Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.
Q: Please thank Graham Rahal for pushing the idea of a Pittsburgh IndyCar race. Thank Chip Ganassi and anyone you encounter from PNC, and anyone from PPG you deal with as well. Then push for that race!
While the Skyline of the city against the Three Rivers is only perhaps matched by my current “office”where the Hudson River and East River blend in NY Bay with the Statue of Liberty, I want to make another suggestion. I, like most, didn’t enjoy the Music City mayhem offered in Tennessee. Too expensive for teams/sponsors to pay for and too boring for viewers to watch on TV.
If I could afford to see it in person I would have thought I wasted my money. Another race I’m not supposed to mention was a “lakefront” airport race in the city of Browns renown (affectionately known as “The Mistake by the Lake” by Steelers fans) that was adored by race fans for the dynamic racing action. The old airport in Pittsburgh could host the race! I doubt the picturesque Schenley Park Vintage Racing track couldn’t meet the safety standards but the original airport could, and without disruption at the new one. What say you?
David Parker, Jersey City, NJ
MARSHALL PRUETT: I’ve never flown into Pittsburgh – Philly, Scranton, etc., yes, but not the home of my favorite baseball team of the 1970s and my all-time favorite player Willie Stargell – but if an airport is a place where fans would be likely to turn up instead of in a downtown street layout, I’m all for it. But the part where local non-racing fans would be drawn to come and watch is the most important part. Would people rock up to an unused airport for a motor race? Not sure if that screams “excitement” to anyone who isn’t a diehard fan.
On the Nashville front, I’ve heard they’re looking to modify Turn 9 for next year – the site of so many incidents – to discourage some of the destruction derby-ness of the corner, so that makes me happy.
Q: The very last part of the August 24 Mailbag about Chris Amon/Parnelli Jones brings back so many memories which I must share. I knew the story about Colin Chapman approaching Parnelli about F1 and his response to the offer, but not the Chris Amon efforts and it was not surprising since Parnelli was a butt-kicker almost everywhere he raced.
I first saw him race The Little 500 on May 29, 1960 in Anderson, Indiana. From that point forward he was my guy and his recent 89th birthday a couple of weeks ago brings back who he really was. I had him at my ticket counter late in October of that year as he was returning to California for the off-season, so I asked him if it would be cash or check.
His answer was that since he had not been home for over six months he had no money in the bank and promptly handed me cash for a one-way ticket to California. This told me that Parnelli Jones was certainly not full of himself and just thought he was obviously anything but just one of the guys. Many years later I wrote him a letter telling him that I thought he was the best to ever sit on four wheels, and he promptly told me that I was giving him a big head. Fat chance of that ever happening, and his place on Robin Miller’s Mt. Rushmore is very secure in my mind forever more. As a matter of fact, I had told Robin many times that Parnelli Jones is one subject we will always agree on.
On one of the Facebook pages recognizing his birthday, I stated that Parnelli Jones is as good a person as he was a racecar driver which is one very tall order to fulfill in any way shape or form. As time passes the health of this great warrior is an issue, however he seems to be holding his own as much as can be expected. When he told me in 2018 that he was afraid he had the beginnings of Parkinson’s, I was crushed and told him to get help immediately and I wished him well. I do not think that Parnelli Jones quite realizes everything he brought to racing and the joy we had in watching him demonstrate his skills. When he stepped back from IndyCar in May of 1968, the morning edition Indianapolis Star had a report by Bob Collins stating that we no longer had to keep up with the Joneses and everybody can now move up one spot on the ladder. I rest my case!
MP: I’ve been fortunate to spend some time with Rufus on numerous occasions, and he’s just different from the rest of us. What I’ve loved seeing is the heroes from recent eras, the Dario Franchitti types, who fall silent and bow their heads in respect when Parnelli arrives. To think of all he achieved as a driver, team owner, innovator, and businessman, along with raising kids who were damn talented racers, and how he’s one of the last links to a beloved past that’s getting farther away – the oldest living Indy 500 winner – is both astonishing and slightly scary.
Advanced age has narrowed Parnelli’s world; things like long-distance travel and in-depth interviews are rarities, but good friends like Steve Shunck continue to make pilgrimages to his home in Southern California, and although he doesn’t want or need the adoration, he’s constantly reminded of how special he is and how much he means to so many.