One Of My Biggest Highlights

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First of all, The Carb Day practice went off with no incidents, which is good. You don’t want anyone to wad up the car forty-eight hours before the race. Danica Patrick had an engine issue and missed most of the practice, but was able to get back out to run a total of fifteen laps. She was still fast enough to be eighth quick in the session.

The session was led by Tony Kanaan who turned a quick lap of 227.791 mph. That’s an impressive number, especially when you consider that the next quickest car of Scott Dixon, turned a fastest time of 225.684 – more than two miles per hour slower than Kanaan.

The rest of the Top-Ten was made up of Marco Andretti with the third quickest time, then Sébastien Bourdais, Charlie Kimball, Takuma Sato, Will Power, Danica Patrick, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones.

For those keeping score, Chevy had the fastest lap with Kanaan. But the next tree quickest were Hondas. Altogether, Chevy and Honda each had five cars in the Top-Ten.

I don’t put a lot of stock on anything that comes out of Carb Day, so long as there are no incidents – and there weren’t. So the hay is in the barn, so to speak. Now all that is left is the race itself.

So what was the big highlight? I’m about to tell you.

Just after the practice was over; Paul Dalbey, Susan and I went over to the Honda Hospitality tent for lunch. I noticed that Parnelli Jones walked in and I remarked to Paul “…there’s royalty in the house”. We continued with our lunch not really paying attention to anything. The next thing I knew, Parnelli himself came over to our table and asked if he minded if he joined us. My response? I said I would be honored.

I’ve met a lot of current and former drivers and noted personalities here over the years. But only a few people have actually made me star struck. when I met AJ Foyt and Donald Davidson for the first time a few years ago, I found myself in one of those pinch me moments. Such was the case today.

When he sat down, I didn’t want this moment to get away from me, but I had no idea what to say. Finally I came up with the usual “what a fan I’ve been". The thing is, it’s true. I wrote this article on Parnelli Jones in December of 2009. I told him how he was my favorite driver when  was six years-old and how I was pulling for him in my first race back in 1965, when he was driving that gold Lotus. We started talking about his career and he seemed pleased that I was able to pull so many nuggets about him out of the blue.

As I looked around, it occurred to me that a lot of the younger crowd in the tent probably had no idea who the older gentleman was. Of course, most did, but it still bothered me that such a legendary driver could walk into an area and few people even noticed.

It’s a no-no for people with media credentials to get selfies or autographs, so I didn’t dare tread there – even though the thought briefly ran through my mind. He was so nice and accommodating that he would have done it, but I wasn’t going to ask. But I was very happy to find out while I was still sitting there that Paul snuck this photo and texted it across the table to me. He knew how much that moment meant to me.

Parnelli

Parnelli Jones is eighty-four now, and will turn eighty-five later this summer. His walk was a little slow and his voice was soft, but you could tell that his mind was as sharp as ever. We talked about his win in 1963, his rookie year in 1961 and how he first met Bobby Unser at Pikes Peak. He told stories about Andy Granatelli and Bobby Unser that I won’t share here. They were funny, but I almost felt like they were told in confidence.

By the time we left, he had gotten his own plate and was still eating his lunch. We had been finished, but were just sitting there listening to him talk and taking it all in. I could have stayed there all day but I realized that there was a shortage of chairs and we were all finished, so I reluctantly got up to leave.

I have had a lot of memorable highlights at this track over the years, but few will compare with this one. This was one of the biggest. Looking back, I can’t believe that he would even ask if it was OK if he joined us. It was indeed an honor.

Thanks for allowing me to be a little self-indulgent. That is going to do it for us today. Paul and I are going to go over and see the historic car display over by the museum. Something tells me we are not going to Lucas Oil Raceway tonight. It’s very hot and will be tonight too. But we’ll be here tomorrow morning for all of the Legends Day activities.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog for photos and videos or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Check back tomorrow.

George Phillips

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8 Responses to “One Of My Biggest Highlights”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    You got to chat with Parnelli Jones! Be as self-indulgent as you want about that, George.

  2. Jack in Virginia Says:

    So glad you got to meet and eat lunch with Parnelli Jones! I hope SOMEONE will tell him to read your blog.

  3. Ed Emmitt Says:

    It was nice meeting and chatting with George today.
    Congratulations on getting a one on one with the great Parnelli Jones, George.

  4. Mark J Wick Says:

    This is part of the magic of being at IMS in May. I had a similar experience years ago with Chuck Yeager when he was the Pace Car driver. I also got to sit in Ol Calhoun the day before the race when it was scheduled to be driven in the pre-race ceremonies marking an anniversary of Parnelli’s win. Back then, I didn’t have platform on which to share those special experiences.
    Thanks for sharing George.

  5. Something you’ll remember the rest of your life! I’m happy for you George. That’s just great!

  6. Yannick Says:

    Just wow! Thanks for sharing the story of this chance meeting you had.

  7. How lucky for you all!!! Parnelli is my local hero having grown up here in the South Bay region of LA. I have had the pleasure of meeting him at LBGP twice at an autograph session. I am not usually that tongue tied, but try to say something nice. Cannot imagine sharing lunch with him though. Congrats George on your golden moment of 2018.

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