In the early 1960’s Parnelli Jones was one of the popular drivers on the United States Auto Club circuits. At that time, I was a gearhead who went to many USAC races around Indiana and cheered Parnelli on to victory. Later on, I built these scale models to celebrate his racing accomplishments.
From left to right are the 1964 Mercury Marauder that he drove to the 1964 USAC Stock Car championship, the J. C. Agajanian Special in which he won the 1963 Indianapolis 500-mile race, and the Fike Plumbing Special which he drove to USAC sprint car crowns in 1960, 1961, and 1962.
The Fike Plumbing Special has special meaning to me, because in the summer of 1963 I was a parts washer and go-fer on this car while assisting the crew at their garage in Speedway. This is a scratch-built model I built to reminisce about this adventure. Scratch-built items include the sectioned body, grille, driver’s seat with vinyl upholstery, exhaust pipes, rear bumper, roll bar, and computer generated the decals. I started this project in the early 1970’s, put it aside, and finished in the fall of 1998.
The Mercury Marauder and the Indianapolis roadster are vintage AMT kits that I built and detailed with Fred Caddy decals in the late 1990’s.
These models have a special meaning to me that I hope comes across in the finished products. I believe they are the only 1/25 scale models of these famous racers. They are my homage to Parnelli Jones.
This past week at my Toastmasters club, each member reminisced about his or her first Indy 500. I thought I would share my memories of the race along with some documentation from the Indianapolis Star.
As some of you might know, I attended Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifications with my dad and uncles starting in the early 1950’s. I really enjoyed watching the activities from many vantage points around the track. One of my favorites is in the grandstand outside of turn one. I especially liked watching the drivers work their roadsters through the curve. Every driver had his particular groove around the track.
My dad enjoyed listening to the race on the radio instead of being there in person, so I was left to my own devices to go to the race. Finally, on Thursday, May 30, 1963, my chance arrived. One of my neighborhood buddies, dad was an Indianapolis Motor Speedway patrolman and saved us a place along the fence inside of turn one. There I was with 275,000 other people watching all of the pre-race festivities from our prime spot on the fence.
We were unaware that Indianapolis Star photographer Tommy Wadelton was documenting the action from the other side of the fence. There we were in the middle of his photograph published in the Indianapolis Star on May 24, 1964. That skinny kid in sunglasses with a flat-top in the second row is me. Just to my right behind me was Jay Skoda and to my right in the front row was Larry Stroudman. I wasn’t wearing a hat to cover my head on that sunny day and that caused me to get a bad sun burn on my scalp. So that’s why you most always see me with a hat of some kind.
Oh well, back to the race. My favorite driver, Parnelli Jones, started the race in pole position. Jim Hurtubise started in the middle of the first row. Hurtubise led the first lap of the race, but Parnelli recaptured the lead on the second lap. About mid-way through the race, signs of oil started to show on the external oil tank of Parnelli’s car. Every lap we wondered if he would be black flagged for dropping oil. Finally, the concern about dropping oil went away. Yahoo! Parnell won the race with Jimmy Clark finishing second in a rear-engine Lotus Powered by Ford racer.
Memories of my first Indy 500 are fresh in my mind today, some 49 years later. That 1963 race was the first of many at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was probably one of the things that sparked my interest in automotives. See you at the track.
For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.
J. C. Agajanian’s Hurst Special took a different approach to the 1965 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
After holding out on entering a rear-engine race car for a couple of years, J. C. Agajanian entered a rebuilt Lotus Ford entry for Parnelli Jones in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 classic. For 1965, 44 of the 68 entries were rear-engine cars.
After exhaustive study over many months, it became apparent to veteran chief mechanic Johnny Pouelsen that they had to strengthen inherently weak components that had turned up in the original design. This total overhaul was to compensate for the extreme pressures on the chassis and suspension due primarily to the increase in horsepower demands plus wider tire tread widths. To accomplish this feat, Pouelsen and body constructor Eddie Kuzma transformed car 98 by replacing every inch of the original metal milled in England.
It is interesting to note that with all of this re-engineering of the Lotus Fords, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones both suffered failure of their right-rear hub carriers in practice during May 6 and May 9 respectively. On Pole Day, the all-Lotus-Ford front row consisted of A.J. Foyt, Jimmy Clark, and Dan Gurney. Parnelli qualified for the middle of the second row. On Thursday, May 20, while Parnelli was breaking in a new engine, his right rear suspension broke off entering turn four and slammed into the wall. Agajanian vowed the car would be ready for race day.
On Race Day, Jimmy Clark’s superbly prepared green and yellow Lotus Ford was too much car for the rest of the field. Foyt, Gurney, and Jones battled for second place. Parnelli’s engine began missing at 150 miles, and Foyt’s gearbox gave out just short of 300 miles. Clark finished first after leading 190 of the 200 laps. As Parnelli completed the final lap, he was moving his car from side-to-side across the track, shaking down the last few drops of fuel in his tanks. The crowd cheered for him as he crossed the finish line in second place just six seconds ahead of Mario Andretti.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first rear-engine car winning the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
Jimmy Clark, “The Flying Scot”, completely remodeled the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 31, 1965, in his third attempt while driving a rear-engine “Lotus Powered by Ford.” His win ended the three-decade domination of the famed Offenhauser front-engine roadsters. In the race, 1963 winner, Parnelli Jones finished second, rookie Mario Andretti was third, and Gordon Johncock drove an Offenhauser roadster to fifth place.
Following the 1964 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, the Ford Motor Company decided to further develop its competition engine for use in the 1965 event. The racing fraternity showed considerable interest in this engine and a substantial number of participants designed and built vehicles around the new Ford double-overhead-cam engine. The new engine was primarily a job of designing durability improvements based on the findings of the 1964 race. This engine developed 500 horsepower at 8,600 r.p.m. compared with 425 horsepower at 8,000 r.p.m. in 1964.
Colin Chapman finalized his design for the new Lotus 38 in December 1964. One of the concerns with the new car was new regulations calling for totally new gravity refueling systems. These and other new developments proved out well in testing during the month of May.
Clark motored into the lead on the first lap and led 190 of the 200 laps, setting a new race record of 150.686 m.p.h. His winnings also set a new purse record of $166,621. Clark was the first foreigner to win the 500 since Dario Resta’s victory in 1916.
I was at the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 and still remember Jimmy Clark driving his rear-engine Lotus Ford to win. A lot has changed over the past 50 years, but rear-engine internal combustion cars are still the way to go. See you at the track.