Parnelli Jones - Ford interview 2009-07-15

This Week in Ford Racing: This weekend is the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, an event won by Ford Racing legend Parnelli Jones in 1963 and '64 driving a Mercury Marauder USAC stock car. Jones competed in, and won, in many ...

This Week in Ford Racing:

This weekend is the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, an event won by Ford Racing legend Parnelli Jones in 1963 and '64 driving a Mercury Marauder USAC stock car. Jones competed in, and won, in many different forms of racing, including the Indianapolis 500 in 1963, USAC championships, off-road desert races and NASCAR races. This week he looked back on his time competing at Pikes Peak.

PARNELLI JONES - Ford Racing Legend

YOU'VE HAD SUCCESS AT PIKES PEAK, WINNING IN 1963 AND '64. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE RUNNING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME? "Those rally guys are pretty brave guys anyway, running on the circuits they run. But, as far as I'm concerned, it was probably the most dangerous race course I ever drove. I'll tell you one thing: You have to have a lot of respect for the hill. And it's even getting tougher, in my opinion, because they've oiled to the point where it's like asphalt, and that makes it much faster, and because it's much faster, there are more chances, I think, of getting off course - especially up where there's no tree line."

DURING PRACTICE, YOU CAN RUN ONLY A THIRD OF THE TRACK AT A TIME. WAS IT LIKE THAT WHEN YOU RACED THERE? "Yes. They separated it up into classes, and each class practiced a third of it. There was a small portion of it, a very small portion, where everybody didn't get a run."

WHAT TYPE OF CHALLENGE IS THAT FOR A DRIVER, WHEN THE FIRST TIME YOU MAKE A FULL RUN IT COUNTS? MENTALLY, THAT ALONE SEEMS LIKE A PRETTY BIG OBSTACLE TO OVERCOME. "Well, rally guys ought to be tuned to that sort of stuff. I would think that they would do well - in fact, I know that they would do well there. One of the things is the fact that it has [over 150] turns, as I remember. It's difficult to put that in perspective, because even though you go practice three different stages, race day, when you come up your first year, you just don't have the feeling for that. And, I was always pretty quick to learn a course, and the first year I was there, after I did all my practicing, I ran up and down the hill and up and down the hill, and you run it up and down the hill so many slow times that when you go up race day, it's a whole different deal. Once you get that under your belt, though, I think it comes a little easier the second and third years."

WHEN PEOPLE THINK OF RACING, IT'S GENERALLY A DRAG STRIP OR OVAL OR ROAD COURSE. FROM A DRIVER'S PERSPECTIVE, ARE THERE ANY SIMILARITIES THAT PIKE'S PEAK SHARES WITH OTHER FORMS OF RACING? "I think it shares a lot with dirt racing. The way it used to be, all loose gravel, you had to set the cars up so that they had a lot of roll in them and not so firm because they would skate off the course. Again, you used to slide the corners, and, obviously, that relates to dirt racing. But, it's changing up there. I'm telling you, now it's more like pavement. I was just there a while back and went up the hill, and I was totally shocked to see how much of it they've oiled. And I think they're making it more dangerous. Pretty soon they're going to have to put guard rails on it."

WHEN YOU WON BACK IN '63 and '64, DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR TIME? "Thirteen minutes, something like that. I don't remember. But the course has gotten progressively faster. It's a challenging deal, for what it's worth, I guess. It's one of the oldest races in the United States, and it has a lot of importance that way, as far as recognition."

DID YOU SET YOUR CAR UP FOR THE GRAVEL PORTIONS OF THE TRACK? "I'll tell you how critical it was when we ran there: You could take a passenger car suspension and it would work better than what you would consider a stock car racing suspension, because you had to let that car roll. You had to let it roll to keep it from sliding. In other words, you had loose gravel; just imagine trying to hang on running through gravel, versus running on asphalt. It was just something you had to do. And, not only that, the tires we'd run were real spongy, soft. Firestone made them and they had walnut shells in them, so that the walnut shells, as they wore down, they kept some kind of a tread."

THAT TIRE WAS MADE SPECIFICALLY FOR THAT RUN? "Yes. And they used this soft rubber."

IN 1963, YOU WON THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 AND PIKES PEAK - A FLAT TRACK AND STRAIGHT UP A MOUNTAIN. THAT'S QUITE A DIFFERENCE. YOU WERE SUCCESSFUL AT BOTH ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM. NOW, SO FEW DRIVERS COMPETE IN SO MANY DIFFERENT FORMS OF RACING. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT'S SO? "Well, it's all specialty, especially now, you have NASCAR where you have 38 races a year, and even then you'll see them go out and run modified races and stuff like that, but they're not as diversified because, in my day, we didn't have driving schools, you didn't have as many people, for one thing. With me, I started out with old stock cars jalopies and things like that, and we used to have as many as 200 cars show up to qualify. It wasn't every week that we had 200 cars, but we always had around 100 and they only took, like, 16 for the main event. So you were constantly giving it that 110, 120 percent, and I think it hurt my racing career in a lot of ways, because I always knew how to go fast, I never knew how to go long enough. One of the reasons I didn't run LeMans, when I was invited to do that, was because I was having a hard time finishing 200-mile races with the Indy cars. Anyway, I am the kind of guy that likes to see what's on the other side of the hill. And I love the mountains and that kind of atmosphere, so when Ford called me and asked me to do that, because a lot of my career was with Ford, in fact, most of it's been with Ford, and when they asked me to do it, I thought, 'Well, maybe it would be a great change for me,' and it would go give me another challenge, so to speak, for me, because I had driven midgets, sprint cars, I won a championship in sprint cars, stock cars and a little bit of everything, but doing something different was kind of like me looking to see what was on the other side of the hill - and that's certainly a hill. That was a big hill, and that was a big step for me. I can remember saying that I'll run as fast as I can down through the trees, when I get up to the no-tree line, I'm going to make sure I get to the top. But, that's respect for that hill. And, you know, up there until a few years ago, we never lost a driver up there, which tells you what respect is. I don't care who you are, if you go up there and look off the side of them mountains up there, where there's no trees, and I want to tell you, there's a couple of places if you go off, they don't even need to go after you. And that says to me the respect you have to have for that hill, at any costs, even loose gravel like we ran it versus what they run today."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series Hillclimb
Drivers Parnelli Jones