In 1960, race car owner J.C. Agajanian opened the door that helped lead driver Parnelli Jones to a career that eventually landed him in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (IMHOF).
Nearly a half-century later, Jones gets to return the favor by introducing Agajanian as a member of the IMHOF induction class of 2009.
Agajanian is one of five new members who officially will enter the International Motorsports Hall of Fame during the induction ceremony that will be held Thursday, April 23 at the SPEED Dome adjacent to Talladega Superspeedway.
Joining Agajanian in this year’s class are NASCAR Cup driver Donnie Allison, seven-time Modifieds champion Jerry Cook, longtime team owner Bud Moore and NASCAR pioneer and car owner Raymond Parks.
Jones, a member of the 1990 IMHOF induction class, had a stellar racing career that included victories in stock cars, Sprint cars, Midget cars and off-road vehicles. But he is best known for his six victories on the Indy Car circuit, highlighted by winning the 1963 Indianapolis 500.
The owner of that car was Agajanian, a veteran race promoter who had plucked Jones out of the Sprint Car series in 1960. Jones finished 12th in his first Indianapolis 500 start in 1961. The following year he became the first driver to top 150 mph during Indy qualifying, on the way to a fifth-place finish. Then he won the prestigious race in 1963.
During a news conference in 2001, Jones credited Agajanian with giving him his big break, and said there was a special bond between the two.
“I could have gone to Indianapolis a couple of years before I did, but I waited until I had an opportunity to get a real good ride, and that came with J.C. Agajanian,” Jones said. “He fathered me a great deal. I always felt like he thought I was his son. He was really instrumental with me, and he prepared me with an opportunity to have good equipment and a good mechanic.”
Jones said Agajanian also prepared him for life outside of racing by teaching him the value of money and the importance of investments.
“We would go out and buy some real estate and make down payments on it,” Jones said. “He always assured me if I couldn’t make the payments, if I got hurt or something like that, he would certainly protect my investments.”
Agajanian also won the Indy 500 in 1952 with Troy Ruttman as the driver. But Agajanian’s son, Cary Agajanian, said the ’63 triumph with Jones behind the wheel stood out as probably the biggest victory in his father’s career.
“It was really a great, great thrill in 1963, to do it a second time,” Cary Agajanian said. “He had other great finishes … but ’63 was the height of it.”
By the end of Jones’ racing career in the late 1960s, he had accumulated six Indy Car victories and 12 pole positions, four NASCAR victories, 25 Midget car wins and another 25 Sprint car victories.
Taking some of the lessons he had learned from Agajanian, Jones became a team owner and won the Indy 500 in 1970 and ’71 with Al Unser as the driver, as well as the 1971, ’72 and ’73 USAC National Championship. He also owned vehicles that won the Baja 500, Baja 1,000, the SCORE off-road truck championship and the USAC Dirt Car title.
About the International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum
Opened in April of 1983, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of motorsports. Each year, the annual International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is held on the grounds of the museum to honor those men and women chosen for induction from among the greatest names in all of motorsports.
The 2009 ceremony will be held April 23rd, at the SPEED Channel Dome, adjacent to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Individual tickets for the evening are $125 and a table of eight may be reserved for $1,000. Tickets and tables are available by calling 1-256-362-5002 or logging on to www.racetickets.com.