On the night of Jan. 16, racing legend Parnelli Jones joined a new era of racing history. While attending the Automotive News World Congress Dinner to present Dario Franchitti with his “Baby Borg” replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy that drivers have received since 1988, Jones was honored with his very own “Baby Borg.”
He is the only Indianapolis 500 winner before 1988 to receive this honor, and retroactively. His own trophy will remain in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum until the end of May, and then he take it home. Most drivers never get to do that.
“I knew I had mentioned a couple months before about how I hadn’t gotten one of those trophies. So they shocked me with that trophy, I didn’t expect it at all,” he says. Jones says being honored with his “Baby Borg” transported him back to the 1963 Indy 500, which he calls the “best days of racing.”
Fifty years ago Parnelli Jones climbed in his front-engine roadster and looked up at a much different Indy 500 than what we experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. The stadium was filled to the brim with 250,000 fans; tickets were a measly $15; and the cars had iconic names like Jones’ “Ol’ Calhoun.”
Expectations were high as Parnelli was named “Rookie of the Year” in 1961 and was the first driver to qualify at over 150 mph in 1962. However, Jones says “the Speedway” always came naturally to him and that he didn’t feel pressure to win the 1963 Indy 500, but instead went into it with “good feelings.” After leading 167 laps, he slid past the finish line with a cracked oil reservoir to win the race. Ol’ Calhoun entered victory lane and the famous Borg-Warner Trophy sat on the rear of the car, as Jones became one of the iconic faces etched into its silver base of racing history.
Today, Jones is 79, making him the oldest living winner of the Indy 500. He says he has seen racing evolve in several ways, most notably when it comes to safety.
“Racing was more dangerous and the cars were more dangerous,” he says, adding that “the electronics and aerodynamics have made cars safer, but it’s taken a lot of the talent away from drivers because so much technology is in the car. Before, you had to be a seat of your pants driver. You had to be a mechanic and know how to handle your car all at the same time.”
Even though the sport has experienced major changes since his last racing gig at the Indy 500 in 1967, Jones says not to count him out for good just yet. “I’ve never retired, maybe I’ll still make a come back, you never know,” he says. For now, I’m just very proud to be a little part of racing history.”