Riverside Trans-Am Victory Ranks As One Of Jones’s Best

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HITTING THE DIRT:  Versatile Parnelli Jones attacks a dirt track in October 1961. (Walter Imlay Photo)

HITTING THE DIRT: Versatile Parnelli Jones attacks a dirt track in October 1961. (Walter Imlay Photo)

Parnelli Jones has done a lot in his long, historic career.

He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1963, captured four USAC championships in two different divisions and he’s been inducted into numerous halls of fame around the country.

But maybe one of his proudest moments came on Oct. 4, 1970, at California’s Riverside Int’l Speedway at the end of the 1970 Trans-Am Series season.

At the time Jones drove a Ford Mustang as a Ford factory driver alongside teammate George Follmer. The pair captured five victories (Jones won four and Follmer one) before they even got to the season-finale at Riverside — enough to clinch the manufacturer’s title for Ford before the race at Riverside even began.

Despite having already won the manufacturer’s crown, Jones and company set out to dominate that day in California. Jones snatched the pole with a 103.439 mile per hour lap around the 2.54-mile road course and led the first five laps of the race.

On the sixth lap of the 79-lap event, Jones ran into some unexpected adversity.

“I came up to lap a couple of cars and one got into the other one. When he did, as I was going by he nailed me right in the door,” Jones said. “It knocked me off the track and I went down behind turn nine into the weeds and turned around. It tore the spoiler off of it.”

With a mangled race car only six laps into the race, Jones had a decision to make. Should he park the car and relish the manufacturer’s championship or stay on the gas and try to catch Follmer — who had assumed the lead when Jones went off-course — for the race lead?

Jones went for it.

“I came back onto the track and it was vibrating like crazy,” Jones said. “I figured I may as well give it all (I’ve got) because this is not going to last.”

Jones gave it “one of them 120 percent deals for the rest of the race,” eventually catching Follmer on lap 71 despite heavy damage to Jones’s Ford Mustang.

“I even had to hit the curbing to make it turn. I had to get it up on two wheels to make it turn because it didn’t want to handle as well,” Jones said. “Anyway, I came back and caught my teammate George Follmer and won the race.”

That wasn’t the only adversity Jones had to face that day in California. After coming back from the contact early in the race, a pre-race protest filed by Jim Hall of the Camaro team held up the official results.

Hall claimed that the cylinder heads on the Mustangs driven by Jones and Follmer were too big. Series officials eventually disallowed the protest and Jones was recognized for winning his fifth Trans-Am race of the year.

“It was one of the best races (I’d run),” Jones said. “If I was going to pat myself on the back, that’s one I might do that.”