Parnelli Jones, racing a traditional Offenhauser, won the fastest '500' ever, with Scotland's Jimmy Clark, in a Lotus-Ford, closing right behind him. As always at Indianapolis, the difference between the two was a matter of seconds—and some of the most precious seconds were won and lost during pit stops, where tires are changed and tanks replenished. To pinpoint the drama last week as the Jones and Clark crews worked feverishly to get their cars out, Sports Illustrated placed a clock in the camera of Photographer Richard Meek. Jones (opposite page) was first in and out of the pits as he was (next page) on the track
This is an article from the June 10, 1963 issue
CLOSE CALL FOR A JONES BOY
The perils of Parnelli Jones are among the enduring fascinations of auto racing. Two years ago the hard-muscled, chain-smoking Californian made the Indianapolis 500-mile race for the first time—and was smacked in the face by a rock flipped back by the tire of an opponent's car. Last year he became the first driver ever to lap the old Hoosier speedway at 150 miles per hour and was uncatchable in the race itself—until his brakes failed.
Last week, in the most heavily attended, richest, fastest and possibly most exciting "500" of all, Parnelli outdid himself. First he nearly ran out of fuel, then he was pressed to use all his famous foot to repulse the insurgent Lotus-Fords and finally he raced the closing laps in urgent danger of being flagged off to defeat because his pearl-gray Offenhauser roadster was leaking oil.
But this time the finish was strictly from Sunset and Vine. It was Parnelli for whom the checkered flag dipped first, Parnelli who collected the winner's $148,513 share of the most lavish purse in sport—a total of $493,530—to divide with his car owner, J. C. Agajanian, and his chief mechanic, Johnny Pouelsen.
On the following day Parnelli won another decision. Eddie Sachs, a very fine but very emotional driver who had spun, restarted and later lost a wheel toward the race's end, had been telling everyone he met that Parnelli's oil leak had "jeopardized the lives of every driver on the track" and that Parnelli therefore "was not a good winner." He met Parnelli himself at a luncheon. Words flew, then Parnelli's heavy right fist. Sachs was hit solidly on the mouth. The drivers grappled and were separated before more punches could be thrown. Adding to Sachs's woes, Harlan Fengler, chief steward of the "500," fined him $100 for failing to make a precautionary pit stop after his spinout.
It was exceedingly difficult to sympathize with Sachs. Running fourth and no threat to the leaders when he spun, he emerged as a distraction to the "500's" spectacular main theme—a duel between Parnelli in his thoroughly orthodox Offy and Scotland's Jimmy Clark in one of the Lotus Fords.
The huge crowd of some 225,000 persons had been in continuous uproar when Clark held the lead for 27 laps in midrace, with his American stablemate Dan Gurney tailgating in second place for much of that span. The situation with 162 of the race's 200 laps completed was still more electric. Parnelli pitted for the third time for fuel and a change of tires, and after a neat 21.2-second job by his mechanics emerged only 11 seconds ahead of Clark, who had made one stop and would require no more. In a magnificent stern chase Clark cut Parnelli's advantage to 4½ seconds at 178 laps.
Then, in swift and puzzling sequence, Sachs spun, Parnelli's car commenced to trail ominous black smoke and Clark fell back, ultimately finishing 34 seconds behind Parnelli. Alarmingly, Drivers Roger McCluskey and Bobby Marshman spun out on Parnelli's very last lap. McCluskey, in third place before the mishap, which cost him some $25,000, angrily charged that Parnelli's car was "dumping" oil, had been for "30 or 40 laps," and should have been black-flagged.
Colin Chapman, British builder of the Lotus-Ford chassis, said: "At the end Parnelli Jones's car was pouring oil out. Three cars spun on it. The whole race slowed down 5 mph."
Jimmy Clark said: "I had enough rubber and petrol to go as fast as before, but I was getting sideways on Parnelli Jones's oil. I thought I'd try to keep my car on the island. I would much rather be second than dead."
But Chapman and Clark sportingly gave Parnelli congratulatory handshakes for his victory. Chapman's final words were generous. "I must admit," he said, "that I would have been very sorry to see Parnelli Jones black-flagged."
The responsibility for deciding whether or not to use the black flag, which requires a driver to come into the pits for consultation, lay with Chief Steward Fengler. He later explained why he had permitted Parnelli to finish.
"I could see that oil was spewing from Parnelli's car and I wanted to know the reason. I told the starter to get the black flag ready. I sent for Agajanian and Pouelsen. Pouelsen told me there was nothing the matter with the car's engine; the oil was coming from the tank on the outside of the car. I went close to the track to observe. In my opinion, the oil had stopped spewing. I could see that the car's tire treads were dry, so obviously no oil was spraying directly onto them.
"There is no question that the car put a certain amount of oil on the track. So did other cars in one degree or another. It is part of the race; it always happens. If I had thought Parnelli was creating hazardous conditions, I would have had him black-flagged."
Johnny Pouelsen, understandably, was in complete agreement. "There is oil on the track wherever we race," he said. "Parnelli's tank had 21 quarts of oil in it when he started and still had 12 quarts when he finished. He could hardly have been coating the track with oil."
The oil was coming from a tiny 3/8-inch crack at the forward bolt that helps to anchor Parnelli's streamlined, tear-shaped outboard tank to his car. When the oil spray struck the car's fiery-hot exhaust pipe it created plumes of smoke. "When I saw that you were smoking," Clark told Parnelli with a grin on his boyish face and a twinkle in his eye, "I thought, 'Aha! You won't last until the end now.' "
It would have been a shame if he had not—and a shame, too, if Fengler had flagged him off. Unquestionably, Fengler was on a very hot spot. He presumably would have black-flagged the Jones car if it had been out of serious contention. Fengler is an ex-racing driver, however, knowing better than most how greatly the Indy men strive to win this loftiest of American racing prizes, and his every impulse must have been to give the leader the widest latitude.
By calling Parnelli in, Fengler would have summarily handed the race to Clark. There was glory enough for the little Grand Prix driver and the Lotus-Fords. The fact that would be remembered after the oil squabble had dimmed was that it took the most strenuous exertions of the most nearly perfect "500" driver of modern times—Rufus Parnell Jones—to defeat them.
If there was a matter for regret, it was that conditions did not permit Clark to continue his remarkable late-race pursuit of Parnelli and perhaps actually race wheel to wheel with him. Parnelli said he could not see his pit signals very well and did not realize how quickly Clark's yellow-striped green bullet was overtaking him. Logic says Parnelli would have won in mano a mano combat; he had invariably been faster than Clark in practice. Still, with his blood up, racing a handy car that made the heavier Offenhausers look like tractors in the turns, thumping some of the very fastest Offies despite their ability to outdrag him leaving the turns, Clark would have made the finish unforgettably close.
What's more, there was fuel for a thousand barroom arguments in Parnelli's shrewd and fortunate use of yellow caution lights—by making his second and third pit stops while they were on, and by increasing his advantage over Clark, at times, while running under them.
Green lights around the track go out and yellow ones on when an accident occurs. Last week the yellows were on for an unusually long time—48 minutes 38 seconds of the race's 3½ hours—as nine drivers spun, hit walls or had mechanical failures requiring workmen to clear the track.
Under the yellow the racing pace is supposed to slow to 120 mph and drivers are not supposed to improve their positions. This never works out very tidily. One driver's estimated 120 is actually 120 mph and another's 110. Some cars benefit, others suffer. Last week Jones clearly benefited—by how much is conjecture.
"I think," said Clark, "that I lost at least a minute on yellow lights. In the middle of the race I was stuck behind a fellow who wouldn't get going and I was losing three seconds a lap to Parnelli."
"Our inexperience under the yellow lights," said Colin Chapman, "dropped us just that little bit and cost us the race."
Maybe so, maybe not. "If" questions like this can never be satisfactorily answered, because a race obviously cannot be rerun—with wrongs righted—from the point at which controversy develops.
Parnelli had a pretty big if of his own. "If" he said, "we hadn't goofed by not taking on quite enough fuel at the start, I could have run the race on two pit stops instead of three and then nobody could have made it close. To get by on two stops I knew I had to make close to 70 laps on my first tank. I had to come in after only 63, and at that my engine nearly died in the pits. Then I knew I was committed to three stops."
About another important matter, however, there was no if at all. Clark gained much by making only one pit stop but lost a number of precious seconds because that stop was not up to Indy's high standards. Twenty seconds is excellent, 25 not bad, but the 32-plus expended by Clark's crewmen was mediocre. Worse was the 42.2-second job for Gurney when he pulled in a few laps earlier. This was perhaps to be expected of a group tackling the "500" for the first time; the future should bring sharp improvement.
Followers of racing had been kicking a good many ifs around for weeks—and a good thing, too, because the only real question to be settled during the past decade at Indy was which Offenhauser roadster would win.
New cast of characters
This year there was spectacular novelty. First, and most promising, there were the nimble, frameless Lotuses with chassis by Chapman and rear-mounted V-8 aluminum engines, made by the Ford Motor Company, which burned pump gasoline, not the usual racing alcohol. California's indefatigable Mickey Thompson, a man who feels guilty if he sleeps more than three hours a night, entered five Chevrolet-engined V-8s. A startlingly low, wide new model was qualified by veteran Duane Carter, at 50 the oldest of the drivers in the race. Its engine blew. A 1962 Thompson car was qualified by an unknown Indy rookie, 39-year-old Al Miller. It finished ninth. With General Motors on an antiracing binge, Thompson was denied the Chevrolet financial backing he might have been able to count on in other years. He seemed to be attempting too much too late on too thin a pocketbook.
Then there were the Novis—lovable, wailing, supercharged brutes which, since their first "500" appearance in 1941, had created a body of fans as deliriously faithful—and unrewarded—as those of the New York Mets. Astonishingly, three Novis made the 33-car starting field, with one driven by leadfoot Jim Hurtubise smack in the front row. One spun out in the second lap, another never really got going, but Hurtubise at least had the satisfaction of leading the first lap. His Novi, unfortunately, broke down in mid-race.
These intruders left 26 places for the conventional roadsters, and besides Parnelli such formidable drivers as former winners Rodger Ward, A. J. Foyt, Jim Rathmann and Troy Ruttman (who won the race in an Agajanian car in 1952).
Indianapolis pulsed with anticipation the night before the race. Thousands shivered through the chilly hours in and around their cars, ringing the speedway, and raced for the best infield viewing spots when the gates opened at 5 a.m. The majority were college boys having a high old beer-guzzling spree; as less impulsive racegoers drove in Thursday they saw a few flaked out, fast asleep, in bunkers of the golf course that is part of the vast infield.
Aerial bombs exploded, colorful balloons floated into the cloudless sky, Astronaut Gordon Cooper made one orbit of the track with Speedway Owner Tony Hulman, to ecstatic applause, and then at 11 o'clock, the "500" was rousingly, noisily on.
The race evolved in three distinct parts. From his starting position on the pole, Parnelli swooped away to an impressive lead. When he pitted first, his margin was half a minute, or approximately half a lap.
Always with the fastest flight of a dozen cars in the first phase, the Lotus-Fords of Clark and Gurney starred in the second segment, as they ran one, two. Distressingly, Gurney was not getting enough wear from his right rear tire to make the one-stop race both he and Clark had planned. He had to get new rubber after 92 laps, and knew then he could not win. "It took the heart out of me," he said later. "We didn't get the riggin' of Dan's car right," Chapman said. Thus another if: Gurney might well have joined Clark in that marvelous stern chase of Parnelli. Ultimately, however, he pitted again after 183 laps—and again one lap later to have a loose wheel tightened. Despite these misadventures he managed to place seventh.
When Clark made his pit stop Parnelli recaptured the lead and never again lost it. He earned every decibel of the ovation given him. And, just as surely, he knew that his might have been the last triumphant stand of the now outmoded roadster. New, smaller, fatter 15-inch tires of the kind used on the Lotus-Fords gave the Offies decidedly better wear than their old 18-inch rear and 16-inch front tires. Now most Offies should drive the "500" on only two stops. But two should be one too many.
"The old cars," said Miamian Lindsey Hopkins, long an owner of "500" roadsters, "have got to go."
BRINGING IN A GUSHER
As a grinning Parnelli Jones rolls into Victory Lane at the end of the "500," his racer bears unmistakable evidence of the oil leak that has caused furious controversy. The near side of the car is oil-grimed and the oil appears still to be seeping from circular bolt (in boxed area) attaching tank to the car's frame. The tank had cracked slightly near the bolt. Formerly inside, the Offie tanks were first put outside by Builder A. J. Watson in 1958 to help cool the oil and increase the cars' cornering stability. Through an intake line and a return line the oil circulates endlessly from tank to engine. The more oil there is the less time any part of it is exposed to engine heat.