Parnelli & Ol’ Calhoun Together Again
If you’ve read this site more than just a couple of times, you know that my favorite all-time driver is AJ Foyt. Period. There is no further discussion. Not only do I think he is the greatest of all-time, but he is also probably the most colorful. However, he hasn’t always been my favorite.
When I was first aware of this sport, I was just five years old. My brothers were about to head up to the 1964 Indianapolis 500 and leaving me behind, since my father thought I was too young to enjoy it. Being the youngest, I sat around and listened as my brothers talked about the race they were about to go see. I knew very little about it, but I knew that someone named Parnelli Jones had won it the year before. It was a pretty neat sounding name to a five year-old and as best as I could tell – he seemed like a pretty decent sort. I also knew that he drove about the most beautiful racecar I had ever seen.
There is nothing that Parnelli did to shatter my childhood image. In fact, he bolstered it a few years later when he drove Silent Sam – Andy Granatelli’s STP turbine. I was the only one in my family that wanted that car to win. My father and brothers all thought such a machine was blasphemous at Indianapolis. However, Parnelli Jones retired from champ car competition shortly after that race and sort of fell off of the radar of an eight year-old.
When Jones fell out of the 1967 race in the very late stages, I was happy that AJ Foyt could win it. Even on someone as young as I was, the significance of a three-time winner was not lost. There were only three others at that time. As I got older, Foyt was becoming my favorite driver. But I always have had a special place in my heart for Parnelli Jones. Oh, and by the way – to this day, I still think Ol’ Calhoun may be the most perfect racecar ever. The Boyle Maserati, the Fuel Injection Special, the Belond Special all may be more significant. But based strictly on looks, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful car than Ol’ Calhoun.
Much to my delight, we learned last weekend that Parnelli Jones and his trusted Ol’ Calhoun will be reunited on Pole Day at Indianapolis. The occasion will be to mark the fiftieth anniversary of when Jones broke the 150 mph barrier in 1962. At four o’clock, Parnelli will climb into the old Willard Battery Special and take it around the fabled oval that made both he and the car famous.
I’m hoping the car does better than the last time I saw it run, which was prior to the 1992 Indianapolis 500. On that cold morning, it coughed, sputtered and died and had to be pushed off of the track. Last year, Parnelli Jones had the honor of driving the Marmon Wasp around the track to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of when Ray Harroun won in the same car. The Marmon suffered the same fate as Ol’ Calhoun – wheezing and gasping for air as it had to be aided back to its confines.
Maybe Jones being reunited with the familiar car will bring magic and he and the car will both roar down the main straightaway in glorious fashion. It’ll certainly take me back to those days of my childhood when my favorite driver drove my favorite car. Such are the special and timeless memories of the Indianapolis 500.