Parnelli & Ol’ Calhoun Together Again

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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.

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.

George Phillips

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9 Responses to “Parnelli & Ol’ Calhoun Together Again”

  1. Ol Calhoun was a top workhorse at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and in the History of the “Greatest Race inthe World.” With that said and, of course, in my opinion, the top performing car of all-time was Vuky’s Fuel Injection Special followed by Wilbur Shaw’s Boyle Maserati. No other car performed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like those two.

  2. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    Fully agreed on the look of “Calhoun”! It looks basically the same as AJ’s pre-Coyote Red cars, except making that deep royal blue the primary highlight color makes it about 1,000 times better. Having crusty, excitable Parnelli in the driver’s seat doesn’t hurt its cause either.

    A perfect tribute to the 50th anniversary of 150 mph, by the way, would be the current CEO of Bryant Heating and Air waiting at the yard of bricks with 150 silver dollars…

  3. I saw Ol’ Calhoun run with Parnelli Jones behind the wheel and they had a duel with Foyt in ’64. Pretty awesome until the fire and Jones jumping out. I also miss owners like JC Agajanian who not only put together competitive teams, but also helped and cheered on other teams who he respected. His cowboy hat atop his beaming face is a prominent part of the picture of Bill Vukovich winning the pole and setting a four-lap track record in 1953. Did I mention that it was also raining when Vuky pulled in to the pits? Aggie was running to congratulate Vuky and the boys.

  4. Donald McElvain Says:

    I used to watch Parnelli on TV in the mid 50’s. I lived in San Diego and would turn the channel to KTTV 5 on Sunday afternoons and watch the jalopy races from ASCOT hosted by Dick “old Nellie!”, “it’s hotter than a bakers apron out there!” Lane. All we had was a housetop TV antenna in those days so the picture had some white noise. J.C. Agajanian was interviewed quite often. Termite Snyder was the other name I remember from those days. My first book on racing that I purchased was “Parnelli”. Are you listening, George? I went to the Fox Theater in downtown SD in those days to watch the 500 on closed circut TV. Things have sure changed! Doh!

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Thanks for the interesting bits of nostalgia Donald. I will have to remember “hotter than a baker’s apron out there” as my son is a baker. Termite Snyder is an intriguing name. I wonder if Don Davidson knows anything about him. I don’t recall seeing him here in the midwest.

    • Donald McElvain Says:

      I think it was KTLA 5

  5. james t suel Says:

    As always your right on about old CALOUN ! It was and is one beauitful racecar. WATCHING PARNELLI WHEEL CALHOUN WAS
    A THING OF BEAUTY! BIG FAN OF PARNELLI!!!

  6. Jimmy Dilamarter Says:

    Hey George,
    Very nice compliment to Parnelli who I’ve known and worked for, for over 40 years. He’s not only boss and a partner, but one of my closest friends. So I’m happy that even tho’ you switched your allegiance to Foyt (lol), your tribute to the man is touching and well done.
    However, I must remind you that contrary to your statement about when Parnelli dropped out of the 1967 Indy 500; he was actually leading by almost a lap on AJ with 4 laps to go when the Turbine quit on him. (you can look it up)
    Jimmy Dilamarter

  7. George,
    You should look up Jimmy Dilamarter too! He was a legendary mechanic that helped AJ Foyt win so many Indy 500 races!

    He’s a gem! Here’s an interview that Ford did with him. http://www.thehenryford.org/education/video/dilamarterGettingDownforce.asp

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