DETROIT – In his recently-published autobiography, “As a matter of fact, I am Parnelli Jones,” the author recounts how he awoke in the middle of the night thinking he dreamed about winning the Indianapolis 500. So he ran to the mirror and was relieved for the confirmation.
Jones surmised that a similar experience would befall him in the hotel after receiving a special “Baby Borg” on Jan. 16 to commemorate the golden anniversary of his Indianapolis 500 victory.
Click it: Parnelli Jones Indianapolis 500 stats
Perceiving to have been invited to the annual event held in conjunction with the Automotive News World Congress to present the BorgWarner Driver’s Championship Trophy, Jones dutifully handed the award to 2012 winner Dario Franchitti on the stage.
The tables were then turned and the 79-year-old, who starts his day with 100 sit-ups and 80 push-ups, was flabbergasted with the surprise award introduced by Franchitti and presented by BorgWarner executive chairman Timothy M. Manganello.
Jones earned $148,513 for the ’63 win. This present is priceless.
“I’ve often said the Indianapolis 500 is part of me and I’m glad to be part of the Indianapolis 500,” remarked Jones, who also won the 500 Mile Race twice as a car owner. “I’ve had a lot of great victories in my life, this being one of them. What a wonderful life in racing I’ve had, and now to be recognized with this award is wonderful.”
The Baby Borg is 14 inches tall and sits on a beveled black marble base that includes a hand-crafted three-dimensional sterling silver image of the winning driver’s face (a duplicate of the image affixed to the full-sized Borg-Warner Trophy). Jones’ bas-relief portrait replicates the one on the Borg-Warner Trophy, complete with cowboy hat.
BorgWarner established the driver’s trophy in 1988 to provide the previous 500 Mile Race champion with a personal keepsake of the Speedway victory. Rick Mears, who won his third of four Indy 500 victories the previous May, was the first recipient. Until then, the winner received a wooden plaque with a silhouette of the Borg-Warner Trophy as a memento.
“Rick, Dario and I were sitting around one day and Rick brought up that he was the first to receive a Baby Borg. I said, ‘I need one of those,’ and I guess they took it upon themselves to get that rolling with BorgWarner,” Jones said.
Jones earned consecutive poles (1962-63) in the No. 98 J.C. Agajanian Willard Battery entry, becoming the first to post an average four-lap qualifying speed in excess of 150 mph (150.370 mph in ’62). He converted the latter into victory – 34 seconds ahead of Jim Clark – in the Offenhauser-powered Watson roadster he referred to as “Ol’ Calhoun.”
Jones made seven starts between 1961 and ’67, with one other top-five finish (runner-up to Clark in ’65). He was the Rookie of the Year for the Month of May in which he qualified fifth and finished 12th, and led 44 percent of the laps he completed.
“Parnelli's achievements at the Indianapolis 500 are legendary. We are extremely pleased to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Parnelli's Indianapolis 500 victory by presenting him with a personal symbol of his achievement, a Baby Borg,” said Manganello, who will retire in April after 32 years with the company.
"For many years, I have had the honor of presenting the Borg-Warner Trophy to champion drivers in Victory Lane. Dario and Parnelli will tell you that the thrill of winning the greatest race in the world is beyond description. Looking at all of the faces and names on the Borg-Warner Trophy, you realize you've joined a very elite group of champions, representing a century-long tradition of achievement. Their drive to win inspires new generations to accelerate automotive innovation and push themselves to outperform the competition, even if the records they break are their own."
An exhibit dedicated to the many cars driven or owned by Jones is currently featured at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, where the Borg-Warner Trophy is on permanent display.
About the title of the autobiography: Following his 1963 Indianapolis 500 victory, Jones acknowledges cruising “pretty fast” down the Long Beach Freeway one day when he notices flashing blue lights in his rearview mirror.
Jones prepared his license and registration to hand to the officer, who uttered a line worthy of a feature film. “You were going pretty fast. Who do you think you are, Parnelli Jones?”
Getting a chuckle out of the notoriety, Jones retorted, “As a matter of fact, I am Parnelli Jones.”
As a matter of fact, his given name is Rufus. The story of how the nickname stuck also is in the book available at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum gift shop and online at www.coastal181.com.
“It seemed a good time to write the book; I wanted to have it for my grandkids,” Jones said. “I’m very flattered that many of my peers had such positive things to say. They all came up with the same things to prove that I wasn’t lying.”