the 1960s, when it was still the premier event in auto racing. He was the oldest surviving winner of the race.

“Parnelli Jones was the greatest driver of his era,” his contemporary Mario Andretti once said. “He had aggressiveness and also a finesse that no one else possessed. And he won on everything he put his hands on.”

Jones captured dozens of races, winning six times in Indy races and four times in NASCAR events and triumphing in off-road, sports car, sprint and midget races as well.

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Jones was once asked if there had ever been anyone better than him.

“I don’t think so,” he told Car and Driver magazine in 2013. “You can teach somebody how to drive, but you can’t teach them that will and desire and kick-butt attitude.”

Rufus Parnell Jones was born on Aug. 12, 1933, in Texarkana, Ark., the oldest of three children, and grew up in Torrance, south of Los Angeles, where his father, Commodore Jones, was a shipyard worker.

At 17, he began racing jalopies at a speedway in Gardena, Calif. He passed himself off as 21, the minimum age required to drive there, by getting a fake identification card that dropped Rufus as his first name in favor of Parnellie Jones, which was painted on his racecar (spelling it then with a second “e”) …

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